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Immobilization of yeast cells for fermentation, especially beer


Key words Yeast, yeast cell, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, immobilization, immobilized yeast cell systems, beer, continuous fermentation, biotechnology, encapsulation, yeast biochemistry, bioreactor engineering design
Latest version 2012/01/23
Completed by IRTA

How does it work?

Primary objective Higher fermentation rates and increased volumetric productivity.
Working principle Since the 1980s immobilization techniques have revitalised continuous fermentation research and led to industrial applications in the secondary fermentation and in the production of low-alcohol beers.

Immobilizing yeast cells on several carrier materials can provide high cell densities in the bioreactor, which, in combination with high flow rates, leads to short residence times (14). The residence time can be reduced in two ways: modern batch fermentation or immobilization techniques. Main and secondary fermentation (maturation) can be reduced from several weeks to 10-12 days through modern batch fermentation technology, while through immobilized cell technology lager beer production can be reduced to less than 2 days (7). The immobilization procedure has no adverse effects on cell viability and proliferation using Lentikats® carriers (7). For beer production different kinds of carrier materials for the yeast have been used, having different effects on the formation of flavour compounds in small-scale fermentation. Some examples of the currently used carriers are:

  • Calcium alginate: entrapment within calcium alginate is especially suited to living cells as it tends not to damage them (8). It is the most widely-used technique for immobilising yeast cells.
  • Polyvinyl alcohol in the form of LentiKats®, that is a potential porous matrices carrier for beer fermentation (7).
  • Aspen heat-treated woodchips (13).

2 2 4 Immobilisedyeast Casson.jpg

Pic. Encapsulation of yeasts cells within calcium alginate (© Duncan Casson)

Additional effects
  • Increase in ethanol yields (6); higher fermentation rates
  • Reduced product losses
Important process parameters bioreactor design, carrier type, bead diameter, cell concentration, temperature
Important product parameters internal mass transfer of the yeast, yeast strain

What can it be used for?

Products Beer, low-alcohol beers, alcohol-free beers, wine, alcohol
Operations Fermentation, immobilization
Solutions for short comings Shortening of fermentation production time.

What can it NOT be used for?

Products Non fermented beverages
Operations Only applied for fermentation.
Other limitations
  • Some problems related with the fine-tuning of the flavour have been reported, due to free amino nitrogen consumption by immobilized yeast cells, coupled with mass transfer restrictions and reduced cell growth in immobilized conditions, that causes an unbalanced flavor profile of the final beer (7). More research about this is needed (16).
  • Reduction of internal mass transfer resistance during continuous fermentation. One way to minimise this problem is to use small-diameter beads. The results of a short-term cultivation study have indicated an optimal diameter of 0.5–0.6 mm for alginate microbeads loaded with brewing yeast cells (9).
  • Carrier price can be a problem (7). If the carrier is cheap, the investment costs for a continous immobilized process could be about 70% of the investment cost of a batch process (15).
Risks or hazards Contamination can be a hazard, but not more than in batch fermentation. Detection by the plate counting method proved to be rapid enough to avoid the release of beer of inferior quality. (15). Otherwise, more rapid detection methods are currently available on the market, such as HybriScan®, Light Cycler foodproof Beer Screening Kit and vermicon´s VIT-Bier (3, 11, 12).


Maturity Nowadays, immobilization cell technology is well established in secondary fermentation and alcohol-free and low-alcohol beer production. Also it has been successfully applied to secondary fermentation of lager beer (1). In main fermentation, the situation is more complex and this process is still under scrutiny on both the lab and pilot levels (13).
Modularity /Implementation Available as an intensification of existing breweries, distilleries or it can be integrated into the design of new plants.
Consumer aspects It could be a concern with GMO yeast.

Some consumers prefer beer prepared traditionally from small breweries, rather than beer made in brewing tanks (CKT), by High gravity batch (HGB) continous fermentation systems, or immobilized cell technology for beer fermentation.

Legal aspects Please check local legislation, f.i. the Vorläufiges Biergesetz of 1993 in Germany (2).
Environmental aspects According to some producers (6), minimum waste production and reduced energy demand. Otherwise, more brewers spent grains (barley chaff) are generated, in case spent grains are used as carrier; this by-product can be used as animal feed. In case the carrier is the calcium alginate, residues might contain heavy metals (less than 20ppm).

Further Information

Institutes Catholic University College Ghent, Institut of Chemical Technology Prague, University of Reading, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, NDRI
Companies Lentikat’s Biotechnology, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Fermentis, Mossbrew brewing systems, Novozymes, Lallemand, Zhongdeshebei, DB Breweries, Brouwland, FMC Biopolymer, Cargill, Qingdao Bright Moon Seaweed Group, Kimica
References 1. Brezbradica, 2007, Immobilization of yeast cells in PVA particles for beer fermentation

2. Bundesministerium der Justiz. Vorläufiges Biergesetz. Bundesgesetzblatt 1993 Teil I Seite 1400.

3., 2003.

4. Hill, Frank, 1991. Immobilization of yeast in alginate beads for production of alcoholic beverages. Patent Number: 5.070.019; Date of patent: Dec. 3, 1991.

5. Lentikat Biotechnology. Case Study - Application of Lentikats Biotechnology in a molasses distillery with capacity of 125,000 L/day a.a.

6. Lentikat Biotechnology.

7. Leskosek-Cukalovic J., Nedovic V.A., 2005. Immobilized cell technology in beer brewing- current experience and results. Proc. Nat. Sci, Matica Srpska Novi Sad, Num. 109, 129—141.

8. Madden D., 2007. Immobilised yeast Immobilization of yeast in calcium alginate beads. National Centre for Biotechnology Education, University of Reading.

9. Nedovic V., Obradovic B., Leskosek-Cukalovic I., Trifunovic O., Pesic R. and Bugarski B., 2001. Electrostatic generation of alginate microbeads loaded with brewing yeast, Process Biochem 37.
10. Pilkington P.H., Margaritis A., Mensour N.A. and Russell I., 1997. Fundamentals of immobilized yeast cells for continuous beer fermentation: a review, Journal of the Institute of Brewing eview.

11. Roche, 2004.

12. Sigma-Aldrich, 2009.

13. Tapani, K., Soininen-Tengvall, P., Berg H., Ranta B. & Pajunen, E.. Continuous Primary Fermentation of Beer with Immobilised Yeast. In Brewing Yeast Fermentation Performance, pp. 293-301. Second edition. Edited by Katherine Smart. Blackwell Science, 2003.

14. Verbelen P.J., De Schutter D.P., Delvaux F., Verstrepen K.J., Delvaux, F.R., 2006. Immobilized yeast cell systems for continuous fermentation applications.. Biotechnology Letters, 2006, 28 (19): 1515-1525.

15. Virkajärvi, I. ,2001. Feasibility of continuous main fermentation of beer using immobilised yeast. VTT Publications 430, Espoo, 87 pp.

16. Willaert R. and Nedovic V., 2006. Primary beer fermentation by immobilized yeast —a review on flavour formation and control strategies; J Chem Technol Biotechnol 81, pp. 1353–1367.

17. Yamauchi Y., Okamoto T., Murayama H., Nagara A., Kashihara T., Nakanishi K.. Beer brewing using an immobilized yeast bioreactor design of an immobilized yeast bioreactor for rapid beer brewing system, 1994. Original Research Article; Journal of Fermentation and Bioengineering, Volume 78, Issue 6, pp. 443-449.

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Created by Hte irta on 28 February 2012, at 10:28