Ultrasonic Disintegration of Cells

Ultrasonication is an effective means of disintegrating cell structures. This effect can be used for the extraction of intracellular materials, e.g. starch from the cell matrix.

Ultrasonication generates alternating high-pressure and low-pressure waves in the exposed liquid. During the low-pressure cycle, the ultrasonic waves create small vacuum bubbles in the liquid that collapse violently during a high-pressure cycle. This phenomenon is termed cavitation. The implosion of the cavitation bubble causes strong hydrodynamic shear-forces.

Ultrasonic Disintegration of Cell Structures

The shear forces can disintegrate fibrous, cellulosic material into fine particles and break the walls of the cell structure. This releases more of the intra-cellular material, such as starch or sugar into the liquid. In addition to that the cell wall material is being broken into small debris.

This effect can be used for fermentation, digestion and other conversion processes of organic matter. After milling and grinding, ultrasonication makes more of the intra-cellular material e.g. starch as well as the cell wall debris available to the enzymes that convert starch into sugars. It does also increase the surface area exposed to the enzymes during liquefaction or saccharification. This does typically increase the speed and yield of yeast fermentation and other conversion processes, e.g. to boost the ethanol production from biomass.

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Suslick, K.S. (1998): Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology; 4th Ed. J. Wiley & Sons: New York, 1998, vol. 26, 517-541.