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Bioprocess automation

The bioprocess automation field might at first glance seem to be from a different world than robotics. In fact, however, the two areas have quite a lot of synergy between them seen from automation and systems engineering point of view. Modelling and control of biotechnological processes have long been one of the process oriented research areas in the laboratory (in fact it has been Prof. Halme’s "hobby" more than 20 years). Presently new modelling techniques are being developed and tested with certain industrial case studies. It can also be seen easily that an interest in biology in general has inspired many of the mobile robotics research topics, too.

The laboratory has long traditions in signal processing to detect faults in sensor and actuator areas of automation systems. Biotechnological processes, because living organisms are used, are particularly sensitive to faults and abnormalities in their instrumentation as well as in the processes themself. A research project is presently going on, where methods are developed for fault detecting and diagnosis purposes in certain entzyme production processes. See Monitoring and validation of control and Nonlinear Wiener-NN models for dynamic systems.

Some time ago the laboratory participated in a large national programme on Automation in the pharmaceutical industry. Although not being presently active this field migh become again interesting for research. The same concerns waste treatment processes in which the laboratory has much previous experiences, but not active research at the moment.

A special topic should be mentioned separately, because of its extraordinary nature. In this research project a biological fuel cell system is under development. The fuel cell converts biological substrates directly to electrical energy by the aid of bacteria. The redox reactions in their metabolic pathway are utilised. Compared with traditional chemical fuel cells a biological one is more "environmental friendly". It can be run in normal room temperature and in a quite neutral pH range. A large variety of biodissoluble materials can be "burnt" in the cell system. An experimental set-up is shown on the left. Research is being done currently on the basic level, but applications are actively searched in two main directions: environmental technology (waste treatment combined with energy output) and small scaled power sources capable of obtaining energy from their environment ("ecobattery"). For a longer term the latter aspect is interesting when developing e.g. highly autonomous robotic applications in natural environments.

Modeling and control of waste processing systems has also been researched in the 90s but currently this area is not active, Modelling of Waste Processing Plants