Research Activities at IHM/FZK: Interaction of Pulsed Electric Fields and Discharges with Biological Cells


C. Gusbeth, W. Frey, M. Sack, K. Baumung, W. An, R. Sträßner and H. Bluhm

Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe GmbH, Institut für Hochleistungsimpuls- und Mikrowellentechnik (IHM), Postfach 3640, 76021 Karlsruhe

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The research on the interaction of pulsed electric fields (PEF) with biological cells has started some years ago at IHM. The basic phenomenon of this interaction is the electroporation of the cell membrane. The inducing of large (irreversible) pores in the cell membrane can be used for the effective extraction of the intracellular substances and for inactivating of micro-organisms. The extraction of intracellular substances from vegetables, like sugar from sugar beets is of great interest for the food industry. Advantages compared to the conventional processing methods are for example the higher product yield of cold squeezed fruit juice, the reduction of processing time for red wine production and not at least the energy saving during the sugar production. In the last years it was proved that the application of the PEF method for sugar and juice production can be scaled to industrial purposes.

The decontamination of waste water and other industrial fluids by PEF treatment is a second main research field at IHM. Therefore, several high voltage pulse generators were developed and built in the institute. In cooperation with the industry and a university hospital, the efficiency of inactivation of antibiotic resistant bacteria by the PEF method has been examined. The possibility the underwater streamer discharges as an alternative treatment method has been also considered. For several applications, like waste water treatment, it was pointed out as a method of high efficiency. Comparable inactivation rates can be achieved at lower energy consumption. By the development of an almandine coated electrode and a coaxial treatment chamber, the lifetime of the device could be increased and the streamer discharge performance was improved. Future work in this field will be the scale up of this technique for industrial processes.


Keywords: PEF, underwater streamer discharges, electroporation, decontamination


These research activities were sponsored in part by BMBF (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung).