Pressure Points: How Differential Sensors Are the Pulse of Bioprocessing

Bioprocessing facility


Differential pressure sensors are critical in bioprocessing applications across pharmaceutical, vaccine, and biotechnology production. They provide vital data for monitoring and controlling various operations in bioprocessing. From fermentation in bioreactors to separation and purification techniques like filtration and chromatography, maintaining optimal pressure is crucial for achieving high product quality, yield, and process efficiency. Unlike absolute pressure sensors, which measure against a reference vacuum, differential pressure sensors allow for localized, real-time monitoring of conditions within complex bioprocessing workflows.

The extensive use of differential pressure sensors in bioprocessing stems from their versatility, sensitivity, and reliability. Their ability to detect minute changes in pressure enables tight process control. Differential pressure data can reveal filter fouling, pump cavitation, leaks, or blockages, empowering bioprocess engineers to optimize parameters, diagnose issues, and ensure critical product and patient safety. As biopharmaceutical manufacturing increases in scale and sophistication, the role of differential pressure sensors is becoming ever more prominent.

Bioreactor Monitoring

Bioreactors are a core component of biopharmaceutical manufacturing, where cells or microorganisms are carefully cultured to produce therapeutic proteins, vaccines, and other biologics. Precise monitoring and controlling temperature, pH, and pressure inside bioreactors is critical to optimize cell growth and maximize product yield.

Differential pressure sensors help maintain optimal conditions throughout the bioprocess by continuously tracking pressure changes inside the bioreactor vessel. Pressure affects the oxygen transfer rate and mass transfer of nutrients to cells. Fluctuating pressure can damage delicate cells. Too high or low pressure can slow cell growth and reduce product expression.

Differential pressure sensors connected to the bioreactor provide real-time monitoring of internal pressure. Any deviations from the ideal pressure range are immediately identified and corrected through automated feedback control or manually adjusting parameters like aeration rate. This tight control of bioreactor pressure facilitates healthy cell cultures and consistent, high-yield production runs.

Filtration Processes

In bioprocessing, filtration separates and purifies the desired biopharmaceutical product from the cell culture medium. This includes processes like microfiltration, ultrafiltration, diafiltration, and depth filtration.

Pressure across the filter increases as the filter membrane captures solids and builds up foulants. By continuously monitoring this pressure differential, any rise can be immediately detected, notifying when a filter needs to be replaced or cleaned to maintain efficiency. In a worst-case scenario, an excessively fouled filter could rupture or cause contamination of the product.

By using differential pressure sensors, any decrease in filtration performance is rapidly identified. This guides when to interrupt production for filter replacement or cleaning, allowing the filtration process to operate at peak efficiency for maximum productivity. Tight control over filter fouling also improves filter lifespan.

Sterile Processing

Maintaining sterile conditions is critical for safe and effective bioprocessing. Any contamination can render the entire biopharmaceutical product unusable and unsafe. Differential pressure sensors monitor and regulate the pressure differentials between cleanrooms, isolators, filling lines, and other processing areas. The sensors identify potential breaches and containment failures by detecting even minute pressure changes. Prompt alerts allow operators to take corrective actions to restore ideal pressures and prevent contamination.

Tight pressure differentials between 0.5 to 15 Pascals are maintained between high and low sterility areas. Positive pressures are used in highly sterile areas to drive clean air outwards, while negative pressures pull potentially contaminated air into areas of lower sterility. Differential pressure sensors continually control this polarized airflow. Sudden drops in pressure gradients set off alarms so personnel can quickly resolve them. Real-time monitoring and control of sterile zones minimize risk during aseptic processing.

Bioprocessing sterile environment
Figure 1 – Sterile bioprocessing facility

Tangential Flow Filtration (TFF)

TFF is a crucial process in bioprocessing for the concentration and purification of products such as pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and antibodies. TFF utilizes a membrane filter with specific pore sizes to separate soluble components from cell cultures while maintaining a continuous tangential flow across the surface of the membrane.

This continuous recirculation enables high throughput while minimizing fouling and buildup on the filter surface. Unlike standard filtration, where flow is perpendicular to the filter, the tangential flow minimizes clogging risks. TFF is ideal for processing large volumes with high recovery and concentration factors.

Optimizing TFF achieves high-concentration yields and purities. Differential pressure sensors monitor the pressure across the membrane during TFF processes, helping to optimize and control the concentration and purification of the product.

Pump Control

Constant, reliable flow rate control and pressure conditions are critical throughout bioprocessing workflows. By measuring changes in pressure on either side of a pump, differential pressure sensors provide real-time data on flow rates and backpressure. This data allows for precise adjustment of pump speed and valve positions to ensure liquids are moving through the system at the desired rates.

In large-scale bioprocessing, multiple pumps may be integrated to transfer liquids between seed reactors, production bioreactors, and downstream purification steps. Differential pressure sensors help synchronize all these pumping systems, making it possible to orchestrate continuous workflows and optimize the movement of materials between interdependent process units.

Leak Detection

Rapid leak detection helps maintain product quality and safety in bioprocessing. Sudden pressure drops can indicate a breach in the system. Issues like loose fittings, defective seals, or cracks in equipment may cause this. Without quick identification, contaminants can enter the system, or product can be lost.

Differential pressure sensors for leak detection are often paired with automated alarm systems. Audible and visual alarms are triggered when the sensors detect a pressure drop outside of set limits. Alarms alert personnel to address the issue before significant losses or contamination events occur. The sensors can pinpoint exactly where the pressure drop is occurring.

With high-value biopharmaceutical products, even minor leaks can have significant financial implications. Plus, if contaminated product reaches patients, the consequences for health and safety can be severe.

Bioprocessing lab
Figure 2 – Bioprocessing lab

Process Optimization

Differential pressure sensors provide real-time process data to optimize and fine-tune bioprocessing conditions. Any fluctuations or variability can be quickly detected by continuously monitoring pressure changes throughout the bioprocessing workflow. This allows adjustments to parameters like temperature, agitation, flow rates, and more to be made to maintain consistent and ideal conditions inside bioreactors during filtration, sterile processing, and all other steps.


Differential pressure sensors provide a range of benefits that make them invaluable for monitoring and controlling bioprocessing applications:

  • Real-time data: Pressure sensors give continuous, real-time readings rather than periodic manual testing, allowing instant detection of any process deviations.
  • Precise control: Accurate pressure measurements allow for precise control over bioprocess parameters like flow rates, concentrations, and separation processes.
  • Early problem detection: Sudden pressure changes can indicate issues like leakage or clogging. Early detection allows rapid response to avoid contamination or losses.
  • Process optimization: Pressure data can be analyzed to identify opportunities to fine-tune processes and maximize productivity, yields, and quality.
  • Reduced contamination risk: Maintaining optimal pressure differentials minimizes the risk of contamination of sterile processes and cleanrooms.
  • Automation enablement: Pressure sensors allow for increased bioprocess automation, reducing labor requirements.
  • Improved efficiency: Waste, downtime, and variability are reduced by maintaining ideal conditions.
  • Reduced costs: Process enhancements generate significant value. Lower failure rates also reduce costs.


Differential pressure sensors play a vital role in bioprocessing, enabling real-time monitoring and precise control of critical parameters. These sensors are leveraged across nearly every aspect of biopharmaceutical manufacturing, from maintaining aseptic conditions to optimizing product purification.

By providing continuous pressure data, differential pressure sensors give invaluable insights into the health of bioreactors, filtration systems, pumps, cleanrooms, and other equipment. Sudden pressure changes can indicate leaks or blockages, allowing for rapid troubleshooting. The rich data generated by differential pressure sensors also facilitates process optimization and fine-tuning conditions in real-time to maximize product quality and yields.

Similar Posts