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Fermenter vs. Bioreactor: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 9, 2023
Fermenter and bioreactor are vessels used for biochemical processes, but fermenters typically handle anaerobic processes like fermentation, while bioreactors accommodate both aerobic and anaerobic processes.

Key Differences

Fermenter is primarily associated with the biological process known as fermentation, which typically involves the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms under anaerobic conditions. The term fermenter, therefore, specifically alludes to a device that facilitates and optimizes the conditions necessary for fermentation to take place. It meticulously controls factors such as temperature, pH, and oxygen availability to ensure optimal microbial activity.
Conversely, bioreactor is a broader term that encompasses devices used to cultivate and maintain a biologically active environment, which could be either aerobic or anaerobic. The term bioreactor doesn't tie to a particular biochemical process like fermentation. Rather, it opens avenues to various biological processes including cell culture, tissue engineering, and also fermentation, enabling scientific endeavors in diverse biotechnological fields.
The application of a fermenter often remains confined to specific industries such as brewing, where the primary objective is to facilitate the fermentation of yeast, producing alcohol. Though it also sees utilization in pharmaceuticals and waste management, its employment is substantially rooted in processes that are predominantly anaerobic and involve microorganisms converting substrates into desired products.
In contrast, bioreactors possess a wider application spectrum, including areas like pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and food production. Bioreactors can handle the cultivation of mammalian cells, plant cells, and other bio-processes beyond microbial fermentation. Their versatility extends their utility into experimental, production, and even therapeutic domains, navigating through diverse biological and biochemical applications.
Therefore, a fermenter can be considered a specific type of bioreactor, focused on fermentation, while a bioreactor signifies a more generalized equipment facilitating various biological processes, adhering to diverse scientific and industrial needs. This distinction is crucial in the context of biotechnological applications, where the specific and controlled manipulation of biological entities and processes is imperative to achieving desired outcomes.

Comparison Chart

Process Type

Predominantly anaerobic
Both aerobic and anaerobic


Brewing, some pharmaceutical processes
Wide-ranging: pharma, agriculture, etc.

Scope of Processes

Limited mostly to fermentation
Includes fermentation, cell culture, etc.

Utilized Organisms

Primarily microorganisms
Microorganisms, mammalian cells, plant cells

Technological Versatility

Limited to specific processes
Extensive technological applications

Fermenter and Bioreactor Definitions


A fermenter facilitates and controls the process of fermentation.
The beer production utilized a large fermenter to enable yeast activity.


A bioreactor provides a controlled environment for biological processes.
The bioreactor was essential for developing tissue-engineered products.


Fermenters are specialized for anaerobic biochemical processes.
The fermenter ensured optimal conditions for the production of ethanol.


Bioreactors can be used for microbial fermentation, cell culture, and more.
The bioreactor facilitated the cultivation of plant cells for research.


Fermenters primarily support microbial metabolic activities.
The fermenter was crucial in obtaining high yields of lactic acid.


Bioreactors regulate factors like oxygen, pH, and nutrient supply.
Ensuring a sterile environment in the bioreactor was vital for pure cultures.


Fermenters control environmental variables like temperature and pH.
Maintaining the pH in the fermenter was vital for consistent product quality.


Bioreactors can accommodate both aerobic and anaerobic processes.
The bioreactor supported the aerobic culture of mammalian cells.


Fermenters are pivotal in industries like brewing and wine-making.
The fermenter was employed to derive alcohol from sugary substrates.


Bioreactors are utilized across various biotechnological domains.
The bioreactor was used to produce a therapeutic protein using E. coli.


An organism that causes fermentation.


An apparatus, such as a fermentation chamber, for growing organisms such as bacteria or yeast that are used in the biotechnological production of substances such as pharmaceuticals, antibodies, or vaccines, or for the bioconversion of organic waste.


Also fer·men·tor An apparatus that maintains optimal conditions for the growth of microorganisms, used in large-scale fermentation and in the commercial production of antibiotics and hormones.


(biochemistry) A fermentation vat, containing microorganisms or biochemically active substances, used for waste recycling or for making drugs.


Any organism, such as a yeast, that causes fermentation.


An apparatus in which a suspension of microorganisms in a liquid are used to perform chemical reactions, as in synthesis of pharmaceutical agents or the conversion of harmful waste to less harmful substances. The reactor consists of a vessel to contain the suspension of microorganisms, plus a variety of attached devices used to control the reaction.


Is it accurate to say all fermenters are bioreactors?

Technically yes, as fermenters are a subtype of bioreactor specialized in fermentation processes.

Are fermenters used in beer production?

Yes, fermenters are extensively used in beer production to facilitate the anaerobic fermentation by yeast.

What is the primary use of a fermenter?

A fermenter is mainly used to carry out fermentation, often involving the anaerobic conversion of sugars to alcohol or acids.

Can a bioreactor accommodate anaerobic processes?

Yes, bioreactors can handle both aerobic and anaerobic biological processes by managing environmental conditions.

What organisms are typically found in a bioreactor?

Bioreactors can host microorganisms, mammalian cells, plant cells, and more, depending on the application.

How does temperature control differ between a fermenter and a bioreactor?

Both fermenters and bioreactors regulate temperature, but control specifics may vary based on the biological process and organisms involved.

What is the scale of industrial fermenters?

Industrial fermenters can range from a few liters to several thousand liters, depending on the production scale.

Is a fermenter always operating under anaerobic conditions?

Fermenters typically operate under anaerobic conditions, but some processes might involve limited oxygen availability.

What substrates are commonly utilized in fermenters?

Sugars like glucose and sucrose are common substrates in fermenters, being metabolized by microorganisms to produce desired products.

How does a bioreactor differ in usage?

A bioreactor can facilitate a range of biological processes, both aerobic and anaerobic, such as cell culture and fermentation.

Can a bioreactor be used for tissue engineering?

Absolutely, bioreactors are instrumental in tissue engineering to cultivate and develop biological tissues under controlled conditions.

Can you give an example where a bioreactor is used in pharmaceuticals?

Bioreactors are used in pharmaceuticals to produce biotherapeutics like monoclonal antibodies via mammalian cell cultures.

Can bioreactors be used in waste treatment?

Yes, bioreactors can be applied in waste treatment, utilizing microorganisms to degrade and process waste materials.

Are fermenters employed in the dairy industry?

Yes, fermenters are utilized in the dairy industry to produce fermented products like yogurt and cheese through microbial activity.

How is a bioreactor utilized in stem cell research?

In stem cell research, bioreactors provide controlled environments for stem cell expansion, differentiation, and studies under various conditions.

In what sectors are bioreactors predominantly used?

Bioreactors are widely used in sectors like pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food production, and research laboratories.

How vital is sterilization in a fermenter?

Sterilization is crucial in a fermenter to prevent contamination and ensure the purity and safety of the end products.

Can bioreactors be utilized for producing alternative proteins?

Absolutely, bioreactors can cultivate microorganisms or cells to produce alternative proteins, like those derived from fungi or plant cells, for food and feed applications.

What are the different types of bioreactors?

Bioreactors can be stirred-tank, air-lift, bubble column, and more, each suited to specific types of biological processes and applications.

How do fermenters contribute to sustainable practices?

Fermenters enable the production of biofuels and bioproducts, contributing to sustainable practices by utilizing renewable resources.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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