Abstract In this preliminary investigation, a so-called Blenke cascade and plate heat exchanger bioreactor configuration were compared in terms of mixing characteristics, contamination free process, operational power costs and overall performance. At room temperature, fermentation was initially started as batch run and switched to continuous operation, when the residual sugars within the reactor were detected to be C⩽1% (g/L). Samples from both configurations were taken and analyzed for ethanol and residual sugar content, as well as for any infection of the fermentation and lactic acid content, respectively. Mixing characteristics were studied by the residence time distribution method. Both geometries behaved as a finite number n of continuous stirred tanks in series, behaving as a plug flow with superimposed axial dispersion. The number of tanks in series n obtained in the plate heat exchanger configuration was 1.5–3 times larger than those in the Blenke cascade. The average ethanol productivity was Qp=3.07 (g/Lh) and Qp=2.31 (g/Lh) for cascade and plate exchanger configuration, respectively. The analysis of operational power costs indicates relevant differences between the two reactors at laboratory scale; however, systems with different types of pumps and viscosities are compared. From an industrial scale point of view, specific operational costs decrease with scale-up, as no mechanical mixing is needed in the fermenters.