Phenometrics set to begin photobioreactor production

By Erin Voegele | September 27, 2011

An algae photobioreactor developed specifically for laboratory research is set to enter commercial production soon. The equipment, which was originally designed and developed by researchers at Michigan State University, is being manufactured by Phenometrics Inc. The company is currently setting up operations at the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center, where it will manufacture the photobioreactor units.

According to Phenometrices CEO Mimi Hall, the photobioreactor was developed by MSU biophysics professor David Kramer. The equipment is designed to allow researchers to grow algae in the lab under the same conditions that would be found in open ponds.

“Imagine that you are an algal scientist who is working on finding the algae that creates the most…lips,” Hall said. “Imagine you found [a strain] in the lab that [looks promising], you took it out to the pond, and it dies. The reason it dies is because the conditions in the lab had nothing to do with the conditions in the pond.” This includes differences in light intensity, water temperature, carbon dioxide levels, diurnal cycles and so forth. “Each pond has its own specific environmental conditions,” Hall continued. “Up until now there hasn’t been an instrument that could emulate those conditions in the laboratory.”

Kramer originally showcased his photobioreactor design as part of a presentation he gave at a conference hosted by the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts. According to Hall, attendees at the event approached Kramer about purchasing the photobioreactor equipment. Several months later, the decision was made to establish Phenometrics to commercially produce the photobioreactors. The company has branded the design as the ePBR.

The equipment is not designed for large-scale algae production. Rather, the photobioreactors will be used by research and development professionals at universities, government labs, private corporations and other research entities.

Hall notes that the system not only produces algae under conditions that would be found in an open pond, but it also includes sensors and probes that allow researchers to do high-throughput data analysis. Researchers can use several of the ePBR systems together to study a range of algae strains and conditions. “Say you have 25 units and you set them up in rows,” Hall said. “On one vector you have five different species of algae, and on the other vector you basically have five different conditions…all of that data comes into one computer and the scientists can compare which algae does  best under what conditions.”



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