ISU's first pilot-scale algal production facility nearly complete

By Ron Kotrba | November 06, 2012

Iowa State University’s pilot algae production facility, a 720 square-foot greenhouse located at the BioCentury Research Farm that houses two raceway pond systems, four large flat panel photobioreactors and a custom-made revolving attachment-based photobioreactor, is nearly complete, according to the university’s latest newsletter. The greenhouse is expected to be operational sometime this month. Total production capacity is 50 to 100 dried kilograms of algae biomass annually. The pilot facility features a geothermal heating and cooling system for year-round greenhouse use and minimal energy consumption.

“This greenhouse algal production system will be a test bed for different researchers to try out their algal production capability at a large scale,” said Zhiyou Wen, associate professor of food science and human nutrition, BCRF affiliate and professor-in-charge of the greenhouse.

Each of the raceway pond systems are 20 feet long, and both systems can hold about 1,000 liters of algae culture medium, according to ISU. “The four flat panel photobioreactors appear to be large, oddly shaped fish tanks,” stated the university newsletter. “These reactors are made of transparent Plexiglas that allows the algae to get ample sunlight during cultivation. There will be two 100-liter and two 150-liter flat panel bioreactors. The revolving attachment-based photobioreactor is a novel way of growing algae. This reactor allows algae to attach on a surface and then rotates the surface in and out of the culture medium in order to increase the algal growth rate.”

Martin Gross, Wen’s graduate student, invented the revolving bioreactor. He is also the co-founder of startup company Gross Renewables LLC.

Iowa State researchers and off-campus users who need large amounts of algal biomass for performing research can lease the facility. “The greenhouse will provide small businesses, like Gross Renewables, a rent-based research facility for testing their own novel ideas,” Wen said.

Funding for the pilot facility was provided by the Grow Iowa Values Fund, Iowa NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Bioeconomy Institute. Logan, Iowa-based Midwest Builders LLC and Mid America Drilling Corporation of Oakland, Iowa, donated significant amounts of labor for the project.


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