Algal Production Facility

The algal production facility is a 720 square-foot greenhouse. It will be equipped with two raceway pond systems, four large flat panel photobioreactors, and one custom-made revolving attachment-based photobioreactor.

Iowa State University's First Pilot-scale Algal Production Facility
Nears Completion

An algal production facility located at the BioCentury Research Farm (BCRF) will be operational by November. This is the first facility at Iowa State University that can produce large amounts of algal biomass.

The facility is a 720 square-foot greenhouse that will accommodate two raceway pond systems, four large flat panel photobioreactors and one custom-made revolving attachment-based photobioreactor. It also features a geothermal heating and cooling system, so the greenhouse can be used year round while minimizing energy consumption. The total production capacity will be 50-100 dried kilograms of algae biomass per year.

Researchers will use the various production systems to quickly grow algal biomass for various research purposes including the production of renewable fuels, food or animal feed. "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.

The raceway pond systems are each 20 feet in length and both systems can hold approximately 1,000 liters of algae culture medium.¬†Raceway pond systems are the most common method for large-scale algae cultivation. At first glance, the four flat panel photobioreactors appear to be large, oddly shaped fish tanks.¬†These reactors are made of transparent Plexiglas that allow 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. Wen’s graduate student, Martin Gross, invented the revolving bioreactor. Gross is also the co-founder of Gross Renewables LLC, a start-up company focused on minimizing air and water pollution while delivering high-value biobased products such as algae.

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

The Grow Iowa Values Fund, Iowa NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Bioeconomy Institute provided funding for the algal production facility. Midwest Builders LLC of Logan, Iowa, and Mid America Drilling Corporation of Oakland, Iowa, donated a significant amount of labor for this project.

For more information about using the facility, contact Wen at

SLIDESHOW: Algal Production Facility Construction

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