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Midwest Research Institute Advances Algal Biofuels Research Utilizing Open and Closed Bioreactors

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Just five months after announcing the creation of a state-of-the-art Center for Integrated Algal Research, Midwest Research Institute (MRI) has installed and activated two technically distinct bioreactor technologies to accelerate the Institute’s pursuits in algae research. MRI recently activated an open pond “raceway” cultivation system at its laboratory in Palm Bay, Fla., and a continuous flow, closed loop photobioreactor at its field station near Kansas City, Mo.

MRI’s open bioreactor system in Palm Bay includes two open pond raceway channels, each 40 feet long and 4 feet wide. The two raceways combined have a capacity of 8,000 gallons of water and are currently producing approximately 330 pounds of dry algal biomass per month with projections to increase biomass output with new Justify FullR&D improvements. The pilot raceway cultivation system provides a platform ideally suited for the investigation of technologies related to scale-up of algae production in open systems.

MRI’s closed loop photobioreactor in Kansas City provides a pilot scale algae production facility enclosed in a greenhouse to allow for year-round testing. This closed system has a capacity of approximately 1,000 gallons of algae dense medium and is capable of harvesting approximately 90 pounds of dry mass per month. Artificial lighting is available and allows for exploring effects from using a variety of real world and simulated environments. “This robust system provides a unique test bed for rigorous characterization of diverse algae strains and stringent monitoring of their associated growth conditions, said Roger Harris, Ph.D., MRI Associate Vice President and Director of the Energy and Life Sciences Division. “It also provides integration of harvesting and other processing equipment for end-to-end product operations.”

By employing both systems, MRI will be better equipped to assist government and industry in maximizing the potential of algae for solving energy and environmental challenges. The Center’s comprehensive focus includes characterization of preferred algal strains, growth optimization, contamination mitigation, harvesting methods, oil extraction, and carbon capture.

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