University of Illinois to build $23 million biofuel research lab

By Chris Hanson | May 31, 2013

The University of Illinois-Urbana will begin construction this fall on a new bioprocessing laboratory to research biomass-derived biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol.

The Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory, an offshoot of the Center for BioEnergy Research, is designed to be a step-up from labscale testing. The IBRL “provides a niche between the bench scale study, which can ferment approximately a kilogram of corn, and the large scale, such as the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville,” said Vijay Singh, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

Hans Blaschek, CABER director, said the facility aims to test many types of feedstocks and processes. The lab will start with equipment such as grinders, recovery equipment, fermenters and analytical equipment and additional equipment will likely be budgeted into the facility, as well.

Currently, Singh is developing industry relationships with entities interested in pilot-scale or concept research. He said the lab will offer annual affiliate memberships that grant access to the facility, faculty, student interns and networking opportunities at a cost of about $10,000 a year.  Blaschek reported they have met with 15 companies, all showing varying degrees of interest. DuPont Industrial Biosciences and Novozymes are two that have already joined.

The Illinois Capital Development Board will be fronting the cost of the $25 million facility. The project is expected to be completed within 18 months after groundbreaking later this year.