Skip to main content

Biomass Processing

A picture of the Biomass Processing Facility.

Biomass Processing Facility

The 23,000-square-foot Biomass Processing Facility is a state-of-the art research and demonstration processing facility. The facility is able to process grain and cellulosic feedstocks on a scale not possible on the Iowa State University campus. The facility is designed for thermochemical and biochemical processing conversions in separate 2,700-square-foot processing trains. Equipment can be reconfigured as optimal processes become defined. The Biomass Processing Facility, with the thermochemical and biochemical trains in close proximity, allows for integrated systems that use both technologies in a hybrid strategy. The facility includes the Thermochemical Processing Train, the Biochemical Processing Train, research labs, and meeting and office areas.

Jump to:

Thermochemical Processing Train

All major thermochemical pathways to biofuels and bioproducts are being explored including gasification to syngas, fast pyrolysis to bio‑oil, and solvent liquefaction. These substrates are extracted and upgraded to a variety of products: biochar, hydrogen, ethers, alcohols, sugars and hydrocarbons. The pilot‑scale gasifier is capable of processing up to one ton of biomass per day and is equipped with a novel gas cleaning and analysis system. The pilot‑scale fast pyrolysis unit processes up to one‑half ton per day when operated autothermally and features patented pretreatment and stage fractionation technologies. The continuous solvent liquefaction unit processes up to one kilogram per hour and is capable of solvent separation and recycle.

Thermochemical Units

Fast Pyrolysis Process Development Unit

Gasification and Syngas Cleaning Process Development Unit

Solvent Liquefaction Unit

A view inside the Thermochemical Processing Train showing the fast pyrolysis and gasification units.

Biochemical Processing Train

Biochemical processing research is further developing pretreatment, fermentation and ethanol recovery strategies enabling successful commercialization of biofuels and biochemicals. The Biochemical Processing Train is equipped to replicate the entire dry‑grind ethanol process at large pilot scale, allowing researchers to develop new technologies that add higher value co‑products and reduce water and energy consumption in grain ethanol production. The train includes fermentation vessels of 500 and 1,000 liters working capacities, horizontal decanter centrifuge, a membrane filtration system, a distillation column and stillage evaporator, and a pilot-scale rotary drying system that can dry approximately 500 pounds of DDGS per day. Industry and faculty also use the facility to scale‑up new biotechnology products and processes for crop seed technologies through finished consumer products.

Equipment Available for Biochemical Processing 

80-Gallon Process Tank

350-Gallon Process Tank

20-Gallon Glass-lined Reactor

500-Liter Fermenter

1,000-Liter Fermenter

70-Liter Jacketed Mixing Vessel

125-Liter Jacketed Mixing Vessel

250-Liter Jacketed Mixing Vessel


Distillation Tower

Falling Film Evaporator

Laboratory Oven

Membrane Filtration System

Portable Pumps

Rotary Steam Tube Drying System for DDGS

A research using the 1000 liter fermenter in the Biochemical Processing Train.

Research Laboratories

The BioCentury Research Farm has four labs available for bench-scale processing or preparing materials before entering the pilot plant areas. Each lab is 560 square feet and comes furnished with fume hood, two bench areas with storage drawers and cabinets, and lab tables. Clients are able to bring in bench-scale lab equipment. De-ionized, filtered water is also available.

A look inside a research lab.