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Beth Conerty

URBANA, Ill. – The Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL) at the University of Illinois welcomed a group of industry professionals from around the globe for the “Revitalization of Corn Processing Facilities for the Future” short course.


The course took place over two days at the beginning of October and focused on how companies can valorize under-utilized corn processing facilities in the growing precision fermentation and bioindustrial manufacturing fields. The course welcomed 28 participants from 20 companies, as well as 10 presenters that included faculty specialists from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and industry representatives.


“This course is designed to help corn-processing companies think about impactful ways to use their pre-existing equipment for new opportunities,” explains IBRL Executive Director Vijay Singh. “The Midwest agricultural system invested heavily in equipment and infrastructure to support both the ethanol and high fructose corn syrup industries. As both of those markets lose consumer traction and corn yields continue to increase, revitalizing facilities and developing new uses for corn is crucial to the Midwest’s economy.”


Course presentations ranged from dry grind ethanol and wet milling to potential partnerships for existing corn processing facilities. Brian Jacobson, associate director of strategic operations, gave an in-depth tour of IBRL and equipment capacity, providing a look at some of the described new technologies. Participants also had the opportunity to speak with Jacobson and other IBRL experts regarding the equipment needed to support corn-based industries, services IBRL offers for running pilot trials and, and training opportunities.


Following the tour, local brewery Riggs Beer Company hosted participants for a networking reception that included research poster presentations from nine graduate students from the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI). A representative from CABBI’s RISE summer internship program also presented on industry sponsorship and engagement opportunities. The RISE program focuses on internships in sustainable bioenergy for groups that are currently underrepresented in STEM.


Course participants included professionals from a variety of companies with different specializations, and their motivations for attending were just as far-reaching. Russ Zeeck, Chief Operating Officer at AgVault,LLC, has 30 years of experience in agricultural processing facilities and was excited to network with industry professionals and hear the latest technological trends. Zeeck was impressed not only by the short course, but also by IBRL’s equipment capabilities and knowledgeable staff. He found the honest discussion and straightforward approach to discussing the struggling ethanol industry beneficial to participants and more realistic than other industry conferences.


Another participant, Binita Bhattacharjee, Vice President of Process Development and Engineering at New Culture Foods reflected, “For someone that is mostly focused on scaling precision fermentation applications, IBRL’s workshop provided an excellent opportunity to better understand the economic advantages of locating precision fermentation facilities near dry grind operators, the technical considerations behind maximizing re-use of existing infrastructure, and the key engineering companies in this space. Thanks, IBRL, for an efficient, accessible and well-paced workshop!”


In an effort to continue to engage industry and educate the workforce, IBRL plans to host a three-day short course in March titled “Fermentation and the Art of Scaling Up.” This course will explore the growing bioindustrial fermentation industry as it relates to products like food, fibers, plastics, and cosmetics, while giving participants the opportunity to receive hands-on training with pilot-scale fermentation equipment. For more information, please visit

Participants gather after receiving certificates of completion

By Marianne Stein

URBANA, Ill. ­– For Will, Clayton, and Dallas Glazik, making spirits from Illinois-grown heirloom corn is a labor of love. The brothers own and operate Silver Tree Beer & Spirits from their fifth-generation family farm in Paxton.

“We grew up on a certified organic farm, and we wanted to get back into farming and figure out a way that we could bring something of value to the farm,” says Will Glazik, the oldest brother and Silver Tree director of sales.


Read the full article

Meet Jessie Yang

From working at the Food Science Human Nutrition Processing Pilot Plant (FSHN-PPP) and Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL) for a couple of years, I have gained experience and knowledge in vast areas that I could not have obtained in my classes. My skills in the lab, kitchen, and plant settings, have significantly improved from the beginning, and I can confidently use them in professional settings such as internships and my future career as a food scientist. Working at the FSHN Processing Pilot Plant and IBRL also opened up my eyes to other job possibilities. I was able to learn the trials and errors of recipe development.


As an example, we had to use a specific ingredient like low-protein wheat grown at the university. We were able to see that project from start to finish: milling the wheat, testing the protein content in the lab, and developing a breadstick recipe from that flour. This was an experience I would not have had even in some professional settings. It’s incredibly rewarding to see a project from the very beginning to being served to students.


Working in the pilot plants also did not pigeon hole us into one area, I have gained so much knowledge on industrial food processing equipment, bottle juicing lines, and pizza sauce lines. There is also always something new at the pilot plant, and everyone there is very supportive during the learning process. At IBRL, I have gained a great extent of knowledge with corn wet and dry milling, industry-level fermentations, as well as others. I had a bare minimum knowledge about hand and power tools prior to working in IBRL. Now I am more confident utilizing power tools and understanding how to work safely. I had previously learned about fermentation in my classes and my hands-on experiences have truly helped me better understand the process. IBRL also has pushed me to be more open-minded and creative, some of the projects I was a part of, I never would have thought was possible.


The experiences I have gained working at IBRL and FSHN Processing Pilot Plant have been incredibly unique, and it has given me an early start to understanding how the food industries work.

Meet Parker Brand

I’ve been working at IBRL for around a year and a half now, and it’s been a great experience that has helped me greatly academically and professionally. I first found out about IBRL through joining the student organization Illinois Biodiesel Initiative (IBI), just as IBI was moving into the IBRL facility. I worked as a member for a year, and the IBRL staff we worked with suggested that I should apply for the student internship, which I was fortunate enough to get. I ended up taking the Vice President, and the President position in IBI while working at IBRL, and currently am leading the group as we undertake a large expansion project.

I was interested in IBRL because I wanted to gain more hands-on experience in the bioprocessing field, and industry in general. Working with industry clients and professors on real projects has given me some unique and interesting knowledge and opportunities. The pilot plant setting is one where new projects and ideas come through the door often, and there’s always a chance to learn something more about whatever project

While at IBRL, I’ve had a chance to learn much more about the technical parts of production lines and process development, which I hope to apply in the agriculture processing industry. Additionally, I’ve been able to apply the technical skills learned in my degree, like welding and metal fabrication, to solve real-world problems. Learning about a process or how to perform a technique in class then being able to use it the very next week is incredible.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed all of my time at IBRL, and I look forward to returning next year.

Meet Steven Buchholz

I started working at the Food Science Pilot plant and Integrated Biology research lab my second semester of my freshman year. I first toured the facilities as part as an onboarding class in the fall, and knew I wanted to secure an internship at the plant. At the time, IBRL was still in the process of being built, but the Pilot plant really interested me in the way it transformed food from the university’s farm to the dining hall. This experience would be one of a kind and I wanted to get involved.

One of my favorite projects is making tomato sauce. The tomatoes are grown locally at the student sustainable farm, so the first step is to drive over and pick them up. We get to see the farm and other students working together to have a better food source for campus. Then we wash and process the tomatoes into pizza sauce. Lastly, we package the sauce into boxes and send it out for the campus students to enjoy. There are times we even make deliveries to the dining halls and talk to the chefs. This process is really unique because we get the product from start to finish. This helps me understand the communication and team-work needed for a food supply chain.

Working at IBRL is different every day. Some days we are designing and welding parts, while other days we can be working on a pretreatment reactor. I have learned so much more about agricultural processing from my experiences at IBRL. One of my favorite projects at IBRL was making corn starch from corn stillage. Through this process we worked with a Sweco and Doxie 5 to separate proteins and starches. This was a different process then what I was used to working with at the Food Science pilot plant, but it was still interesting to see how some agricultural products are made.

Having an internship at the Food Science Pilot Plant and Integrated Bioprocessing Research Lab has been a fun and rewarding experience. While it is hard work, I have learned more at this internship then any class could have taught me. I highly recommend it for the experiences and the people.

Meet Drew Borbely

During my time here at the FSHN Processing Pilot Plant and IBRL, I have gained experience and interests in areas that I had previously never considered. I have improved my skills in the lab, kitchen, and plant settings, which all translate directly into my future career as a food scientist. Through the Pilot Plant, I have learned the ins and outs of recipe development, including ingredient substitution, meeting specific product requirements, and how to scale these recipes up to a plant-trial size. I have also gained experience with industrial food processing equipment that range anywhere from flour milling to a fruit-to-bottle juicing line. It has been a wonderful experience seeing equipment, techniques, and ingredients that I study in my classes come to life at the Pilot Plant. At IBRL, I have gained experience working with wet and dry milling, industry-level fermentations, and a wide variety of other projects that I had not considered before starting my internship here. These were things I had not previously considered, but have had a direct translation to subjects we have covered in my classes. The experience I have gained at IBRL and FSHN Processing Pilot Plant has been incredibly unique and specialized, and I believe these experiences will give me an edge in the food science industry.

Meet Kwin Palanuwech

Hi! My name is Kwin, and I started working at the FSHN pilot processing plant and IBRL as a student intern in 2018. From helping the student sustainability farm process pizza sauce for the university dinning halls, to assisting with research about canning pet food and all other products in between. I’ve been able to experience very diverse and unique processing methods. I’m especially lucky to have been able to experience all of this with great friends and the wonderful ACES community along the way. This experience has been incredibly important for my growth in both real-life processing experiences and knowledge about the science behind different food products (like pizza sauce and bread making). Even though the career I may pursue in the future might be less hands on, I am sure I will be able to utilize the knowledge of product processes that I have learned here. When I graduate, I hope to be able to use the knowledge I gained here to help develop and research new products in the consumer market that can positively impact the lives of people across the globe. If you’re interested in a fun and unique food and industrial processing experience that will surely impact your college experience at the University of Illinois, I highly recommend looking for opportunities to join the FSHN pilot processing plant and IBRL!

Meet Laura Pelaez Medina

After pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the Instituto Tecnologico de Santo Domingo, I started working as part of the logistics team in a food and beverage manufacturing company in Dominican Republic. There are many options for Industrial Engineers to insert themselves in almost any industry. Recognizing that everything should be addressed as a process, I realized that I could do and learn so much more outside being mostly behind a desk.

During my first work experience, I was able to support inventory planning, audits and monthly inspections that allowed me to learn how different areas in the company operate, as well as, interact with many employees. Being in a small country where operations rarely use clean energy as a source, seeing biomass used to generate heat for production really got my attention. So I started to do some research, and that’s when I found the perfect master’s program that fit with my interests.

I wanted to learn all the science without losing sight of business and management knowledge. The Illinois Professional Science Master’s, offered in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, provided me the best of these two aspects. During my studies in the Bioprocessing and Bioenergy program, I took interesting courses related to renewable energy, biofuels, environmental law, as well as supply chain and project management. Moreover, the U of I Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory is an excellent facility that allowed me to experience bioprocessing products research between learning from the pilot plant equipment and running samples in the laboratory.

As a required internship for the master’s degree, I got the opportunity to be part of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in the Division of Laboratories thanks to my previous experience working in the U of I pilot plant. At the Illinois EPA laboratories, I performed data analytics, supported testing procedures and calibration of lab equipment, and assisted in the laboratory warehouse logistics.

Currently, I work in the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory after graduating in December 2019. As a pilot plant assistant, I support the pilot plant research projects from initiation to completion including fed-batch fermentation, corn fiber pretreatment and downstream processes, as well as perform quality tests to ensure the desired project specifications. This facility have been part of my professional development since I started my master’s program and I genuinely believe that it’s a perfect educational scenario; each day is a different learning experience and diverse backgrounds are useful resources to complete innovative research projects including value-added bioproducts and biofuels.

Meet Maribel Guzman

Working at the Food Science Pilot Processing Plant (FSHN PPP) and the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL) has been the major highlight of my college experience. I started here in my second semester of sophomore year, but I really wish I started freshmen year. Nevertheless, all of the experience I have gained in these 2.5 years has and will continue to impact my life for the better.

Although my academic work at college should be my greatest takeaway (it definitely is one of my biggest takeaways), I would say the technical work I was able to perform at these facilities is what I will hold on to long after I graduate. I had the privilege to get hands on experience at these facilities not only with very important professors, but also with very important companies. The amount of knowledge I gained every day on various projects has made me the student I am. All the projects and work we were exposed to gave us the opportunity to apply what we learned to real-world situations. There was a wide range of projects; we worked with state of the art equipment, did food product development, helped professors in their research, and helped major companies on their vital projects. This gave me the upper hand and made me a great competitor in my search for internships and full-time jobs.

Not only did I gain great skills and technical work at these facilities, the workplace culture was fantastic. I believe workplace culture is a crucial factor in any job, and this one felt like it cannot be matched. Each boss/supervisor became such a great mentor to me throughout this time. They have supported and helped me and the rest of the students in anything we needed and did an amazing job in teaching us everything they know. It was evident they were not just our bosses, they were our teachers too. I also learned from my fellow student interns. The student employees are a mix of students from different grade levels and different areas of study so we were all exposed to many different perspectives and knowledge that we may not have experienced in our specific classes. We became a great cohort over the years and continue to welcome in many more students.

My greatest professional opportunities have come from working at the FSHN PPP and IBRL, so to these facilities I dedicate a lot of my success. The summer after my junior year, I interned for The Kraft Heinz Company as a Manufacturing Management Intern. I went from a small scale facility to a full blown manufacturing plant that produces ALL of the Oscar Meyer Hotdogs in the U.S. and Mexico. Because of everything I learned at these facilities and my experience, I was able to get my foot in the door for this amazing food company. This internship led to me receiving a full-time job offer in what I really wanted to do. Now, as I am about to graduate, I am excited to start my career entering The Kraft Heinz Company’s Trainee program on the R&D track. Oh, how the time flies when you’re having fun!

Meet Zachary Benmamoun

The Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL) has been a large part of my college career. In my 3rd year of undergrad, I joined the Illinois Biodiesel Initiative (IBI), a Registered Student Organization on campus. We were originally based in the Noyes chemistry building, but in the summer, we were notified that we were moving to a brand-new facility on campus, IBRL. I worked in IBRL as a member of IBI for 2 years. Upon graduation in December 2019, I was fortunate enough to be hired as an academic hourly staff member for the spring and summer semesters, until I started graduate school.

I wanted to work at IBRL since I wanted some industry experience and was interested in how products are designed and optimized for industry. The process of scaling something up from lab scale to industry scale is extremely important and something not commonly seen, but it is what is done every day at IBRL. Additionally, I wanted a way to blend my interest in research and interest in industry, as well as get hands-on experience and learn as much as possible.

I plan on earning a PhD and entering the industry for research and development. Since the goal of all R&D scientists is to develop a product that eventually reaches the public at a large scale, pilot plants are very important. Additionally, many PhD students work closely with pilot plants, or work in one post-graduation. Being able to work in one and learn what the process is like has been a rewarding experience and will certainly be useful for me in the future.

Working at IBRL has been a great experience. I have been able to learn a lot during my time there, from practical skills such as welding, to industrial skills such as running a fermentation or separation process, to soft skills such as seeing how research projects are conducted in the industry. Additionally, one can learn about industry from the people that come in from various companies, or the IBRL staff who have prior industry experience. There are not many places where you would be able to work this closely with experts in their fields, and the experience you gain from it is invaluable. The IBRL staff have always been extremely kind to me, and they are happy to teach me about what is going on, and to answer any question that I have. Altogether, working at IBRL has been a rewarding experience for me, and I’m glad I was able to do it.