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Brian E Jacobson

URBANA, Ill. – Four years in, the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL) continues to grow rapidly by providing world-class pilot plant services to the food and bioprocessing industries. Since IBRL’s October 2018 grand opening ceremony, 60 clients have completed over 400 projects, including several who have now successfully launched products to market. An additional $6.5 million in state funds for equipment and expansion of IBRL staff has enabled these client projects and successes.

IBRL’s clients include some of the hottest names in food and industrial biotech, including venture-funded and multinational companies. Clients represent growing industries, such as alternative protein for food and cosmetics, high-value compounds, low-caloric sugars, beverages, commodity fractionation, energy, biofuels, and many others. They appreciate IBRL’s quick adaptation to their changing processes during the R&D phases, as well as data management and equipment vendor relationships when they are ready to scale their processes to commercial production.

As part of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois, IBRL continues to play a critical role in supporting academic researchers with their federal grants.

Recently, IBRL hosted the United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to discuss converting biomass into the building blocks of commercially valuable products. This visit was closely related to IBRL’s pivotal scale-up role in the $115 million Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) grant, the largest to date on the U of I campus, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. IBRL is also a member of BioMADE, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Bioindustrial Manufacturing Innovation Institute, helping advance bioindustrial manufacturing in the United States. IBRL is a critical partner in the University of Illinois-led project “New Technologies for Industrial Production of Succinic Acid,” awarded during the first BioMADE project call.

Strong partnerships with bioprocessing equipment vendors allowed IBRL to install over $15 million worth of equipment, including donations from industry sponsors. Notable recent additions include expanding the fermentation suite to ten fermenters; increasing Alfa-Laval solid-liquid separation capabilities; completing the Buhler twin-screw extrusion line; and adding a Pro-Sonix jet cooker, a GEA falling-film evaporator; and alcoholic beverage equipment, including brewing and distillation capabilities. IBRL also finished outfitting its unique explosion-proof volatile extraction room with reactors ranging from 1 to 900 liters.

To support client demands and additional equipment operations, IBRL has significantly expanded staff over the past eight months. Under direction of Executive Director Vijay Singh, IBRL has promoted Brian Jacobson (strategic operations) and Beth Conerty (business development) to the associate director level of the management team. Pilot Plant specialists Eric Wolfe and Phillip Manning have been promoted to the senior specialist role and have been joined by specialists Kseniya Sheshukova, Suneet Takhar, and Thomas McKenna as well as junior specialists Marissa Castner and Bobby Crowley. Jedi Brown manages IBRL’s sister facility in the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition and was promoted to manage the joint Pilot Plant Student Internship Program, now boasting over 25 paid student interns. Amy Rogers also recently joined the business office as the full-time business development coordinator to bolster the part time help IBRL has received from Anna Tammen, Diane Davis, and Marcia Mathis. This plethora of changes has brought the total staff including part-time and student employees to 49, from six at the time of IBRL’s opening.

The robust student internship program has been one of IBRL’s defining features. As the bioprocessing industry continues to expand, the demand for employees with hands-on experience has also expanded. IBRL’s student interns have experience not only on pilot-scale equipment, but also in safety protocols, inventory management, analytical techniques, and client relations. This makes them highly employable with many of the same companies that contract with IBRL. For those students who are hired by companies less familiar with IBRL and its resources, the former student interns serve as ambassadors for the program, recommending IBRL and its capabilities when pilot-scale research is needed. The intention is to continue to grow and functionalize the internship program to ensure students are getting the best opportunities and marking the University of Illinois as the best go-to resource for bioprocessing talent.

IBRL’s growth is not slowing down anytime soon. After a successful fermentation short course at the end of March, IBRL is excited to continue to build educational programming, equipment capabilities, and excellent personnel to serve the growing industrial biotech industry. If you are interested in learning more about how to access IBRL resources, view available open positions, or learn more about our educational opportunities, please visit

Source: Vijay Singh,

Media contacts: Marianne Stein, 217-244-2313,; Beth Conerty, 217-300-4543,

Date: May 16, 2022


CABBI Researchers Collaborate on Oilcane Pilot Project

From southeastern Florida to northern Mississippi to the Midwestern Corn Belt, CABBI scientists have struck sustainable oil with sugarcane. But the crop’s potential value to the renewable energy sector earns this particular variety a more appropriate designation: oilcane.

A groundbreaking endeavor uniting CABBI’s Feedstock Production and Conversion themes is coming to fruition with the fall 2020 harvest. By analyzing a sugarcane variety specifically designed to divert natural sugars for oil production, researchers can provide sustainable, plant-based fossil fuel alternatives.

The initial seeds of this project were sown as a result of CABBI Feedstock Production Investigators John Shanklin and Fredy Altpeter’s work on the PETROSS (Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum) DOE ARPA-E project. Their teams at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and University of Florida, respectively, manipulated lines of sugarcane to accumulate elevated lipid content compared to their wild-type counterpart.

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URBANA, Ill. ­–  As University of Illinois employees and students return in the fall, safety measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 are critical. University administrators have announced a partial return to normal activities, with a combination of in-person and online instruction. Precautions include limited crowd sizes, frequent cleaning of classrooms, and hand sanitizer stations in all buildings.

Hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and wipes will be in ample supply on campus, thanks to the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL).

When the coronavirus pandemic took off, IBRL began production to provide hand sanitizer for first responders and the health care industry in Illinois. As that need became less urgent, IBRL’s focus turned to supporting the U of I campuses, says Brian Jacobson, IBRL assistant director of pilot plant operations.

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URBANA, Ill.—Get Brian Jacobson started, and he just might not stop. Talking about – and producing – hand sanitizer, that is. He’s that excited about the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory’s vital role in helping stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Granted, with most staff working remotely and students off campus for now, the team is smaller than usual. Small, but mighty. It’s also buoyed by a host of other University of Illinois colleges and units pitching in to address serious needs for already-stretched-thin health care facilities around the state.

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URBANA, Ill. – Students in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois are learning hands-on about food systems, starting from seed improvement and soil science to commercial food processing, as well as bioprocessing technologies for industry, thanks to new facilities and renovations across the ACES campus.

The College of ACES is celebrating the completion of multiple renovated and newly constructed facilities with an open house on Friday, Sept. 28, on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

This event highlighting the new Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL), Turner Hall Transformation, and the renovated Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) Pilot Processing Plant, located in the Agricultural Engineering Sciences Building, will provide an opportunity to learn more about the broad range of research and learning in the College of ACES through facilities that bridge the gap between scientific discovery and industry application.

“Friends and partners of the College of ACES will have the opportunity to see first-hand the types of amazing teaching, research, and outreach experiences that can be created in state-of-the-art facilities,” says Kim Kidwell, dean of the College of ACES. “These new spaces represent translation zones where researchers, industry partners, and students come together to create innovative solutions to the challenges in food and agricultural systems.

“We are grateful to the dedicated alumni, donors, and legislative representatives whose unwavering support made these projects happen,” Kidwell adds.

The $3 million renovation of the FSHN Pilot Processing Plant has provided a multi-purpose facility for student instruction, cutting-edge research, and collaborative exploration with external food-industry partners. Some of the key improvements include: food grade and instructional suites, an industrial test kitchen/teaching lab, and upgraded processing equipment.

“We are very excited to share the newly renovated pilot plant facilities,” says Brian Jacobson, assistant director of food and bioprocessing pilot plant operations. “The open house will showcase the updated space and equipment, including demonstrations of processes used in our classes and research programs. We hope visitors will learn more about the exciting new capabilities and discuss ways to access the growing list of resources provided by the program.”

Because the pilot plant facility serves as a small food processing plant on campus, students are also learning to follow good manufacturing processes, including proper procedures for food handling, equipment cleaning, and personal sanitation. Products such as tomato-based sauces are processed in the plant and consumed in university residence halls.

The Turner Hall project transformed crop science and soil science laboratories into 21st-century learning environments. The three-floor renovation includes updated classrooms on the first and second floors of Turner Hall, and advanced laboratories in the basement. Classrooms feature new technologies, state-of-the-art equipment, new flooring, HVAC, and lighting. The new classrooms allow for greater learning capabilities in crop sciences, entomology, and weed science undergraduate courses. Updated shared student spaces as well as upgrades to the north annex of Turner Hall are part of the renovation.

“As visitors tour the newly renovated areas of Turner Hall, one of the first things they’ll notice are the inviting public spaces distributed around the first floor,” says Adam Davis, department head of crop sciences. “We want students, visitors, staff, and faculty to feel welcomed by these spaces and to use them to meet, collaborate, or just relax.

“Our redesigned classroom spaces include large lecture areas and smaller active learning classrooms, all outfitted with advanced communications technology hubs that can be easily reconfigured and updated as needed. Teaching labs have been reorganized around lean design principles, increasing the amount of usable space, and providing easy access to essential equipment. All of these changes work together to make Turner Hall a learning environment that supports flexibility in teaching styles and enhances our students’ experience,” Davis adds.

The new, 42,000 square-foot IBRL is a state-of-the-art pilot-scale facility that will accelerate the commercialization of bioprocessing technologies in renewable chemicals and fuels. The facility is designed to scale bioprocessing technologies and help bridge the gap between academic research and industrial commercialization. Unique IBRL resources include facility space, equipment use, support staff, and access to the intellectual capital housed at the University of Illinois.

“IBRL is designed as a flexible plug-and-play facility,” says Vijay Singh, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and director of IBRL. “You can roll in different types of equipment, connect them to quickly develop a process in eight different bays, with each bay equipped with a full suite of process utilities. This capability is unique and allows us to easily use our equipment with specialized equipment from our industrial partners.”

Guests are invited to start their visit at the ACES Library, Information and Alumni Center for check-in, videos chronicling construction, and hospitality beginning at 8:30 a.m. Turner Hall, IBRL, and the FSHN Pilot Processing Plant will be open 9 a.m. – noon. Each facility will also have specific scheduled activities.

Scheduled activities during the open house include:

9:30 a.m. – FSHN Pilot Processing Plant Donor Recognition
10:15 a.m. – IBRL Presentation
11 a.m. – Turner Hall Donor Recognition

Maps and schedules will be available at check-in. A formal ribbon cutting for IBRL will be held on Sept. 27. For more information, contact the College of ACES Office of Advancement at or 217-333-9355.