Composting and Bioconversion Pilot Plant

The Composting and Bioconversion Pilot Plant, constructed in 1998, is a 4,000 sq. ft. facility operated by the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering under the direction of Dr. Tom Richard.



The laboratory includes over 100 feet of bench space for sample preparation, wet chemistry, drying, ashing and incubation studies.  Pilot-scale equipment includes two 900 L and twelve 90 L fully instrumented composting reactors, a 30 cu. ft. mixer, and auxiliary bulk materials handling equipment.  2,000 sq. ft. of expansion space is available for separation and primary processing testbed installations.  The laboratory is located in the Livestock Environment Buildings Research Complex on the 200+ acre Agricultural Engineering Research Center, and has access to a full complement of farm-scale equipment for materials handling and transport.












Current Research:

Innovative composting process control strategies
Conserving nitrogen by controlling ammonia emissions.
Synchronizing N-availability with crop demand.
Upstream processing strategies for biobased manufacturing


Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Iowa Biotechnology Byproducts Consortium

Iowa Energy Center

Iowa Pork Producers Association

Bluestem Solid Waste Agency

Chamness Technology, Inc.




Twelve 90 liter bioreactors allow simultaneous replication of static-bed composting processes. Three thermocouples measure temperature gradients in each bioreactor, and an automated gas sampling and analysis system measures O2, CO2, and NH3. A computerized data acquisition and control system records this data and adjusts flowrates using independent mass flow controllers  according to defined process control strategies.  Samples are turned weekly and analyzed for moisture, pH, volatile solids, and other constituents of interest









Two 900 liter bioreactors allow larger scale experiments with compost turning and enhanced drying strategies.  Each reactor has an integral auger for complete mixing and incorporation of additional doses of water, manure, or biotechnology byproducts.  Airflow can be automatically adjusted based on temperature and/or oxygen feedback from exhaust gas measurements and 15 thermocouples per reactor.








Tom Richard


Phone: 515-294-0465
Fax: 515-294-9573

Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering 
Iowa State University
3222 NSRIC
2150 Pammel Drive
Ames, Iowa 50011 USA



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 Last edited: September 18, 2006