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Inoculating the RICE bioreactor


Whilst RICE researchers continued the build of the bioreactors at the Vale nickel refinery in Clydach, South Wales, they have also been nurturing the growth of the algae to be grown in the bioreactor. The algae samples arrived in small containers in March and had to be carefully monitored by researchers Dr Emily Preedy and Dr Ed Rodriguezverdu, under the guidance of Co-I Prof Darren Oatley Radcliffe.

Under strict hygiene conditions to ensure no contamination, the algae is progressively moved from 100ml flasks to 250ml, than 500ml and 1ltr flasks as it increases in quantity, before being placed in a 16ltr carboy. Over time the carboys are divided further into additional carboys, continually increasing the volume of algae.

Once a sufficient volume of algae has been grown in the laboratory, approximately 320 ltrs, it’s ready to begin inoculating the first of 8 bioreactor units.


The bioreactor consists of 8 interconnected units each consisting of 16 x 2.5m vertical Perspex tubes. Inoculating the bioreactor follows the same process of allowing the algae to double in quantity, increasing from one to two units, then four and finally eight units over a period of time.

The whole growing process from first receiving the algae samples to fully inoculating the biorefinery takes approx 80 days.


As with all plant material, the growth of the algae is dependant on many variable factors – light, temperature, nutrients, CO2 etc. Therefore the cycle needs to be carefully monitored to ensure optimum conditions to enable to algae to increase in volume as quickly as possible whilst maintaining healthy stock.

The whole growing process has been visually documented. This short video show’s the growing process from the lab to fully inoculating the bioreactor.

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