This experiment is part of the Cellular Agriculture Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Can we design a 100L bioreactor that costs less than $5000 to 3D print?

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About This Project

Bioreactors are used to produce everything from vaccines to lab-grown meat. However, traditional bioreactors are expensive, costing between $8,000 to $250,000, current bioreactor capacity is almost full and projected demand is high.

Our novel approach looks to improve upon a smaller 3D-printed bioreactor to create a 100-liter bioreactor that costs $2,500. Our specific focus is to develop a unit to produce bacterial cellulose initially with the vision to expand to other organisms.

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What is the context of this research?

Bacterial Cellulose (BC), with its high crystallinity, purity, and unique nanofiber-weaved three-dimensional network structure, is a key player in biomaterials. BC is a valuable resource from food to pharmaceuticals, and even in the production of biocompatible medical devices. However, the production of BC at a scale that matches its potential is a challenge. This is where bioreactors become indispensable. Bioreactors facilitate mass production by providing a controlled environment for faster, large-scale bacteria cultivation. Thus, by improving and scaling bioreactor technology, we can significantly enhance the production of this high-value biomaterial, thereby unlocking its full potential in various industries.

What is the significance of this project?

Bioreactors are used for a wide range of applications: medical applications, cultivation of bacteria, algae, in laboratories, or as food. Parametric 3-D printed components have a significant advantage over other commercial types as they can be easily modified to suit specific parts, such as different types of sensors, pumps, motors, or containers. All components are readily available and can be easily modified to meet specific requirements, making it easier to maintain.

We can democratize cultivation by offering a unit costing less than $5000. This can help enhance food security, reduce waste, and promote local scientific and economic development. Additionally, an optimized design can explore new applications of microbial biomass from biofuels to bioplastics.

What are the goals of the project?

Our ongoing experiment aims to achieve a few main goals. First, we will combine large-format 3D printing and a novel composite thermoplastic from Reflow to make the bioreactor.

Second, to evaluate the bioreactor system we will measure several key factors: growth rate of bacterial cellulose, total volume of bacterial cellulose produced within a set period, efficiency of the system in terms of energy and resources used, cost-effectiveness of the system compared to commercial units and ease and cost of maintenance and operation. We will also measure and document the build time, complexity, and challenges of using our large format printer.

Finally, the design and guidelines for this bioreactor, along with project outcomes and results, will be open-source and shared with the public.


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Our project aims to design, build, and test a 100-liter 3D-printed bioreactor. The budget will cover materials and supplies, including containers, temperature sensors, pH sensors, dissolved oxygen sensors, optical sensors, microcontrollers, displays, electronic components, heating elements, LED lights, and their controls.

The main focus of our budget is to purchase the necessary equipment for the bioreactor, growth media, and other materials related to sensor technology. We have also allocated funds for custom 3D printing and machining services. Our costs include conducting in vivo experiments, data analysis, and sharing project results via website development, video editing, and publication services.

Endorsed by

This project will contribute to the much-needed acceleration of the adoption of novel bio materials. Nate is an excellent researcher and takes a hands-on and pragmatic approach to bring innovation into the real world. I am very excited to see this project evolve!
How can we scale biotechnologies at a reasonable entry-level cost? How do we promote small to medium-scale local production that can expand or contract with demand? How do we encourage and facilitate an innovation ecosystem around biotech and biomaterials? Local distributed manufacturing that can process and improve the value chain for raw materials and provide waste valorisation techniques will be essential in the next steps to a circular, net zero, and ultimately regenerative production cycle.
Nate consistently builds bridges between the world of research and the commercialisation of it in the real world. A researcher with the ability to make and build hardware systems. I look forward to seeing how this experiment can help democratise access to bioreactor technology needed developing and scale production of new materials.

Project Timeline

We have set a goal to create a 100-liter bioreactor that will undergo extensive testing and validation by May 2024. Our first step is to modify our microcontroller-based systems, which we have previously developed for other projects, to suit the bioreactor core design. We will also create a bill of materials and purchase components so that we can test multiple approaches and have backup options in case of disruptions.

Mar 05, 2024

Project Launched

Mar 08, 2024

CAD Design of 100 Printable Bioreactor

Mar 22, 2024

3D print of first 100 Liter Vessel

Mar 29, 2024

Coating the Vessel and preparing for leak testing

Apr 12, 2024

Commissioning sensors and control system

Meet the Team

Nathaniel Petre
Nathaniel Petre


Imperial College London
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Enrico Green
Enrico Green

Nathaniel Petre

Nathaniel Petre is a design engineer who works predominantly with 'agnostic manufacturing' to find practical solutions focused on the blue economy.

After 3D printing the world's first surfboard made from algae, Nathaniel began using ocean plastic waste as a resource for local, agile manufacturing.

Over the last two years, he's built the largest 3D printer in the Caribbean and more recently the largest 3D printer in the UK.

Nate's projects aim to equip both the communityand researchers with the tools to develop a platform for using materials as varied as ocean plastic to bio-fabricated structures to sustain an economy and an ecosystem locally.

Nate has a non-academic engineering background and a college education from an art school in New York City.

Project Backers

  • 6Backers
  • 9%Funded
  • $636Total Donations
  • $106.00Average Donation
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