Biosystems Engineering student teams, enrolled in the two-semester biosystems design capstone experience, BE 485/487, develop, evaluate, and select design alternatives in order to solve real-world problems. Projects are diverse, but each reflects systems thinking by integrating interconnected issues affecting the problem, including critical biological constraints. The engineering design process is documented in a detailed technical report. Teams present project designs to engineering faculty and a review panel of professional engineers for evaluation. Each BE 485/487 capstone design team prepares and presents a design solution in report, poster and oral formats to an industry advisory board, faculty, peers and the public that:

  • Requires engineering design
  • Uses a holistic approach
  • Combines biology and engineering
  • Interprets data
  • Solves a real problem
  • Evaluates economic feasibility

For information on sponsoring a project, please contact Dr. Dana Kirk or Dr. Luke Reese.


Automated Aquaculture Feeding System for Yellow Perch

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 1.13.31 PMYellow perch are in high consumer demand in the northern United States. A commercial fishing ban on yellow perch in the Great lakes has made aquaculture systems a popular source of this fish. Unlike other species, little has been done to optimize growth of yellow perch in aquaculture farms including the amount of feed, time of feeding, and water quality parameters. This created the need for a data collection system to identify parameters for optimal and healthy fish growth and the development of an optimization approach.

The objectives of the project were to design an automated feeding and sensor system to reduce labor intensity and collect all data needed to create a predictive feeding system (maximizing fish growth while minimizing feed waste). Benefits of optimization include more consumer- acceptable fish and reduction in wasted feed, leading to a higher profit.

An automated feeding system was constructed and placed in a grow-out tank at the sponsor’s facility. Sensors were also selected. A harness was built to house the sensors in the tank. Data is collected through LabVIEW, and can be viewed remotely over the web. An email alert will be sent if any parameters are out of bounds. Recommendations on how to proceed with optimization will be made based on a simple nitrogen mass balance and statistical analysis.

Sponsor – Aquaculture Research Corporation

Faculty Advisor – Yan Liu and Steve Marquie

Team Members: Andrew Franco, Tara Sliwinski, Kevin Swahn

Team Members: Andrew Franco, Tara Sliwinski, Kevin Swahn


Beneficial Utilization of Apple Pomace by Means of Extrusion and Tray Drying Methods

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 1.16.12 PMIntroduction and Objectives: PepsiCo has large amounts of fruit and vegetable by-product waste that accumulate each year and are sold as cattle feed. The by-product of apples, known as apple pomace, has significant amounts of total dietary fiber and quercetin. Once stabilized, the pomace can be added as an ingredient to existing and future products for increased nutritional value. The objective of this project is to provide PepsiCo with economic analyses of three processes to stabilize the apple pomace, as defined by reducing the moisture content to less than 10% to inhibit the growth of microorganisms.

Project Design: Three processes will be analyzed for stabilization effectiveness and nutrient content. Cost will be calculated by determining energy usage and equipment specifications. Pomace will be pressed prior to processing for each of the three following processes: tray drying; tray drying and extrusion; tray drying and extrusion with added flour.

Results: A final report with details of the cost and a sensitivity analysis for each process will be provided to PepsiCo. This data can be used as a starting point to decide if it is feasible to stabilize the by­ products for future use as an ingredient.

Sponsor – Pepsico

Faculty Advisors – Kirk Dolan and Bradley Marks

Team Members: Juliana Henriques, Claire Schuurmans, Phil LaMothe, Pawel Kargol

Team Members: Juliana Henriques, Claire Schuurmans, Phil LaMothe, Pawel Kargol


Tank Cleaning System Optimization

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 1.22.38 PMPerrigo is the largest manufacturer of private label over-the- counter pharmaceuticals in the United States. Production of a bismuth-based stomach relief medication results in residue buildup on the walls of mixing tanks, necessitating workers to enter the vessel and manually scrub the interior. This practice raises issues such as worker safety and increased production time, labor, and energy

In order to address the cleaning issues, a holistic method was developed that examined both production and cleaning practices. Computational fluid dynamics, a modeling approach involving numerical methods, was used to analyze mixing. In addition, an experimental approach was used to examine how multiple factors affect removing residue build up.

A bench-top experiment was developed in order to simulate the mixing and cleaning process steps. Optimal detergent concentration, time, and temperature were determined through statistical analysis of experimental data, and a mathematical equation was developed describing the impact that each factor has on the cleaning process. Additionally, COMSOL’s computational fluid dynamics model was used to improve the quality of mixing, and to determine areas of concern.

After analysis of empirical and theoretical results, recommendations were proposed to improve the manufacturing protocol of Perrigo’s bismuth-based, stomach relief medication.

Sponsor – Perrigo Pharmaceuticals

Faculty Advisor – Jim Steffe

Team Members: Michael Zanotti, Ian Hildebrandt, Michael Huarng, Dylan Corner

Team Members: Michael Zanotti, Ian Hildebrandt, Michael Huarng, Dylan Corner


Integrated Solar Heated Anaerobic Digester and Treatment Wetland

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 1.29.25 PMLivestock and agricultural production generate large amounts of organic waste. In Central America. 20% of GDPs are from this sector. Converting this material to clean and affordable electricity through anaerobic digestion can increase the amount of reliable energy available to this region. Anaerobic digestion is the microbial conversion of organic carbon into biogas in the absence of oxygen. Combining this process with solar heating will increase the overall efficiency of the system, creating higher energy yields.

Biogas, a product of digestion, can be combusted to produce energy but typically 30-40% of the biogas produced is used to heat the system, required to maximize biogas yield. The combination of solar heating with anaerobic digestion eliminates the use of biogas for heating, thereby maximizing the amount that can be converted to electricity. Utilizing a treatment wetland in conjunction with anaerobic digestion further reduces the adverse environmental impacts associated with organic waste streams.

Solar heating, anaerobic digestion, and wetland treatments have been extensively studied; however, integration of these components has not. The team designed and constructed a lab-scale system that integrated a solar-heated anaerobic digester and a wetland suitable for digester effluent. Additionally, the team developed a LabVIEW program to monitor and control the system. For the next two years, the system will be used to collect data for feedstock variability and scale-up in Central America.

Sponsor – US Department of State

Faculty Advisors – Wei Liao and Dawn Reinhold

Team Members: Dave Hochhalter, Eric Werner, Miranda Sperry, Katie Balaze, Lauren Deitz

Team Members: Dave Hochhalter, Eric Werner, Miranda Sperry, Katie Balaze, Lauren Deitz


Model of Torrefaction Bioenergy System and Supply Chain 

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 1.33.03 PMPublic Act 295 (PA 295), also known as the “clean, renewable and efficient energy act’’ of Michigan, was signed into law in October 2008. This legislation promotes clean and renewable sources of energy by 2015, and requires providers to deliver 10% of power from renewable resources. Because of PA 295, the bunting of biomass, a biological material from plant material, is being considered for use in the current energy generating infrastructure, including coal-burning facilities. Biomass has a lower energy value than coal; however, pretreatment can increase its energy value to become more similar to coal.

Torrefaction is a thennochemical reaction of biomass that produces a water-resistant material with a high energy value. This pretreatment process is being considered because biomass retains 90% of the energy in 70% of the original mass. The product of torrefaction is a hydrophobic, brittle, high-energy material. While torrefaction is a relatively new concept, still in the research phase, a desire exists to better understand the entire bioenergy supply chain. The team’s goal was to create a model to represent the torrefaction bioenergy system from tree harvest to end use in the coal plant.

Information was gathered from external sources and experimental data. This included equipment and operating costs as well as mass and energy balances on the torrefaction system. A final Excel model was produced in which users can input energy requirements or available harvesting land to understand the requirements to support their bioenergy system. The end user of this model will likely be an individual or group considering the use of torrefied biomass as an energy source.

Sponsor – Mark Seamon, MSU Extension

Faculty Advisor – Chris Saffron

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Team Members: Jessica Emery, Lara Ejups, Corey Scheffler, Kevin Messing


Water Purification System for a Developing Country 

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 1.40.48 PMMichigan legislation calls for displacement of coal in power plants, requiring a percentage of energy be produced from renewable sources. Burning biomass is an option. However, biomass has a lower energy value than coal.

Over 1 billion people, typically in the developing world, do not currently have access to safe drinking water. The poorest inhabitants of the world survive on less than S2 a day and live where average conditions do not provide for adequate wastewater treatment and sanitation. This lack of access leads to widespread illness, disease, and death.

Teaming up with Aqua Clara International, a non-profit organization based in Holland, MI, the team worked to develop a community-sized water purification system. This system will provide 4,000 liters per day for a developing country. Aligning with the goals ofACI, the water must be clean and safe according to the World Health Organization standards, cost less than $0,001 per liter to operate, and be effectively utilized by the local residents.

A system was created that incorporated a primary filtration method and secondary disinfection component. The primary filtration method is a sand filter and the secondary disinfection component is an ultra violet light system. A prototype was constructed to perform tests on. The team hopes to travel to Nicaragua in May to implement the system at a location familiar to Aqua Clara International.

Sponsor – Aqua Clara International

Faculty Advisor – Theodore Loudon

Team Members: Lindsay Reynolds, Megan Robb, Sarah Fink

Team Members: Lindsay Reynolds, Megan Robb, Sarah Fink


Eutrophic Pond Restoration and Toxic Cyanobacteria Mitigation

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 1.42.43 PMFor Better Independence, a non-profit organization located in Leslie, Michigan, is losing useable land due to the excessive expansion of an existing pond- wetland system, resulting in economic loss. Furthermore, excess nutrient inputs have resulted in highly eutrophic conditions in the body of water, therefore raising concerns of toxic cyanobacteria blooms, negating its use.

The team’s project design was three-fold: restoring the pond to non-eutrophic conditions, reclaiming land, and mitigating potential health risks from toxic cyanobacteria through prevention and detection.

To restore the pond system to initial capacity, a stretch of effluent tile drain was identified for replacement. A vegetative buffer strip and best management practices were developed to rehabilitate the ponds to non-eutrophic conditions. Furthermore, the team has researched and recommended cyanobacteria inhibition methods along with a decision tree to identify the potential presence of toxic cyanobacteria, which can be implemented immediately.

Sponsor – For Better Independence- Leslie, Michigan

Faculty Advisor – Dr. Dawn Reinhold

Team Members: Bill Stiber, Jeff Crandell, Emily Campbell, Gretchen Merkel, Joe Horbatch

Team Members: Bill Stiber, Jeff Crandell, Emily Campbell, Gretchen Merkel, Joe Horbatch