GCON and Caliber Biotherapeutics Facility, Bryan, Texas

Background

GCON is the world’s largest, most advanced biopharmaceutical greenhouse, which grows and processes plants from seeds to harvest for use in vaccine manufacturing. The GCON facility will have the capability of producing 10-100 million doses of infectious vaccines per month, and hundreds of thousands of doses of protein biotherapeutics, such as monoclonal antibodies.

Located in College Station, TX, the 140,000 square foot biotherapeutic manufacturing facility cost $60M to build, and has plant growing areas half the length of a football field with ceilings 40 ft. high.

EEACE’s Participation

EEA provided both MEP design for the facility and process design for the project, including large-scale plant growth spaces and support systems, product harvesting processes, downstream processes, labs and general office spaces.

The facility includes a large bay with MEP and process utilities to support up to eight of GCON’s patented modular biomanufacturing cleanroom facilities (MBFs); downstream purification processes occur in these flexible manufacturing units. EEA also provided MEP design within the MBFs.

With over 1 million plants arranged in hydroponic grow trays stacked 30’ high on racks the entire area of the grow rooms, with uniform lighting and irrigation at each level, the mechanical and electrical engineering was a challenge.

Red/blue LED lighting was used to optimize the light spectrum for the plants and minimize the heat to the space, but the hundreds of kW of stacked lighting still generated a large amount of heat. Yet the temperature in the grow rooms needed to be relatively homogenous throughout so that all plants have similar growing conditions. Maintaining a relatively even temperature throughout an area 40 feet high and 50-yards long meant they couldn’t utilize traditional ceiling diffusers because these would create cold pockets.

In order to accomplish uniformity in temperature across the layers of grow trays, EEA Consulting Engineers designed a horizontal laminar flow air conditioning system, much like a semiconductor cleanroom turned on it’s side, utilizing a complex Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) model of each room: racks, plant grow trays, lights, and ventilation system. Plenum walls run full height and length along each side of the grow rooms, one side supplying air to the space and the other side serving as the return air plenum. Perforated aluminum plates are installed on the surface of the walls to serve as supply / return grilles; the perforation sizes vary along the height of wall, and were tuned through the CFD model to provide uniform air flow from top to bottom.

In addition to the grow rooms, EEA Consulting Engineers was responsible for design of the process systems, many of which were also the first of their kind. EEA worked closely with GCON to develop the requirements for each of the process steps, from inoculating the plants with the target antibodies, to harvesting the plants, to the downstream protein extraction processes.

From an engineering perspective, this facility was the first-of-its-kind – especially to the scale at which it was done. Additionally, the building was completed within a year by Dallas-based Beck Group with an Integrated Project Delivery methodology. While your standard pharmaceutical project is measured in years, this one was measured in months. It required each of the contractors to step up and work very closely with one another, which fostered a real “team” mindset.

The successful design and construction of the GCON project has brought other opportunities to EEA Consulting Engineers to design challenging projects, both in process and facility design, especially in complex pharmaceutical research and manufacturing facilities.