IBRL hand sanitizer production helps U of I campus return safely

IBRL hand sanitizer production helps U of I campus return safely
IBRL hand sanitizer production helps U of I campus return safely

URBANA, Ill. ­–  As University of Illinois employees and students return in the fall, safety measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 are critical. University administrators have announced a partial return to normal activities, with a combination of in-person and online instruction. Precautions include limited crowd sizes, frequent cleaning of classrooms, and hand sanitizer stations in all buildings.

Hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and wipes will be in ample supply on campus, thanks to the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL).

When the coronavirus pandemic took off, IBRL began production to provide hand sanitizer for first responders and the health care industry in Illinois. As that need became less urgent, IBRL’s focus turned to supporting the U of I campuses, says Brian Jacobson, IBRL assistant director of pilot plant operations.

“We provide 5-gallon containers of hand sanitizer and 55-gallon drums of disinfectant to U of I’s Central Stores, where departments and units can request what they need,” he says.

Since March of 2020, IBRL has made over 13,000 gallons of product. That’s enough to fill over 200,000 desk-size 8-ounce containers.

Daniel Gaither, director of safety for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), helps distribute the products to ACES buildings.

“We recommend hand sanitizing stations at all building entrances,” he says. “Hand sanitizer is amazing if you don’t have access to hand washing. If you’re touching the doorknob to your office or the front door, then you can clean your hands as soon as you get into the building.”

Gaither says ACES buildings will feature hand sanitizer stations with 5-gallon jugs so employees and students can fill their smaller bottles.

Motion-activated pump dispensers will reside at building entrances.

“We’ll also give employees individual containers for refill,” says Rod Johnson, head of the Animal Sciences Department. “Getting hand sanitizer from IBRL ensures that we have the supplies we need. It helps our employees and students return to work and school safely.”

The U of I Energy Farm uses both hand sanitizer and wipes made from IBRL disinfectant, farm manager Tim Mies explains.

“We use the products to wipe down equipment, tools, door handles, and everything else people come in contact with. We place the products strategically at entrances, restrooms, and anywhere people are likely to want or need it,” he says.

Access to sanitizer from IBRL has saved time and effort trying to locate products that may be in short supply from other sources, Mies says.

“The main benefit is having hand sanitizer and wipes to keep everybody safe and healthy. It’s been very hard to find these products in stores,” he notes.

The Energy Farm, located on 320 acres south of the Urbana-Champaign campus, is home to a variety of research projects ranging from biofuels to sustainability and food production. Along with the other ACES research farms, it is considered an essential function and has been operating in limited capacity throughout the COVID-19 quarantine. Activities recently picked up, amplifying the need for safety measures.

At IBRL, hand sanitizer production required staff members to be flexible and adapt to new tasks. Jacobson says normal activities focus on conducting food and bioprocessing research for faculty and companies. That work slowed down due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel and other activities.

“Our facility was not designed specifically for this, but its flexibility to perform varied operations allowed us to quickly set up a safe and effective process under U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidance. Our pilot plant staff, Eric Wolfe, Phil Manning, and Jedi Brown, continued to show up and adapt to the new situation. They’ve done a fabulous job,” Jacobson says. “Like everyone else, we’re looking forward to a return to normalcy.”

IBRL received donations for their production from ethanol and shipping companies, including a donation of 5,000 gallons of ethanol from Pacific Ethanol in Pekin. 

University of Illinois colleges, departments, and units can request hand sanitizer and disinfectant from Facilities and Services at https://fs.illinois.edu/services/more-services/stores-receiving

IBRL is part of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and The Grainger College of Engineering at U of I.