Alginate gels have been used in both drug delivery and cell encapsulation applications in the bead form usually produced by dripping alginate solution into a CaCl2 bath. The major disadvantages to these systems are that the gelation rate is hard to control; the resulting structure is not uniform; and mechanically strong and complex-shaped 3-D structures are difficult to achieve. In this work controlled gelation rate was achieved with CaCO3-GDL and CaSO4-CaCO3-GDL systems, and homogeneous alginate gels were formulated as scaffolds with defined dimensions for tissue engineering applications. Gelation rate increased with increasing total calcium content, increasing proportion of CaSO4, increasing temperature and decreasing alginate concentration. Mechanical properties of the alginate gels were controlled by the compositional variables. Slower gelation systems generate more uniform and mechanically stronger gels than faster gelation systems. The compressive modulus and strength increased with alginate concentration, total calcium content, molecular weight and guluronic acid (G) content of the alginate. MC3T3-E1 osteoblastic cells were uniformly incorporated in the alginate gels and cultured in vitro. These results demonstrated how alginate gel and gel/cell systems could be formulated with controlled structure, gelation rate, and mechanical properties for tissue engineering and other biomedical applications.