Bioproducts grabbing attention, dollars


SALEM, Ohio — The courtship of Ohio’s agriculture and polymer industries is getting serious.

Last week, Gov. Ted Strickland signed an economic stimulus package that includes $50 million to develop the state’s bioproducts industry. Also last week, a legislatively commissioned task force released its recommendations on the best way to do it.

It probably took the 13 members of the Ohio Agriculture to Chemicals, Polymers, and Advanced Materials Task Force longer to remember the name of their task force than it did for them to formulate their recommendations.

The goal? Figure out how to marry Ohio’s farm and industrial strengths to create a new market: products made from biobased materials.

Or, more specifically, figure out how to replace existing petroleum-based inputs in adhesives, paints, coatings, fibers or films with improved biobased inputs.

Ohio has it all

“It is a big deal,” said Ohio Director of Agriculture Robert Boggs, whose department provided leadership to the task force.

“We certainly believe that bioproducts are going to be a major way to surge back into our manufacturing capabilities here in the state.”

Many states have a research base, many states have a manufacturing base and many states have an agricultural base, Boggs added, but Ohio has it all.

“We can fuse all three better than any state in the nation, or perhaps even the world.”

First step

After sifting through 40 recommendations from outside sources since mid-February, the task force narrowed its list down to 11.

The group’s top recommendation is to create an organization or consortium to coordinate the varied research, development and commercialization efforts.

An obvious choice, the report said, would be an established center like the Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center (OBIC), funded in 2005 by a Third Frontier award and by other partners, including Ohio State University, which houses the center.

Need biorefinery

Equally as important on the list of recommendations is the creation of a pilot-scale biorefinery, said Doug O’Brien, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture and task force chairman.

Currently, refining infrastructure is the No. 1 limitation to using biobased materials. Ohio has the feedstocks and the interested end-users, but more research is needed outside the lab on new materials and there has to be sufficient quantities of the materials for pre-commercial testing.

“They need to see that it can be done at a scale that an industrialized market needs to work with,” O’Brien said.

Other recommendations

Other task force recommendations include: encourage an analysis of material flow and potential commercialization opportunities; support entrepreneurs and early stage funding; link plant geneticists with polymer chemists and application engineers to consider genetic modifications for specific properties; and target state development programs and financial incentives.

Several recommendations require cabinet-level agency administrative changes; others will require lawmakers to act on regulatory reform. The Ohio Department of Development is charged with administering the $50 million of the economic stimulus bill earmarked for the Ohio Bioproducts Development Program.

“It’s all here,” O’Brien said. “It’s about adding value to Ohio commodities, Ohio products. It’s moving Ohio into the next generation of markets.”

Related article:

Polymers + agriculture = $$$ (4/3/2008)


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