COLUMBUS – Plant-derived industrial products play a key role in the country’s plan to cut down dependence on foreign petroleum by boosting production and use of domestic energy and feedstock sources.
And in Ohio – where agriculture and the chemicals, plastics and rubber materials sector are king – an Ohio State University-based endeavor is on its way to change the chemistry of the state’s economy.
Linking. Established last year through an $11.5 million award from the state’s Third Frontier Project, the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center is linking agricultural technologies with chemical-conversion and advanced-materials technologies to create a high-quality, renewable supply of specialty industrial compounds such as plastics, paints, lubricants and solvents.
“Our goal right now is to enable corporations across the state to access [the center] for development of bioproducts,” said Stephen Myers, center director and assistant director of the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
“We provide value to our industry partners by operating through a market-pull approach designed to link genetics, biotechnology, chemical conversion and product development.
“As a national leader in chemical manufacturing and with a strong agricultural industry, Ohio is well positioned to succeed in the production of specialty products from bio-based materials.”
The vision. In an April 2005 report commissioned by Congress to guide the future direction of federally funded biomass research and development, the U.S. Department of Energy and the USDA set a vision to slash 30 percent of the country’s current petroleum consumption by 2030.
Such an ambitious plan would require the use of biomass – which includes crops, manure and plant waste – to supply 5 percent of the nation’s power, 20 percent of its transportation fuels, and 25 percent of its chemicals.
Main objectives. “Production of chemicals and materials from bio-based products will increase substantially from approximately 12.5 billion pounds or 5 percent of the current production of target U.S. chemical commodities in 2001, to 12 percent in 2010, 18 percent in 2020, and 25 percent in 2030,” the report stated as of its main objectives.
This is where Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center comes in.
The center is bringing new technology to accelerate research in the areas of plant genetics, biomass processing and chemical conversion and is revamping the university’s soybean breeding program to look for traits and varieties targeted at industrial applications, which is also expected to benefit farmers in the near future.
Plans. Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center is also planning to build a feedstock processing facility on the ag research center’s Wooster campus.
It is also partnering with other Ohio State programs such as the Center for Advanced Polymer and Composite Engineering.
In addition, it will be working with Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s Food and Agricultural Technology Commercialization and Economic Development Program to determine strategic fit and changes of success of proposed bioproducts.
Connecting the dots. “[Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center] helps connect the dots,” said Denny Hall, who is in charge of public information for the center.
“We are building relationships with our industry collaborators with the idea of identifying unmet needs. After that, our role is to bring other players into the project and facilitate teamwork to finally develop a product.”
This cooperation can lead to new and innovative opportunities for Ohio’s economic development, said Wayne Earley, executive director of PolymerOhio – an umbrella organization that supports the state’s polymer, plastics, rubber and advanced-materials industries.
Favorable impact. “Ohio’s economy will be impacted favorably at several levels thanks to the work of [Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center],” Earley said.
“First, the polymeric materials developed as part of this program will add value to the products developed from them.
“That is, the new materials will, often, be more than just substitutes for existing materials: They will add functionality and value by being, for example, biodegradable.
“Second, as the price of oil continues to increase, these materials will provide producers an alternative for controlling costs.”
Earley said, even if petroleum prices do not increase dramatically, they will be uncertain.
“Manufacturers are significantly affected by this type of uncertainty.”
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