Ohio Bioproduct Innovation Center addresses agribusiness forum
Candace Harrell, Correspondent | Posted: Sunday, January 26, 2014 11:00 pm

Plastics made from soybeans may sound like science fiction, but according to Dustin Homan and Michael Sword, representatives from the Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center (OBIC), it is science fact. Speaking at the monthly Northeast Ohio Agribusiness Forum Friday morning in Bellville, the pair presented many soybean based items, including plastics in their topic, “Ohio Agriculture And Food Innovation Cluster Activity."

Homan, Program Director for Bioproduct Education at OBIC, gave a brief description of the process used in turning soybeans to plastic. “When you think of the word polymer, you break it down, the word ‘poly’ means ‘many’, so based on how we take units of molecules, we can take those units of molecules and combine them in different ways in order to create diverse materials, from a lubricant to a rigid foam,” he stated.

 “Ohio, nationally, is number one in terms of industry output of polymers,” noted Homan, “Here’s what concerns us: the predominant input, the raw material used to make these type of products today, is oil. I think we can all agree that there are some negative consequences to our country being so reliant on this one source of fossil fuel for raw material, and that’s where OBIC comes into play.”

“At OBIC, we like to view ourselves as a bridge. We are bridging our state’s largest industry, food and agriculture, with another one of our state’s largest industries, and that’s polymer and specialty chemicals,” added Homan.

Michael Sword, Research Engineer at OBIC, spoke of the “Clustered Stewardship” initiative which involves bringing industries, research centers, bridging institutions, and policy makers into a value adding production chain.

“This kind of cluster development, bringing all the parties together, and really facilitating, giving a kind of push, is really what OBIC’s been about.”

Some of the soybean-based initiatives throughout Ohio include: High Oleic Soybeans for bioproducts, plastics from soybean co-products, and polyols, foams out of glycerin from biodiesel production. 

 “From a biobased perspective, we are very excited about this,” said Homan, “We’re at the beginning of something monumental that’s happening, and Ohio has become not only the national leader but the global leader.”

Biobased products, according to Homan, are made from abundant plant-derived resources. They are intelligent and sustainable, with at least equal performance to their petroleum counterparts.

Soybeans are not the only agricultural item being explored for bioproducts.

 Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s (OARDC) “Program of Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives” (PENRA) facility is part of the “Clustered Stewardship” initiative. The Russian Dandelion Taraxacum kok-saghyz has been explored for its rubber content in its roots.

This is a push for a local, natural source of rubber. Key industrial collaborators of PENRA include Bridgestone, Cooper Tires, and Veyance Technologies,” said Sword.

Another crop explored was Miscanthus, a perennial grass, which can be used in production biofuel and other bioproducts. The benefit of Miscanthus is that it can be grown on strip mined soil.

Other crops discussed were Arundo Donax, used in anaerobic digestion and biofuels, and Pennycress, a common weed which can be used for groundcover and also be harvested for oilseed for use in biofuels.  Pennycress can give growers an extra crop because it can be grown in conjunction with corn or soybeans.

Edward Klesack, a local farmer and regular Northeast Ohio Agribusiness Forum attendee, remarked that he would possibly consider growing some of these items, in particular the Pennycress.

“That’s interesting. In my area I’m starting to see more cover crops. We have one farmer that does a third crop,” said Klesack.

“You have to look at the financials, always,” Klesack added, “But that’s something I could see doing, trying to get a third crop, because it could be profitable, if the weather’s right.”

Not only are innovative crops being grown for bioproducts, but major advances have been made in the recycling of municipal waste. Sword pointed to Team Gemini, a sustainable project design and development company based in Orlando, FL, and their new Gemini Synergy Center at the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) in Grove City, OH.

Gemini Synergy Center is an innovative sustainable industrial park which will process Municipal Solid Waste to convert it into a renewable energy source, as well as convert recycled waste into materials with commercial and industrial value.

“They are going to recycle all the water, use all the waste, and it’s going to take time to get there, and ultimately they want to mine the landfill for resources. Instead of calling it waste, now they are calling it Municipal Solid Resource,” said Sword.

The event, hosted at Der Dutchman restaurant by Braintree Business Development Center, was attended by State Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl, Darrell Kick, field representative of Congressman Bob Gibbs’ office, representatives of the Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center, representatives from North Central State College, as well as area farmers and businesspeople.

Posted by Richland Source