The result: new companies, partnerships, products and jobs that are helping Ohio become a national leader in the rapidly expanding bio-economy.
Funded by an $11.5 million Third Frontier award matched 2:1 by alliance members, OBIC has brought together Ohio’s two largest industries, agriculture and polymers, which contribute nearly $200 billion to the state’s economy on an annual basis. The Center’s ultimate goal is to accelerate research and commercialization of new industrial materials made from Ohio-grown biomass and other renewable sources, instead of being largely dependent on foreign oil for making these essential materials.
“We are a unique consortium of university-industry leaders committed to innovation and led by a strong industry board of advisors,” OBIC Director Stephen Myers said. “We operate through a Cell-to-Sell business model, essentially a market-based approach designed to leverage genetics, biotechnology, chemical conversion and prototype development in a way that accelerates commercialization of bio-products. In other words, we leverage university assets in ways which optimize support of industry initiatives.”
Why such an emphasis on bio-products? Why Ohio? There are plenty of reasons: worldwide demand for bio-based polymers and chemicals is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 50 years; Ohio is No. 1 in the country in polymers; and the state’s strong agricultural and food processing industries can produce and convert biomass (much of it currently under-utilized and going to landfills) to supply major portions of material demand. Not to mention record-high petroleum prices and the volatility associated not only with oil but other sources of raw materials that come mostly from abroad, such as rubber.
“Specialty chemicals and polymers are essential building blocks in making things we use each day, from the plastics that house our computers to the paint on our house to the tires on our cars,” Myers pointed out.
Studies conducted by Battelle and Cleveland State University have also found that bio-polymers are expected to be a major source of innovation for Ohio’s polymer and advanced materials industries, while focused development efforts in areas such as polymers, energy and agriculture would give “the best opportunities for protecting and augmenting Ohio’s economic base and facilitating growth in the State.”
Wayne Early, president of Polymer Ohio Inc. -- an umbrella organization that supports the state’s polymer, plastics, rubber and advanced-materials industries -- agrees.
“Bio-based polymers are primary sources of innovation for Ohio’s polymer industry -- essential for the state’s economic future,” he said. “OBIC’s work is favorably impacting Ohio’s economy at several levels. First, the polymeric materials developed as part of this program will add value and functionality to the products developed from them by being, for example, biodegradable. Second, as the price of oil continues to increase, these materials will provide producers an alternative for controlling costs.”
OBIC’s critical liaison role can be seen at work in its relationship with Ashland Inc., a leading specialty chemical company that operates a major lab in Dublin, Ohio, and which has been on OBIC’s board of advisors since the founding of the Center.
“OBIC has been a really great partner for us,” said Bob Moffit, a program manager at Ashland. “One of the real strengths of working with OBIC is that they have such a diverse group of companies that they work with, and they are excellent at networking and identifying the people that we need to work with to make projects a success.”
One of those projects is Ashland’s recent involvement in the renewable building materials sector, which began approximately two years ago as a result of market studies conducted by OBIC.
“We got involved in the green building materials initiative thanks to work done by OBIC through surveys with consumers, architects and designers,” Moffit explained. “OBIC has conducted material-flow studies to help us understand what the opportunities are for companies such as Ashland in this green building materials market. And they have also helped us map out the supply chain, what Ohio has to offer, where we have advantages over other states and competitors, and also what our weaknesses are.”
Other examples of OBIC-supported partnerships and projects include:
- Bio-fuel from agricultural waste: OBIC worked with OARDC scientists, OARDC’s BioHio Research Park and Cleveland-based quasar energy group to develop a biogas industry in Ohio. Four anaerobic digesters have already been built, and nine new projects are scheduled for construction across the state in 2011. This partnership has led to the creation and retention of 110 jobs. (Learn more at http://go.osu.edu/quasar).
- Granular technology for agrichemicals: OBIC has worked with Maumee, Ohio-based The Andersons Inc. to develop a granular material that more effectively contains, transports and delivers fertilizer and pesticides for use on crops. This technology eliminates spray drift common in liquid chemical applications, reduces spills and is safer for the environment. Involving both OARDC and Ohio State University Extension, the project has created 23 new jobs and $29.5 million in sales.
- Reinforced composites using plant-based fibers: OBIC has facilitated the emergence of a new industry supply chain around technology developed by Columbus-based startup Natural Fiber Composites Corporation, which manufactures natural fiber-reinforced bio-composites (plastics) for automotive, construction and other industrial products. The company established a pilot plant in Wooster, Ohio, that produces 6 million pounds of composite materials annually, has created or retained 10 jobs, and expects to create 12 jobs and $3 million in revenue by the end of 2012. (Learn more at http://go.osu.edu/composites).
- A domestic source of natural rubber: OBIC has been instrumental in developing a national consortium linking up universities and companies to work on the development of an alternative source of natural rubber (Russian dandelion) that can be grown and processed in Ohio. Today, the U.S. is totally dependent on imported rubber, which is essential for producing a wide range of medical, transportation and military products. Industry partners include Bridgestone, Cooper Tire, Veyance Technologies and Ford Motor Co. (Learn more at http://go.osu.edu/DRZ).
- Green polyurethane from biodiesel waste: OBIC has supported the work of OARDC scientists who developed and patented a way to turn crude glycerin (a byproduct of the biodiesel industry) and crop residue into polyurethane foam for applications in the construction, automotive and appliance industries. Commercialized by Mansfield, Ohio-based startup Poly-Green Technologies, this invention is expected to create up to 30 jobs within two years and a new industry in the state. (Learn more at http://go.osu.edu/polyurethane).