WOOSTER, Ohio — A group of Ohio legislators toured the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) May 12 to learn about ongoing research seeking to develop new sources of renewable energy, fuels and industrial products.
Visiting the Wooster campus were Sen. Larry Mumper, 26th District, chair of the Agriculture Committee; Sen. Jason Wilson, 30th District, ranking minority member of the Agriculture Committee; Sen. Ron Amstutz, 22nd District, chair of the Ways and Means and Economic Development Committee; Rep. Jim Carmichael, 3rd District, assistant majority floor leader; Rep. Bob Gibbs, 97th District, chair of the Ways and Means Committee; and Rep. Steve Reinhard, 82nd District, chair of the Infrastructure, Homeland Security and Veteran Affairs Committee. Also joining the tour was Brian Gwin, project manager for the Wayne Economic Development Council.
OARDC Director Steve Slack said this was an important opportunity to demonstrate ongoing projects that will be critical to Ohio's future bio-economy. "I'm extremely pleased that this many legislators were able to carve time out of their busy schedules to make this on-site visit," he added.
The legislators learned about OARDC's Third Frontier-funded Biomass-to-Energy project, whose purpose is to take animal manure and food-processing leftovers and convert them to clean, renewable energy through the use of biodigesters and fuel cells. The project's benefit to the Buckeye state can be enormous: estimates indicate Ohio's biomass is capable of producing at least 65 percent of the state's residential electricity needs.
Another energy-related endeavor the legislators had a chance to explore was the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center (OBIC, http://bioproducts.osu.edu), also created through a Third Frontier award in order to link the agricultural biosciences with chemical-conversion and advanced-materials technologies to develop a high-quality, renewable supply of specialty chemicals, polymers and industrial materials.
OBIC-related projects that were part of the tour included the domestication and optimization of Russian dandelions with the goal of producing natural rubber — all of which currently must be imported into the United States — right here in Ohio. The hardy plant is also a promising crop for production of ethanol. The congressmen also learned about ongoing projects to create industrial fibers from plants.
Another stop in the tour was OARDC's Molecular and Cellular Imaging Center (MCIC), which recently obtained a state-of-the-art genome analyzer that will allow scientists to conduct genetic studies of crops significantly faster and more efficiently. This technology is crucial to the identification of desired plant traits for enhanced food traits as well as for fuel production and other industrial applications.
The largest and most comprehensive agricultural research facility in the United States, OARDC (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu) is the research arm of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. The Center brings together some 230 scientists engaged in more than 400 research projects at any given time. Through collaborations with industry and government agencies, OARDC generates more than $1 billion of annual economic impact and cost savings to Ohio and the United States.