WOOSTER, Ohio Ã¢â¬â Sen. George Voinovich toured the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) June 29 to learn about ongoing research seeking to develop new sources of renewable energy and industrial products and combat the effects of global warming.
Ã¢â¬ÅClimate change and energy security are some of the biggest issues we are facing in Congress today,Ã¢â¬Â said Voinovich, who told OARDC administrators and researchers he is interested in figuring out the competitive advantages of different biofuels and bio-energy technologies to make more informed and effective policy decisions.
During the tour, Voinovich heard about OARDCÃ¢â¬â¢s Third Frontier-funded Biomass-to-Energy project, whose purpose is to take animal manure (an environmental concern) and food-processing leftovers (an expensive waste-disposal issue) and convert them to clean, renewable energy. The projectÃ¢â¬â¢s benefit to the Buckeye state can be enormous: estimates indicate OhioÃ¢â¬â¢s biomass is capable of producing at least 65 percent of the stateÃ¢â¬â¢s residential electricity needs.
This project, lead research Floyd Schanbacher explained, deals with two different technologies Ã¢â¬â biodigesters, which turn waste into biogas, and fuel cells, which can use that biogas and other feedstocks (such as soybean oil) to generate energy. Fuel cells are a technology in which Ohio is enthusiastically investing to become a national leader.
Another energy-related endeavor Voinovich learned about is the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center (OBIC), 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.
One OBIC-funded project in which Voinovich showed great interest is the domestication of Russian dandelions with the goal of producing natural rubber Ã¢â¬â all of which currently must be imported into the United States Ã¢â¬â in Ohio. OARDC scientists and industry partners are working to optimize the generation of latex from the plantÃ¢â¬â¢s roots and work out production and processing issues.
Ã¢â¬ÅThis is amazing,Ã¢â¬Â Voinovich said, holding a string of latex-filled dandelion root and a piece of rubber foam made from the raw material. Ã¢â¬ÅWe are very reliant on foreign-grown rubber in this country, so I say letÃ¢â¬â¢s figure this (project) out.Ã¢â¬Â
Finally, Voinovich heard from OARDC soil scientist Rattan Lal, who has testified twice before Congress about the need to increase soil carbon sequestration (the storing of atmospheric carbon dioxide in agricultural, landscape and forest lands) as a way to reduce greenhouse emissions and fight global warming.
Lal, director of Ohio StateÃ¢â¬â¢s Carbon Management and Sequestration Program, said Ohio produces 90 million metric tons of carbon per year and has the potential of sequestering (through production techniques such as no-till agriculture) some 12 million of that Ã¢â¬â roughly 12 percent to 15 percent. This, he pointed out, can be applied nationwide to help the country reach emission-reduction goals while other carbon-storing technologies are developed. Lal also talked about OARDCÃ¢â¬â¢s work evaluating the potential of switchgrass and others sources of cellulosic ethanol in Ohio.
Ã¢â¬ÅWe were honored to have Sen. Voinovich visit OARDC, and we appreciate the opportunity to discuss a few of our programs that are of interest to him and important to the state of Ohio,Ã¢â¬Â said OARDC Director Steve Slack. Ã¢â¬ÅWe feel that these opportunities for interaction are a critical means for exchanging ideas and concepts that help drive OhioÃ¢â¬â¢s economic future forward.Ã¢â¬Â
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.