In 2005, the state of Ohio chose to invest in the creation of a center that would spur research and commercialization of bio-based specialty chemicals, polymers and advanced materials. Six years later, the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center, headquartered at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, has managed to link the worlds of academia and industry in a way they hadn't before.
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," says Stephen Myers, OBIC director. "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 points 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 says. "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."