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Five Bioeconomy Projects Get Commercialization Funding

field of corn and soybean

Thanks to funding from the Michigan Strategic Fund, plus matching funds from Michigan State University (MSU), several bio-based MSU research projects have been fast-tracked for commercial development.

MSU received the funding from the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (“M-TRAC”) program as part of a state-wide initiative to invest in research areas that have shown promise in the laboratory, but need further development in order to become successful in a competitive market. With MSU’s matching funds, a total of $2.44 million will be focused on MSU biotechnology and bioprocessing innovations that have the potential to create superior value-added products and materials from agricultural-based feedstocks.

Winners of the five 2014-2015 grants include the following teams:

Bruce Dale: Commercialization of AFEX-treated biomass as an animal feed for beef cattle


Bruce Dale

The funding will allow University Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Bruce Dale and his team to conduct animal feed trials using AFEX-treated plant material. AFEX, or ammonia fiber expansion, is a process that uses ammonia and water under moderate pressure and heat to break plant material down into an intermediate form; sugars can then be easily extracted and converted into fuels and chemicals, replacing oil and natural gas. Nearly all the ammonia is recycled and the rest goes into intermediate products, such as cattle feed. Currently the researchers are working to obtain FDA approval to enable large-scale market tests and decrease the risk involved in market penetration. This is part of the long-term goal to build 200-ton/day AFEX depot facilities that will be capable of producing enough feed for approximately 50,000 cattle on multiple feedlots.

John Frost: Synthesis of Biobased p-Hydroxybenzoic Acid (pHBA) at Kilogram Scale


John Frost

University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry John Frost has developed an improved fermentation process to produce shikimic acid, most commonly used as the starting material in the manufacture of the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu. With MTRAC funding, his lab will be able to scale-up and further improve the microbial synthesis and purification of this specialty chemical for commercial production.

Kyung-Hwan Han: XERICO Drought Resistance and Elite Tree Technologies

Kyung-Hwan Han

Kyung-Hwan Han

Department of Horticulture Professor Kyung-Hwan Han’s XERICO technology enhances the drought-resistance of crops without inhibiting growth during early plant development. He is currently working to develop XERICO in maize plants for future field trials. The funding will also enable preparation for field test confirmation of another technology Han has developed, known as Elite Tree. Elite Tree Technology proposes to produce high-density poplar trees at an accelerated growth rate. The further development of this technology will enable maximized yields of short rotation crops in the forestry industry as well as in agroforestry systems.

Gemma Reguera: Microbial electrochemical reactors (MERs)


Gemma Reguera

Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Gemma Reguera is working to develop the MER to produce the polymer precursor 1,3-propanediol (PDO) using glycerin as a substrate. 1,3-PDO can be formulated into a variety of industrial products including composites, adhesives, laminates, and polyesters.

Tim Zacharewski: Automated Quantitative Histopathology Tool (QuHAnT)


Timothy Zacharewski

In collaboration with graduate student Rance Nault, Professor of Biochemistry and and Molecular Biology Timothy Zacharewski has developed QuHAnT to reduce the time and costs associated with quantitative histopathology studies required for safety testing of food additives, nutritional supplements, and food contact substances such as pesticides and packaging materials. This software has the potential to improve the process of introducing new foods and agricultural products to consumers by providing a more comprehensive analysis, expediting time to market, and reducing product development expenses. The funding will help Zacharewski and Nault to further develop the software according to regulatory standards.

For more information, contact MSU MTRAC Program Director Karen Studer-Rabeler at studerra@msu.edu or (517.884.1824).

– Amber Shinn, MSU Innovation Center

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