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02 | 2010

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Report Michigan Biotechnology Institute Molecular biology and microbiology laboratory Bringing new generations of feedstock and specialty chemicals to market is fraught with commercial risk, but one organization connected to a world-leading research university focuses on taking risk out of the equation. Not-for-profit MBI was founded in 1981 as the Michigan Biotechnology Institute to provide services to the biobased fuels, chemicals and specialty materials market. Now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Michigan State University (MSU) Foundation, it is located in the University Corporate Research Park in Lansing, Michigan, where it operates a biobased technology development facility. fermentation vessels in the pilot plant MBI’s de-risking process involves taking early stage technologies and conducting a process development and scale-up plan that results in a commercially viable process. MBI is addressing a key service need in the emerging biobased industry – helping corporations and universities bridge the gap between early stage research and commercialization. MBI is closely connected and integrated with MSU’s broad network of bioeconomy resources, and maintains active collaborations with many top campus scientists. A key contributor to the advancement of biobased polymer development is MSU Distinguished Professor Ramani Nayaran. Dr. Nayaran’s team of researchers focuses on the design and engineering of sustainable biobased products, biodegradable plastics, reactive extrusion polymerization and life cycle analysis studies. Distinguished Professor Lawrence Drzal’s work in composites encompasses cellulose nanowhiskers, nanocomposites, natural fiber composites and biobased composite processing. Housed next to MBI is the laboratory of Dr. Bruce Dale, a leading authority in lignocellulosic biomass treatment/conversion processes and biofuel life cycle analysis. The MBI de-risking facility resides in a state-of-the-art, 11,000 m² development and commercialization center. It offers laboratories suited for microbiology work, including microorganism screening and development, plus isolation, purification and characterization of microbial products. Equipment for the cultivation of bacteria, fungi and algae are located in these laboratories, alongside equipment for culture harvest and product separation. Fermentation labs allow bench top experimentation and analytical 12 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/10] Vol. 5

Report Future work at MBI will focus on three areas of bio-based commercialization: Preparing biomass for processing in the Ammonia Fiber Expansion (AFEX) Process laboratories are available for analysis, characterization and quality control. An 1,800 m² pilot plant at MBI houses complete operations for biomass processing, fermentation, separation and purification. The three-level facility features modern equipment, instrumentation and computer-controlled systems for all stages of bioprocess scale-up. MBI can conduct biomass conversion via pretreatment, fermentation of a variety of sugar sources and purification process development. Fermentation can start in a shake flask, move to 10-liter and 20-liter vessels and then progress to 100- liter, 200-liter and 3,800-liter batches, all in the same facility. Raw materials can then be formulated and compounded into a variety of plastics or composites using university owned mixers and extruders. In addition to completing confidential de-risking projects for corporate clients, MBI uses its skills to help universities, foundations and government organizations fulfill their missions to accelerate bio-based technology development. “De-risking is what we do,” said Dr. Bobby Bringi, president and CEO of MBI. “We apply our multi-disciplined and experienced technical work force on a fee-for-service basis for corporate clients and also on projects that are government- or foundation-funded. The basic research can occur anywhere, but eventually those great ideas need to be validated through scale-up and a techno-economic analysis, and an ideal place to do that is MBI.” Readers of bioplastics MAGAZINE are familiar with the success PLA has had by emerging as one of the leading bioplastics materials. Early development work on PLA technology was completed at MBI. The body of work developed by MBI was acquired and developed by Cargill, eventually becoming the company known as NatureWorks. MBI also is known for developing a variety of organisms that can ferment succinic acid. Much like citric acid and lactic acid, succinic acid will grow in volume into a biobased building block chemical that will be used to create a variety of bioplastics. Several corporations are moving ahead with commercial facilities to produce a biobased succinic acid. • biomass conversion systems to produce non-food based raw materials such as sugars, oils and proteins; • commodity chemicals; and • specialty materials. “The industry needs to break free from the food versus fuel debate,” said David Jones, senior vice president of MBI. “In order to provide low cost and sustainable raw materials, future raw materials from non-food sources will be needed to complement the existing sugars.” MBI today is working to commercialize the Ammonia Fiber Expansion (AFEX) biomass pretreatment system developed by Dr. Dale’s group. The AFEX pretreatment system mixes ammonia with biomass in a reactor to modify cellulosic materials such as wheat straw, corn stover or switchgrass to reduce resistance to enzymatic hydrolysis. The ammonia reacts with the water in the biomass, generating increased temperatures and pressures. When the pressure is released, the ammonia releases into the gas phase. As the ammonia leaves the biomass, it expands the fibers and brings lignin to the surface. This allows the enzymes to more completely hydrolyze the material, creating sugars that can be used for fermentation. MBI’s focus on commodity chemicals will continue with organic acids. MBI is working to commercialize a new process for producing a bio-based fumaric acid used in unsaturated polyester resins for composite applications. It also is used in alkyd resins and as a food and animal feed acidulant. MBI has successfully produced fumaric acid via fermentation at the 3,000-liter scale. MBI also developed a unique fumaric acid separation process and currently is preparing patent applications for this new process technology, available for license in 2010. Specialty material development at MBI is done in conjunction with specific corporate client requests. “It is an exciting time to be involved in the bio-based industry,” Jones said. “The number of specialty material requests that we get continues to amaze me. We see new ideas for biobased surfactants, plasticizers, adhesives, polymers, cosmetics and nutraceuticals. MBI can provide the scale-up services for start-up companies and large chemical companies.” MBI believes that successful commercialization of new biobased technologies is not so much about managing the risk as it is about taking the risk out. Through a disciplined approach to development and scale-up, MBI is able to help the biobased industry de-risk discoveries to create viable commercial products. www.mbi.org bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/10] Vol. 5 13

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