Building For Bio-Manufacturing
Countries around the world are looking for more sustainable solutions. Some highly publicized answers have been found in renewable energy, but that's not the only challenge.
From water bottles to automobile seats, an amazing number of the things we use every day are created from petroleum-based products like plastic and foam. Bio-manufacturing strategies are helping the world reduce its reliance on the fossil fuels that underpin so many of these products.
While traditional manufacturing continues to struggle in the U.S., the potential for bio-manufacturing markets may reach $500 billion in the global economy by 2015. Could the bio-economy also be a core component of the Capital region's future economy?Lansing Has What It Takes
In 2008, Michigan State University’s (MSU) Center for Community and Economic Development
, working with Lansing-based Prima Civitas Foundation
, the Tri-County Planning Commission
, the Capital Area Manufacturing Council
(CAMC) and Lansing Community College
, evaluated the feasibility of an automotive-based bio-manufacturing sector in the Capital region.The 2008 feasibility study
showed the Capital region has many of the ingredients to become an early-adapter community for bio-manufacturing, putting the region in a competitive position as the industry grows in the future.
“There’s clearly the intellectual power, the resources and natural resources to support a vigorous bio-manufacturing economy,” says David Hollister, president and CEO of Prima Civitas and unofficial head of the area's bio-manufacturing push.
Local intellectual capacity will prove vital in the emerging bio-economy, just like it did in the high-tech boom. Bio-plastic technology rapidly evolves, bringing with it the potential for lighter, stronger and more resilient materials.
In that kind of rapidly changing sector, innovators control the market, and the Capital region has them. According to the 2008 study, MSU has approximately 150 faculty members doing research in the bio-manufacturing sector, making the university a nationally recognized hotbed for national bio-economy experts.
Not only do we have the talent, we also have many of the agricultural resources needed to make bio-manufacturing advances. Quantity, quality and diversity of agriculture are also important for a bio-manufacturing hub because crop byproducts are the building blocks of bio-plastics. Traditionally-grown Michigan crops offer important byproducts such as corn stover, soybean pods, stems and leaves and sugar beet tops and residue.
To be useful, these byproducts need to be processed at bio-refineries and then sent to facilities to be used as plastics, emulsions or foam in auto components, paper products, solvents and textiles.Some Assembly Required
From farm to factory, the Capital region seems to have all the basic building blocks for a successful bio-manufacturing sector. The 2008 feasibility study, however, also showed that we lack some of the necessary public and private support, and the infrastructure required, to assemble the many components. So in 2009, the team focused on educating officials and residents about the study and building support for investment.
“The second year of the study was focused on building public support, educating township officials, county officials, city officials, agricultural people and manufacturers,” says Hollister.
Those efforts laid the groundwork for the initiative's latest evolution. In 2010, the Lansing initiative is moving to formalize a bio-manufacturing network that will facilitate sector growth.
Taking the highly successful Ontario BioAuto Council
as its model, the initiative group wants to create a local alliance—including auto-manufacturers, suppliers, scientists, engineers, farmers and educators—that will act as a support network for all aspects of bio-manufacturing.
“It’s called a sector strategy,” Hollister says. “How do we make sure the sector grows? Create a forum for the agricultural interests to come together with the auto interests to come together with the academics at the university and create a strategy to move this thing forward.”
Bob Sherer, executive director of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council, says that the initiative group recently applied for a grant from the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG)
“What we need from DLEG is seed money,” says Sherer, “to dedicate some people power and bring [changes] about more quickly.”
Sherer and Hollister are hustling for changes in Lansing because the bio-economy is growing fast and soon they won’t be ahead of the game. They mention a European Union mandate that will surely affect American auto company production policies: all autos sold in Europe must be 85 percent recyclable or biodegradable by weight by 2015.
Sherer points out that there are local companies already working in the bio-manufacturing arena, such as KTM Industries
, the Michigan Brewing Company
, and EcoSynthetix
“But you know,” he says, “some of these bio-based companies are fairly small, and if you tackle the auto industry they wouldn’t have the capacity to serve their needs. You would have to have people banding together to scale up to provide the market with the volume it requires.”
This is the effect Hollister hopes the alliance will have: helping people come together to facilitate growth and interest in the sector so when the auto industry or any other big-ticket industry calls, Lansing will be ready.Potential Impact
A blossoming bio-manufacturing sector would promote local growth in agriculture,
research and development and manufacturing. It would create opportunities for skilled laborers and provide new jobs at bio-refineries and chemical, plastics and stamping facilities.
Once the sector is up and running, the proposed bio-manufacturing alliance will continue to function, maintaining communication between companies in the sector and the community. LCC, as part of the initiative, has already created a curriculum framework for a bio-processing program to train local youths and displaced workers in the new industry.
“The last thing we want to have happen is bio-companies here have trouble finding the workers they need and go elsewhere,” says Sherer.To receive Capital Gains free every week, click here.
Julianne VanWagenen is a new contributor to Capital Gains.
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Production at Michigan Brewing Company
Tim Colonnese peers through stacks of bio produced packaging at KTM Industries
Magic Nuudles at KTM Industries
Testing lab at MBC
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie