New grant adds fuel to MSU Bioeconomy Institute

December 5, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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A combined $1.08 million grant from the federal and state governments will increase the activity level at the MSU Bioeconomy Institute in Holland starting in January.

The institute, which helps entrepreneurial businesses develop “green” chemical technologies at the former Pfizer facility, applied for and received one of only six i6 Green Challenge grants awarded across the nation in 2011.

The grant is $500,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a matching $500,000 from the state of Michigan, and $80,000 from the EPA, and is designated for a new consortium of Michigan State University, Lakeshore Advantage, the NewNorth Center in Holland and the Prima Civitas Foundation in Lansing.

MSU operates its Proof-of-Concept Center for Green Scale-Up Chemistry at the Holland facility, training and advising PCC-GSC clients on green technology innovation and recruiting capital investment in those clients. The supplemental EPA grant will help fund R&D in drinking water filtration and safety.

The i6 Green PCC-GCS project at the Bioeconomy Institute supports the i6 mission of driving technology commercialization and entrepreneurship leading to a green innovative economy, increased U.S. competitiveness and new jobs.

The pilot plant at the Bioeconomy Institute provides selected firms with access to more than 7,000 gallons of stainless steel, glass-lined and Hastelloy chemical reactors, plus centrifuges, dryers, filters and related equipment. According to information provided by Paul Hunt, senior associate vice president for research at MSU, that equipment requires capital outlays “well beyond the means of most start-up firms.”

MSU also will provide research and chemical manufacturing expertise and regulatory compliance assistance. The grant will allow MSU to assist the institute’s client firms in obtaining U.S. Department of Agriculture BioPreferred designations.

“Additional project proposals for subsidized scale-up services will be solicited beginning in January,” said Randy Olinger of Lakeshore Advantage. The Zeeland economic development agency manages the institute’s laboratory-based entrepreneurial “green ventures” with business planning, market development and detailed advice from the Small Business Innovation Research program and the Small Business Technology Transfer program.

Olinger said the grant will support “a number of new entrepreneurial development and small business assistance programs.”

The NewNorth Center for Design in Holland will provide mentoring to the start-up companies “incubating” at the Bioeconomy Institute, and the nonprofit Prima Civitas Foundation in Lansing will help recruit new client start-ups.

The MSU Bioeconomy Institute opened in 2009. The 140,000-square-foot professional R&D facility — including fully equipped modern laboratories, as well as pilot production space — was donated to MSU by Pfizer Inc., which had closed the plant in 2005, resulting in the loss of 500 jobs in the Holland area.

Olinger said four small client companies currently hold leases at the institute:

**Eco-Composites LLC, which is developing sustainable opportunities for creating value-added products that incorporate natural cellulosic fibers.

**Venntis, which is developing technologies for alternative energy production from biomass resources.

**Single Source Procurement, which provides sourcing and purchasing solutions for chemical and other tech-based companies.

**Aqua Clara, which provides affordable water purification technologies and products to underdeveloped areas of the world.

Olinger said the institute is also discussing lease options with small companies that are working in areas such as combustion engine design enhancements, microbial bio-augmentation products and lithium battery chemical technologies.

The institute lab recently performed some chemical process development to assist the progression of certain chemical technologies into the institute’s pilot plant facilities — in this case, for GFT LLC, a participant in the Scale Up Michigan program that was initiated last year by the BioBusiness Accelerator.

Olinger said other awardees from that program currently working to complete successful campaigns in the pilot plant before the end of this year include Pleotint and Boropharm.

The institute also has a new R&D director: Thomas F. Guarr, a vice president in chemical research at Gentex Corp. in Zeeland. Guarr will continue in that capacity at Gentex on a part-time basis until March to aid in the transition.

The R&D director’s position will be supported by the interest income from a $5.2 million endowment fund raised and administered by the Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland Area. A selection committee comprised of MSU and Holland community representatives and chaired by Michael F. Thomashow, an MSU University Distinguished Professor and member of the National Academy of Sciences, chose Guarr after a national search. In the general leadership of the institute, Guarr will work with Operations Director William Freckman, who oversees pilot plant operations, tenant relations and infrastructure development.

Gentex Chairman and CEO Fred Bauer said Guarr “has led our chemistry program and has been a great asset to Gentex as we have improved our auto-dimming electrochromic mirror chemistry over the past 17 years. He was also the leader of the team that developed the dimmable aircraft window assembly that is currently being used on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner series of aircraft, as well as the King Air 350i. These windows are an industry ‘first,’ and Tom was a key contributor in their development. We’re pleased that Tom is staying local, and look forward to a continued good relationship going forward.”

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