New tenant eFarms moves to MSU Bioeconomy Institute

February 8, 2010
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HOLLAND — The Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute in Holland has a second tenant, eFarms LLC, a start-up that is working toward the creation of an ethanol-producing system for farms.

The system, currently in development, would take corn and produce ethanol for use in farm equipment as well as a corn mash that would be suitable for livestock feed, explained CEO Richard Edmonds.

“We are just an entrepreneurial company, three or four guys. We started it up in the Grand Rapids area and came over to Holland to take advantage of the MSU Bioeconomy Institute and what they have to offer in terms of lab space,” Edmonds said.

“One of our goals is to make sure everything stays in Michigan for the production,” he added.

Last month, the Michigan Strategic Fund board agreed to loan eFarms $120,000 to hire former Pfizer employees to help with research and development.

Edmonds, a lawyer who has worked with farmers on farmland preservation, said the partners are working on business development. They have been meeting with manufacturers and farmers in Michigan and searching for funding, such as grants and loans, he said. Recently, he met with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.

Currently, the prototype unit is about the size of a one-stall garage, he said. The cost is expected to hit six figures, but Edmonds said that includes conversion kits to allow farm equipment to use an ethanol-diesel combination in fuel-driven farm equipment.

“It’s basically a plug-in thing with pumps and compressors,” Edmonds said. “(The farmer) is not wasting anything. There’s no wastewater discharge, no emissions, no big heating columns.”

He said the eFarms product could reduce diesel use by as much as 40 percent and provide livestock feed, as well. He thinks the system would produce enough savings to cover its cost in a year.

Edmonds said eFarms is working with MSU and agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. in the laboratory to test the quality and nutrition of the mash byproduct for use as feed. In addition to corn, they are testing other Michigan produce such as apples and cherries, he said.

“We are running that through, and seeing how much ethanol we get and check the livestock feed value,” Edmonds said.

He said a beta prototype could be available by the end of March. EFarms is looking for farmers to volunteer as test sites for the summer. The company plans to have equipment available for display at next winter’s meetings and conferences in order to launch the sales effort, he added. A patent is pending.

Donated to MSU by Pfizer, the 138,000-square-foot Bioeconomy Institute opened in 2009. The Community Foundation of The Holland/Zeeland Area raised $5.2 million for a community endowment. Economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage has organized a business accelerator in the building.

The Bioeconomy Institute also is home to AFID Therapeutics Inc., a spin-off company operated by MSU Professor Rawle Hollingsworth. The company focuses on developing chemicals from biomass and sugars. The compounds can be use for drugs and biofuel.

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