Innovative Research Network Helps Fuel Michigan's Bioeconomy
MSU BioEconomy Network (MBEN) is an umbrella organization for researchers from more than 20 MSU units. Its mission is to foster connections between MSU researchers and resources and external partners and to coordinate the university's efforts in the bioeconomy.
MBEN works in concert with MSU Technologies, MSU Business-CONNECT, and related units such as MBI International and the MSU Bioeconomy Institute in Holland. It also acts as the MSU contact point for the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (an MSU-University of Wisconsin partnership to develop next generation biofuels).
Douglas Gage, director of MBEN, sees his organization's main role as one of integration. He acknowledges that while MSU's traditional academic structure and land-grant tradition have served the university well in the past, MSU has to find new ways to link people and knowledge together. "We also have to be more nimble in our interactions with the private sector," Gage said. "Universities are not in the business of being in business...but we have much to offer as partners with Michigan firms— of all sizes—that see opportunity in the new bioeconomy."
The terms "bioeconomy" and "biobased economy" refer to society relying more on renewable resources to meet its need for energy, chemicals, and raw materials than on nonrenewable, petroleum-based materials. For example, plant material and municipal and livestock waste—biomass—can be converted into electricity, fuels, plastics, and basic components of chemical processes.
The bioeconomy is particularly important to Michigan and its economic future. High energy prices and concerns about U.S. dependency on foreign oil, and the need for renewable resources, together with Michigan's need to diversify its industries and its abundance of raw materials such as wood and crops, make Michigan particularly well situated to develop a thriving bioeconomy. In addition, biomass products can be used in existing industries, such as automotive and furniture manufacturing, as well as in new ones.
Michigan's skilled workforce, together with MSU's expertise in the areas of plant sciences, engineering, chemistry, and economics, and MSU's land-grant tradition of creating partnerships with community stakeholders and utilizing applied research to help solve problems, provide just the right formula to help expand Michigan's bioeconomy. MBEN is there to act as a catalyst to help make all this happen.
In the next 20 years or so, Gage envisions a world of both very large and small biorefineries, with biomass raw materials being turned into biofuel, and more efficient use of energy and raw materials.
And, Gage noted, "I see MSU continuing to provide the research and education to keep these refineries profitable, efficient, and environmentally sound."