By Xinjuan Deng
Capital News Service
Bio-based industry would get a better chance to prosper under a proposal to expand throughout Michigan in ways that would grow agriculture and reduce dependence on oil, according to an industry group.
U.S Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, has called for a “Grow it Here, Make it Here” policy to advance Michigan’s bio-based manufacturing industry.
“We are at the forefront of bio-based manufacturing, and my initiatives will help businesses who want to invest and create new jobs here in America” Stabenow said.
Stabenow’s plan includes more labeling of bio-based products to encourage government purchases and increasing customers’ awareness.
More than 540 products made by 90 Michigan companies already have such labels.
She also called for resources to spur the commercialization of agricultural innovations, increase access to bio-based manufacturers and give a 30 percent tax credit for Michigan bio-companies that invest in new facilities.
Bio-based products are usually made from renewable agricultural materials such as corn, soybeans, straw and other plants. They include fuels, chemicals, materials and direct energy produced by biogas. The final products range from bed linens and towels to de-greasers and cleaners.
Bio-based products can be made from renewable resources grown in the state, said Robert Robinson, president of the Michigan Biopreferred Products Association.
The association cites a variety of companies in the industry. They include Microcide Inc. in Detroit, maker of Pro-San product sanitizer; Working Bugs in East Lansing, maker of a bio-based agriculture insecticide; Red Sheep Compost Co. in Charlotte, a firm that recycles organic waste and transforms it into compost; and 4R Future in Holland, which produces bath, body care and paper products with bio-ingredients.
Robinson said there would be many opportunities for growers of soybeans, corn, sugar beets and even grass, trees and straw to sell materials for these products.
“We believe that the bio-based movement can economically stimulate Michigan agriculture,” he said.
Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Department, said farmers can cooperate with Michigan State University’s Product Center or related research projects, or connect with local commodities groups.
Douglas Gage, director of the MSU BioEconomy Network, said MSU received a federal grant to help commercialize laboratory research.
“This effort recognizes the challenges of bridging the so-called ‘valley of death’ where many innovations fail,” he said. “Ultimately the bio-economy will depend upon a reliable and cost-effective supply of non-food biomass.”
Biomass will likely include agricultural wastes, switch grass and treated municipal or animal wastes, he said, and could partly replace petroleum and natural gas used in manufacturing.
“This will have significant energy security benefits for the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, bio-industry is addressing challenges, including how to commercialize new technology.
“The technologies we propose to deploy will have to be both environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable. These technologies will have to survive on their economic merits,” Gage said. “There is no ‘green premium.’”
Another challenge is a shortage of state-level support.
“I believe the biggest challenge is getting public policy in Michigan to stimulate, encourage and support bio-products. Senator Stabenow has been a tremendous help in attracting federal support for the bio-industries in Michigan. But it is critical that we also have state-level support as well,” Robinson said.
Although the Obama administration is committed to increase the federal purchase of bio-based products by 50 percent this year, Creagh said there is no such state policy now.
Kathy Fagan, a communications specialist for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said there is no specifically targeted bio-industry program, but the Michigan Business Growth Fund and State Trade Export Promotion program are available for food and agriculture-related companies.
“We will be doing everything in our power to accelerate opportunity, not only in bio-based economic development for food products, but also high-value products derived from agriculture feedstock like bio-fuels and bio-chemicals,” Fagan said.