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Five BioAg Translation Grants Awarded via MSU MTRAC

Second round of MTRAC acceleration awards help move bioeconomy projects to market

The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) Program for the Bio-Economy, launched by Michigan State University and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), announces five BioAg projects selected for grants to help make them broadly available for consumer use.  MSU MTRAC awarded more than $250,000 to the 2015 project series this spring.

Supported by The MSU Innovation Center and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, MSU MTRAC was established through a grant from the MEDC 21st Century Jobs Trust Fund, with matching funds from MSU for a total of $2.4M. These funds are focused on one of the University’s core strengths: Ag/Bio science and technology, and will be used to accelerate commercial development on bio-based projects over three years. 

Bruce Dale: Commercialization of AFEX-Treated Biomass as an Animal Feed for Beef Cattle

In collaboration with Bernie Steele and Bryan Bals at MBI

In year 1 of MTRAC funding of this project, Dr. Dale’s team was able to scale up ethanol production from AFEX pellets to a commercial scale of 3000L. The next step to improve pilot plant viability is to develop AFEX pellets for use as animal feed.  The MTRAC award renewal will allow the team to conduct animal feed trials with beef cattle leading to FDA approval.  FDA approval will enable large scale market tests and decrease the risk involved in market penetration.  This is part of the long-term goal to build 200 ton/day AFEX depot facilities that will be capable of producing enough feed for approximately 50,000 cattle on multiple feedlots.

Gemma Reguera: Microbial Electrochemical Reactors (MERs)

The MEC developed by Dr. Reguera in the first year of MTRAC funding provided a proof-of-concept that her reactor could produce ethanol without being inhibited by the waste byproducts that typically build up in similar processes.  With the renewed MTRAC funding, Dr. Reguera will further develop the MEC to produce the polymer precursor 1,3-propanediol (PDO) using glycerin as a substrate.  1,3-PDO can be formulated into a variety of industrial products including composites, adhesives, laminates, and polyesters.

John Frost: Synthesis of Biobased p-Hydroxybenzoic Acid (pHBA) at Kilogram Scale

Dr. Frost has developed an improved fermentation process to produce shikimic acid, most commonly used as the starting material in the manufacture of the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu.  With MTRAC funding, his lab will be able to scale-up and further improve the microbial synthesis and purification of this specialty chemical for commercial production.

Kyung-Hwan Han:  XERICO Drought Resistance and Elite Tree Technologies

Dr. Han’s XERICO technology enhances the drought-resistance of crops without inhibiting growth during early plant development.  His renewal of a previous Tier II MTRAC award will continue to fund the development of XERICO in maize plants for future field trials.  The 2015 Tier I MTRAC award will also enable field test confirmation of another technology Dr. Han as developed, known as Elite Tree.  Elite Tree Technology proposes to produce high-density poplar trees at an accelerated growth rate.  The further development of this technology will enable maximized yields of short rotation crops in the forestry industry as well as in agroforestry systems.

Tim Zacharewski: Automated Quantitative Histopathology Tool (QuHAnT)

QuHAnT has been developed by Dr. Zacharewski in collaboration with Graduate student Rance Nault to reduce the time and costs associated with quantitative histopathology studies required for safety testing of food additives, nutritional supplements, and food contact substances such as pesticides and packaging materials.  This software has the potential to improve the process of introducing new foods and agriculture products to consumers by providing a more comprehensive analysis, expediting time to market, and reducing product development expenses.   Using Tier I MTRAC funds, Dr. Zacharewski and Rance will further develop the software according to regulatory standards with the goal of forming a startup company.

More on MTRAC

Ideal candidates are MSU biotechnology and bioprocessing innovations that have the potential to create superior value-added products and materials. Projects will have shown promise in the laboratory, but need further development in order to become successful in a competitive market. The goal of the MTRAC program is to assist in transitioning these discoveries through to implementation where they can benefit society.

Through 2016, MSU researchers can apply for funding to help drive laboratory technology toward commercialization, including support for scale-up services in fermentation technology, proto-biochemical synthesis, separations and purification, through MSU’s affiliated process and scale-up facilities.