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Building a bio-based future

August 11, 2011
By Dennis Timmerman , Marshall Independent

AURI senior project

development director

One of the most promising new avenues for agricultural products may have a very industrial feel.

A newly released report by the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) highlights the opportunity for biobased products to create economic growth in Minnesota.

The first of its kind in our state, the report confirms what many had suspected: that biobased materials hold great potential to create new market opportunities for Minnesota agriculture and manufacturers. Numerous stakeholders were surveyed and interviewed, offering an in-depth look at opportunities that exist and challenges that must be considered. Most manufacturers surveyed are using biobased materials as alternatives to petroleum-based materials in molded products, architectural/shelving structures, packaging and point of purchase materials.

While many perceive bioplastics to be primarily focused on disposable or compostable items such as bottles and packaging, the largest potential growth may lie in the use of biobased material as a replacement for petroleum-based plastics in durable products such as electronics, furniture and architectural products.

Minnesota manufacturers are intrigued by what biobased materials can offer in terms of managing fluctuating petroleum costs and even creating a market niche for themselves but they want to understand more about the characteristics, performance, manufacturing processes and market opportunities. It is important that education and networking opportunities be developed to help Minnesota manufacturers get the information they need so they can be on the vanguard of this emerging market. While the majority of Minnesota manufacturers surveyed have indicated that they anticipate using more biobased material, they also reported, by and large, that they feel under-informed about biobased material overall, highlighting the need to develop ways to better educate manufacturers.

There is some concern about the potential impact on product performance, warranty claims, and manufacturing processes and costs. And for companies selling products internationally, there may be manufacturing regulatory hurdles to consider. These are all factors that need to be explored to ultimately succeed in this emerging area.

Several recommendations were offered in the report, including the need connect researchers, manufacturers, business developers and others with an interest in the biobased products industry to move the industry forward.

AURI is following through on that recommendation with a one-day event focused on the study's findings and implications, and possible next steps to help Minnesota establish a leadership position in bioplastics and biobased products. Policy makers, manufacturers, agriculture leaders, researchers and industry experts are all encouraged to take part in the event Wednesday at the Country Inn and Suites in Mankato.

More information on the event and a copy of the report can be found at



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