MANSFIELD, Ohio -- Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee liked what he saw at the Mansfield, Ohio, factory: a syrupy mixture made from crop and biodiesel-processing wastes being turned into polyurethane foam. But he was more fascinated by the story of how this factory came to be: an Ohio State scientist’s lab idea transformed by an Ohio startup into local jobs and a new green industry.
Gee toured the manufacturing facility of Bio100 Technologies on Wednesday (10/3) to celebrate the success of a partnership in which university knowledge and entrepreneurship have found the right balance -- just like the formula that yielded a chunk of bio-foam right in front of his eyes. He was joined by U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi (Ohio's 12th District) and Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker, among other elected and community officials, industry representatives, and university officials.
Bio100 Technologies' product is called a biopolyol, the foundation for making a variety of soft and hard foam products such as home insulation, automobile seat cushions, packaging materials and appliance insulation systems. Developed and patented by Yebo Li, a biosystems engineer with Ohio State's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster, this biopolyol is made from crude glycerin (an abundant byproduct of biodiesel production with little commercial value) mixed with crop residue.
"This is really a story about Ohio State," Bio100 Technologies President Jim Cavicchioli said. "In 2009, Jeff Schultheis, our company's vice president and an Ohio State alumnus, took this biodiesel byproduct to the Ohio State Wooster campus and asked, 'What can we do with it?' Three years later, we have Ohio State people working with us in the lab. And we will continue to grow with Ohio State."
After three years of researching, perfecting its formula and selling its concept to potential customers, Bio100 Technologies is gearing up to begin commercial-scale production this November. The company -- which currently employs 12 people -- expects to produce 15 million pounds of biopolyol per year initially, generating $120 million in sales by 2016. Within five years, it plans to create up to 60 jobs in Mansfield, whose economy has struggled due to employment losses in manufacturing.
During the tour, Schultheis talked about the many competitive advantages of his company's biopolyol. For example, it helps diversify the $13 billion-a-year U.S. foam industry, which heavily depends on petroleum-based sources. It doesn't take away crops from food production, adding value to the 70 million gallons of crude glycerin produced annually by the U.S. biodiesel industry. And in addition to being renewable and biodegradable, this biopolyol is 5-10 percent cheaper than petroleum-based or natural oil-based foams and its quality is comparable to currently available products.
"So this product is green and cheap?" Gee asked Schultheis.
Brian Cummings, Ohio State's vice president for technology commercialization, said the Bio100 Technologies story is an example of how the university is trying to improve its record on commercialization of intellectual property and, ultimately, economic impact.
"It starts with things like what we are seeing today," Cummings said. "It's about taking these new ideas and making an impact in the private sector. It's about bringing together great researchers, teams and smart capital. And to do it over and over and over again."
Gee emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships to drive innovation and the "economic renaissance of Ohio" and the rest of the country.
"We are all about taking ideas from the lab and transforming them into jobs," he said. "And we are about partnering. We will stand on the street corner with a sign that says, 'We will partner.' Thank you, Bio100 Technologies, for this partnership. And thank you, Yebo Li and your group, for your work on this project."
The Ohio Soybean Council and TechColumbus have provided funding for the biopolyol research. Support has also come from PolymerOhio.
OARDC is the research arm of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.