POET Bioproducts Institute will drive economic growth

Sam Schauer, Reporter

South Dakota State University, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and POET celebrated the planned POET Bioproducts Institute at the Research Park in a ceremony last week in Brookings.

The institute will serve as an innovation center for transforming low-value agricultural materials into high-value bioproducts like special animal feed and degradable plastics, according to SDSU officials. Bioprocessing involves microorganisms transforming materials into better materials.  An example would be the process of turning starch into ethanol.  

“The POET Bioprocessing Institute is a valuable facility in South Dakota,” Daniel Scholl, vice president of research and economic development at SDSU, said. “It is an example of public universities working together and partnering with the private sectors to grow the economy through research.” 

The institute will serve as a “rent-a-lab,” where groups can use a lab, run their experiments, document their findings and possibly sell their products. If the product the group makes is successful, they will scale up the material, which means they will create much more of the product, and create a profit for their organization and for South Dakota. What makes the labs unique is that two public universities and the private sector will be able to use them and create bioproducts and sell them, officials said. 

The facility will help farmers by adding value to crops and selling them for higher prices than usual, which then builds South Dakota’s economy. It will create a demand and add more jobs, Scholl said. This will cause a continuous cycle that benefits South Dakota.

The facility will use cooperation to create bioproducts for the next generation, officials said.  SDSU will focus on feedstock and animal feed testing. The School of Mines will provide expertise on bioprocessing and developing biomaterials through the Composites and Polymer Engineering Lab and the Composite and Nanocomposite Advanced Manufacturing–Biomaterials Center in Rapid City.  

POET will provide innovation on financial and building development. 

“This project is a very visible example of two South Dakota universities working together, with industry, to make life better win South Dakota,” Jim Rankin, president of the School of Mines, said in a press release. “These new product lines will create jobs, which will keep our college graduates and graduates from the technical colleges in South Dakota. We at Mines are excited to see the new innovation that will be created.”

The POET Bioproducts Institute is a first of its kind in South Dakota. Site preparation has begun, and the institute is scheduled to open in June 2023.

The building is roughly 45,000 square feet, and is made possible thanks to the $20 million in legislative funding, $5 million from POET and $2 million from the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, officials said. The South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council also will give $500,000 annually for five years, and the state promised $500,000 a year for operational costs.

“We are convinced that this specialized laboratory will provide our region with enormous capacities to drive economic growth through applied biotechnology,” SDSU President Barry Dunn said in a press release. “The idea of this institute started with a challenge from the private sector and grew into a collaborative partnership between many organizations.”

The new facility is expected to gross more than $6 million a year from research spending that includes employee salaries for grant-funded research and projects. Estimates also project more than $4 million annually toward South Dakota industries for accessing prototype labs and bioprocessing services.