BioPlastic Solutions is Ag Innovator of the Year
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 08/02/2012 2:04 PM
BLOOMING PRAIRIE, Minn. — AURI honored a Blooming Prairie company that turns wheat straw and flax into durable plastics as its Ag Innovator of the Year.
BioPlastic Solutions uses bio-based products to create durable plastic products that are sought by hospitals, nursing homes and schools, said CEO Gary Noble. The products are an alternative to PVC, or polyvinyl chloride.
"Bio-based products are a growing opportunity for our state," said AURI chairman Ron Obermoller.
AURI began working with BioPlastic Solutions after Denny Timmerman, AURI senior project developer, and Noble met at a bio conference in Fergus Falls in 2009.
AURI worked at its co-products laboratory in Waseca to test different agricultural products for possible inclusion in the recipes Noble uses to create plastic piping, tubing, window frames, trimming, edging, deck railing and more.
After exhausting the lab's capabilities, AURI brought on partners, the Minnesota Corn Growers and the Minnesota Soybean Growers, who provided checkoff dollars to continue product development with other teams. AURI continues to work with the teams.
AURI, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, provides research and development for agricultural products. They work with businesses and entrepreneurs to bring ideas to reality.
Timmerman said they have worked with a number of companies that have been successful during the economic downturn. The firms have done their homework and found niches, he said.
Funding for AURI comes from the Legislature. Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, who joined a tour of the business following the awards program, said it's a constant battle to educate urban lawmakers about the importance of funding agricultural research. Touring a successful manufacturing facility like BioPlastic Solutions gives him information to share with fellow lawmakers on the agriculture committee and beyond.
AURI has been a wonderful collaborator, Noble said. In 2008, BioPlastic Solutions lost more than half of their business because of the economic downturn.
"We didn't stop our development because of AURI," Noble said.
Instead, they made progress and are building plastic products for customers from agricultural products. Customers are asking for products that are better for the environment, Noble said.
Hurdles must be overcome in the use of bio-based products. First and foremost is the seasonality and the lack of a collection system, said Noble, who grew up on a farm outside Blooming Prairie. How would he procure corn stover, for example, and how would he store it? What kind of equipment is needed to process the stover into a product that can be trucked a distance at an affordable cost? How can it be kept dry so it can be marketed throughout the year?
He'll continue working with AURI on these issues as he continues to explore alternative bio-products to produce durable plastics from renewable agricultural products.
This year marked the 10th annual awards presentation, said AURI executive director Teresa Spaeth at the June 21 awards ceremony in Owatonna. It was begun to honor clients who have contributed to the economy and helped grow value-added agriculture in Minnesota by creating new products or processes using agriculture products.
BioPlastic Solutions employees nine people and is optimistic it will add more jobs in the coming year.