Cultivating the Next Generation

The POET Bioproducts Center lays a foundation for the future

In the heartland of South Dakota, where golden fields stretch as far as the eye can see, a new chapter in the pursuit of creativity, innovation, and the development of future leaders is unfolding.

Imagine a place where the future of biotechnology and bioprocessing are cultivated in the fertile soil of knowledge. It’s a place where the pioneers of tomorrow are forging ahead, participating in the progression and growth of the state’s
largest industries.

Welcome to the exciting intersection of industry expertise, academic excellence, and visionary agriculture: The POET Bioproducts Center.

Through the support of POET, the state of South Dakota, and other members of the Bio Leadership Coalition, the POET Bioproducts Center was established at the Research Park at South Dakota State University, and after nearly two years of construction, the Center has officially opened its doors to the region's leading bioprocessing scientists.

POET is the lead sponsor of the Center, a 45,000-square-foot building located at South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) Research Park in Brookings. The Center includes several mini-labs, a pilot-scale bioproducts laboratory, and other equipment needed to test, develop, and scale
value-added bioproducts.

Top: Ribbon cutting at POET Bioproducts Center Grand Opening Center left: lab space at Center | Bottom Left: Crowd listens to speeches at grand opening Bottom Right: SDSU President Barry Dunn speaks to crowd

The first-of-its-kind innovative ecosystem between students and faculty from SDSU and South Dakota Mines and industry partners will allow collaboration on the next generation of bioproducts, said Jeff Lautt, POET President and Chief Operating Officer.

“The whole purpose of this project was to bring together the private and public sector to advance technology around education to produce bioproducts,” he said.

The facility and its operating body, Dakota BioWorx, will enhance research, economic development, and workforce preparation in South Dakota and throughout the Midwest.

“The second component of this project is a nonprofit organization, Dakota BioWorx, that will use the building to add value and provide services for the transfer of bioprocessing technologies into commercialization,” said Dr. Daniel Scholl, Professor and Vice President of Research and Economic Development at SDSU. “The nonprofit will provide a service to organizations like POET and others in commercialization partnerships to scale up university inventions or even
private-sector inventions.”

In addition to the $5 million lead gift from POET to build and outfit the Center, the project includes support from the South Dakota Legislature, the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, and The South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. Dakota BioWorx will include representatives from SDSU, SD Mines, the Board of Regents, POET, and other industry partners.

Designed to add value to the work done by regional farmers, this structure will also benefit researchers of all levels as they continue to find and share value in local agricultural resources and bring new bioproducts to market.

“Today, university research continues to impact economic growth in our community through the commercialization of new and innovative ideas to solve real-world problems,” said SDSU President Barry Dunn. “That process requires investments in cutting-edge facilities, and as we are witnessing, to fully realize the potential of new ideas, universities must engage in public-private partnerships. Just as previous generations of leaders envisioned facilities like the POET Bioproducts Center, now our region will have enormous capacities to drive economic growth through applied biotechnology.”

Businesses can rent lab space in the Center and get assistance from specialists in bioprocessing through Dakota BioWorx, and university students will have the opportunity for hands-on learning experiences and research. POET will be actively involved in the facility, including areas of research, governance, and curriculum development, which will involve establishing courses in bioprocessing with a focus on value-added agriculture and offering academic degrees that include such courses.

POET President and COO Jeff Lautt tours the POET Bioproducts Center with POET team members

“Students are always working on things, and they might have an idea, or a company might want to solicit the capabilities and resources of students at various stages — whether graduates or undergraduates,” said Lautt. “Professors are teaching but might have ideas they are exploring. A benefit of bringing the private sector together with public institutions is you can take ideas and turn them into reality.”

Dr. Scholl said students will be able to work on their own research, but businesses that may need to trial or scale a product could utilize space in the facility to conduct research and development.

“Let’s say a faculty member at SDSU invents a way to use bioprocessing to process dry distillers grains into an additional value-added product,” he said. “That would be secondary fermentation. We talk with our counterparts, tell them, ‘This might be of interest to you,’ and we then develop an agreement, go to the Bioproducts Center, and use their expertise to commercialize the product.”

Because businesses don’t always have the space to run trials, conduct research, and scale up, and because colleges don’t focus on developing the capacity to bring a product to market, the opportunities to harness the power of Dakota BioWorx and the space provided are a win-win for everyone involved.

“Agriculture wins, students win, and the private sector wins because they’re able to commercialize new technologies using this facility,” said Lautt.

But the wins keep coming, as this project will also allow the state of South Dakota to continue to expand agricultural growth and development of technologies that positively impact the world.

Bioproducts such as bioethanol or bioplastics have the potential to eliminate dependency on petroleum while also increasing the economic viability and sustainability of the agriculture sector.

While this type of partnership is a pioneering venture in the education and bioproducts sectors of South Dakota, Lautt said it already exists in Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota. Adding this resource to South Dakota will help sustain and build a robust bioprocessing workforce and an understanding of what it means to participate in agriculture today.

Left: Jeff Broin, POET Founder and CEO, speaks to audience at grand opening event

“At POET, we’ve worked hard to be at the forefront of ag innovation since day one, and I believe the same spirit of ingenuity that helped our team pioneer an industry is still alive and well in the young minds of today,” said Jeff Broin, POET Founder and CEO. “Their curiosity will help drive the processes and technology to extract more value out of every bushel of grain grown right here in the heartland.”

Broin adds that the impact of this collaboration between the public and private entities involved and their shared goal of growing the bioprocessing sector will “elevate awareness” about what POET does to lead the way in making a difference in sustainable bioproduct development for the world.

“As new innovations emerge from this facility, they will help lead our nation’s conversion from a fossil-based economy to the ag-based, low-carbon bioeconomy of the future, and I think that’s a future to look forward to.”




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