Stabenow Pushes Michigan Biotech In Farm Bill

MACKINAC ISLAND — Michigan’s biotech industry could get a boost from the federal 2012 Farm Bill, under new initiatives announced Wednesday by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and state biotech leaders at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

The bipartisan Farm Bill that Stabenow wrote, which has cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee on a 16-5 vote, includes her new “Grow It Here, Make It Here” initiative to increase access to capital for bio-based manufacturers, improve marketing of bio-based products, and spur the commercialization of new agricultural innovations.

The bill contains loans and loan guarantees to get bio-based startups through the “Valley of Death,” Stabenow said, along with new biorefinery loan funding and bio-based research funding increases.

It also pushes a new “Bio-Preferred” product label that means a product is greener, and an increase in purchases of those bio-preferred products.

Stabenow noted that when it comes to bio-alternatives to petroleum, “it’s not just about the environment, it’s about getting us off foreign oil.”

She said she visited bio-industry plants in Alpena on her way to the island, including what will be the world’s first cellulosic ethanol plant when it goes online in a couple of weeks, and a plant that turns wood waste into airplane de-icer.

Stephen Rapundalo, president and CEO of MichBio, the state’s life sciences industry association, noted that biotech now is a $9.5 billion a year industry in Michigan.

Also speaking was Marcos Dantus, a Michigan State University professor and co-founder of two biotech startups — KTM Technologies, which is developing bio-based foam materials for insulation and packaging, and Biophotonic Solutions Inc., which is developing bio-based materials for ultra-fast lasers. He noted that Michigan “has geographic advantages over other states in diverse feedstocks, vast agricultural supply chains and bio-research facilities. Michigan has the ability to shape its own future, and has significant opportunities to expand its bio-based industry and advance its position in the global bio-manufacturing market.”

Big companies are jumping on the bioproducts bandwagon too – for example, Ford Motor Co. is using soy-based material in auto seating.

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