Stabenow Pushes Michigan Biotech In Farm Bill

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Stephen Rapundalo (at microphone), CEO of MichBio, talks up the state's biotech industry on the Grand Hotel porch. U.S. Sen Debbie Stabenow is just to his right.

Stephen Rapundalo (at microphone), CEO of MichBio, talks up the state’s biotech industry on the Grand Hotel porch. U.S. Sen Debbie Stabenow is just to his right.

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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