POET, SDSU and SD Mines join forces to bring the POET Bioproducts Institute to life
In response to challenges from both the private sector and the state, two South Dakota universities have stepped up to create an innovative public-private partnership that will marry research and commercialization for the bioproducts sector.
The POET Bioproducts Institute will be a 45,000-square foot specialized laboratory facility that will open mid-2023 at South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) Research Park in Brookings. The institute is the product of a partnership between SDSU and South Dakota Mines, made possible by a $5 million gift from POET, as well as $20 million in legislative funding, $2 million from South Dakota Corn, and additional annual funding from the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council and the state.
According to SDSU President Barry Dunn, the idea has been brewing for quite some time.
“Over the last eight years or so, Jeff Broin [POET’s Founder and CEO] and Jeff Lautt [POET’s President and COO] have been challenging SDSU to be more proactive and relevant in the biofuels and bioproducts arena, and in 2019, at Governor Noem’s State of the State address, she challenged the people in this state to come up with a bold idea,” he said.
After the Governor’s address, Dunn turned to Broin and Lautt with his bold idea — a bioproducts institute that would work not only on innovation in biofuels but on other bio-based products.
As the state’s land grant university, Dunn says SDSU has a responsibility to the agriculture sector that goes back to its inception in 1889.
“It goes back to our mission related to agriculture and the state of South Dakota, but it’s new, it’s not the traditional way of thinking.”
Barry Dunn, SDSU President
“It’s about expanding that vision to think of agriculture not only as food but as a substrate for our fuel and biologically-related products. It could be related to medicine, or it could be a replacement for petroleum-based products, and so it’s an expansion of our mission that we needed to do in the 21st century.”
From POET’s perspective, collaborating with the universities is instrumental in providing the next generation of talent for the bioproducts sector.
“One thing that’s kind of neat about POET is that we have opportunities in everything from finance to business to marketing to human resources to microbiology and all of the engineering disciplines,” Lautt said.
“That makes us very interested in collaborating with universities to give them feedback on what we’re seeing and what we need. I think we get a great response from the universities that we work with to make sure that they’re adapting and staying on the cutting edge.”
Impacting South Dakota and the world
The work done at the POET Bioproducts Institute will create an impact in numerous areas, from value-added agriculture to sustainability to economic development. That impact will be felt locally in the state of South Dakota, regionally in the Midwest and on a global scale.
“Here at POET, we talk a lot about our mission as putting the balance back in place between Earth and humans. We believe that over the last 150 years, as the world has used a lot of petroleum, that we’ve gotten out of sync, and we have depleted a lot of
resources,” Lautt said.
In South Dakota, where agriculture is the number one industry, POET has asserted that the 21st century will be all about the intersection of agriculture and biology.
“As biology has advanced, there are now all kinds of science and technology that can create products and energy from agricultural resources, where 50 to 100 years ago, you couldn’t compete with oil,” Lautt said.
“We painted the picture for South Dakota Mines and SDSU that we believe the Midwest is going to be the next Silicon Valley — the Ag Valley.”
Jeff Lautt, POET President and COO
A large piece of what will make that vision a reality is higher education institutions. Universities throughout the Midwest are developing biotechnology institutes that become resources for students and provide opportunities for the private sector to collaborate and develop technology alongside undergraduate and graduate-level minds.
“You need to have the resources to be able to do some of that pre-pilot or pre-commercial technology scale-up work, and SDSU didn’t have that, and neither did South Dakota Mines. So, this is really one of the first big ventures where the schools came together to work with the private sector,” Lautt said.
“With POET being the world’s largest biofuels company, based right here in South Dakota, and having the relationships we have at both of those universities, it became clear that we would be a good lead donor to make the project a reality.”
The institute will develop courses in bioprocessing with a focus on value-added agriculture, specifically specialty animal feeds and biomaterials. The universities will offer academic degrees, soliciting POET’s input on the development of courses and degree programs.
As an industry leader, POET will have an active role in the development and operation of the facility, from design to governance to the aforementioned curriculum development.
The facility will be managed by a new non-profit organization, the Dakota Bioproducts
“We will be on the board for a long period of time, sitting alongside other industry representatives as well as representatives from both SDSU and South Dakota Mines, and we will govern this institute to be successful,” Lautt said.
That success should prove impactful for the universities, the state and the world.
“It would be remiss of me not to use this opportunity to thank both Jeff Broin and Jeff Lautt for their vision, their energy and also their kind of doggedness in promoting this as part of the future, literally, of our planet, and in helping our state get caught up and be part of this future,” Dunn said.
“The rewards of this will certainly benefit POET as a company, but they will benefit all of us in ways that no one can really imagine right now. It’s a very exciting project that will change the world for all of us, and it was their enthusiasm that really pushed it forward. We owe them a great deal of thanks — we all do.”