AgBio Retools, Renames Research Facility to Fuel Michigan’s Bioeconomy Efforts

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Ray Miller (view larger image)

As the bioeconomy becomes more of a focus in Michigan, the nation and globally, innovative research to support sustainable energy development is critical. To better assist the state’s biomass producers and the emerging bioenergy industry, the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station is retooling and renaming one of its Upper Peninsula facilities.

One of 15 MAES specialized research facilities around Michigan, the Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center (UPTIC), near Escanaba, has been renamed the MSU Forest Biomass Innovation Center (FBIC) to emphasize the evolving focus of MAES research activities there.

“The old name speaks to a traditional scope of activities—fiber farming research, silviculture, forest genetics and forested wetland research—that were appropriate when UPTIC was established in 1986,” said MAES Director Steve Pueppke, who also is director of the MSU Office of Biobased Technologies. “These activities have not ceased, but with the advent of the bioeconomy and MSU‘s strategic focus on it, refining our programs in Escanaba and renaming the facility make good sense, both geographically and economically.”

Michigan ranks seventh nationally in timberland acres with 19.3 million acres of forested land, most in the northern two-thirds of the state. Michigan’s forests support more than 150,000 jobs and add $12 billion to the state’s economy.

“In Michigan, research and development related to the bioeconomy is on making renewable fuels from cellulose—trees, stems and stalks that aren’t food products,” Pueppke said. “As the state attempts to shift its economy away from reliance on nonrenewable resources such as petroleum and coal toward increased reliance on renewable resources such as plant material, the state’s immense forest resources make it a leader in this new bioeconomy.”

“Michigan’s forest resources are vast but underutilized—only one-third of the annual growth is used,” said MAES U.P. forest properties manager and forest biomass development coordinator Ray Miller. Miller also serves as FBIC director. “These undermanaged forests are less healthy and productive than they might otherwise be. Additionally, Michigan has hundreds of thousands of acres of retired marginal agricultural fields that also can produce a significant amount of biomass. These forests and fields are concentrated in the northern Lower Peninsula and in the Upper Peninsula, so locating the FBIC in Escanaba leverages the investment MSU already has made there and places it in the heart of the region where forest biomass owners and consumers are.”

“The renaming achieves several goals,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “It underscores MSU‘s commitment to the bioeconomy in general and to the use of forest biomass—perhaps the most important bioeconomy opportunity in the entire state. It also underscores our intent to be innovative, and it continues to encompass the kinds of more traditional research that will undoubtedly continue to take place at the site. In short, we view the change as a compelling win-win.”


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