By Michelle Hall
With the fear the world may someday run out of petroleum and natural gas, creating products out of renewable materials is becoming more and more important. But will these products be profitable? What is the demand for them? Will creating them actually use so much energy that the finished product isn't even environmentally friendly anymore?
That's where Kansas State University's Advanced Manufacturing Institute steps in. The Advanced Manufacturing Institute is a component of the College of Engineering at K-State and a Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation Center of Excellence.
"We offer an engineering perspective on bioscience work," said Gina Becker, chemical engineer and bioprocessing group leader at the institute, pictured at left. "In the science laboratory, it's possible, through basic chemistry, to make innumerable products from plants or other renewable resources. However, if laboratory processes were scaled up directly to make large production plants, they could require outrageous amounts of energy and elaborately large, expensive equipment schemes.
"As engineers, AMI's bioprocessing team helps our clients work out engineering details to create energy-efficient, larger-scale processes from laboratory ideas. In other cases, we do the basic laboratory work as well to develop new processes, then scale up to pilot, then full scale."
The company helps Kansas businesses, inventors, agriculture-based organizations, researchers and entrepreneurs to design, build and improve production processes and lend commercialization support to products.
They help bioscience inventors find out if and how their idea can work and be profitable, from an engineering standpoint. They accelerate the movement of bio-products from the laboratory to commercial scale. They also help analyze new technology for product feasibility; conduct performance testing; develop processes for manufacturing; study the market for needs, growth projections and competition; and identify possible clients for new products.
Becker said clients vary in their skills and capabilities, and the Advanced Manufacturing Institute tries to either fill in the gaps or identify other resources to fill in the gaps.
The bioprocessing team was created in 2005, with the hiring of Becker and, more recently, of Sigifredo Castro, chemical engineer with expertise in biochemistry, pictured at right. Together with interns from K-State's College of Engineering, they aid clients to make products, including polymers, adhesives, waxes, chemicals and bioproducts, from renewable resources.
"We have a special interest in extracting or creating valuable byproducts from waste streams," Becker said. The bioprocessing field is growing, she said, as the world looks to reduce waste and find alternative feed stocks for producing energy and materials as the fear of petroleum and natural gas becoming scarce increases.
"Within this realm, AMI's main focus is on the waste aspect, especially industry and farm waste streams, which we see as potential feedstocks," she said. "Waste streams are relatively concentrated sources of materials, and we try to find ways to recover valuable products from these streams."
The benefits of using cast-off, renewable materials for products is twofold, Becker said.
"One, reducing materials that must otherwise be land-filled or burned; and two, creating products that might otherwise require more petroleum or natural gas to produce," she said.
The Advanced Manufacturing Institute helps clients develop products and processes and supports technology development in Kansas. The company also offers an intern program that is focused on providing students hands-on training and a connection to potential career opportunities.
More information is available at http://www.amisuccess.com/