From dandelions to switchgrass to sugar beets, the crops and plant life on Minnesota's farm fields may power tomorrow's petrochemical alternatives. They may even be brewed up on a local campus under a newly unveiled bill at the Legislature.
That's if the state opts to pony up $100 million.
"Minnesota has some of the key features that are required to make this possible," said Douglas Friedman, CEO of BioMADE, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit partnership that includes Minnetonka-based Cargill and Maplewood-based 3M. "But we haven't been able to effectively commercialize them to the breadth of profitable companies."
A bill brought by Sen. Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud and chair of the Senate's Agriculture, Broadband and Rural Development Committee, asks to combine $100 million from the state's general fund with an additional $100 million in matching federal funding to create a bioindustrial "pilot innovation facility" operated by BioMADE.
In an unveiling Wednesday before the Senate Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Friedman described the proposed operations as a "brewery" for chemical products using crops.
"You refine those products to some sort of intermediary product," said Friedman. "And that sugar syrup gets fed to bugs."
Rather than fermenting IPAs or milk stouts, the microorganisms feeding on agricultural feedstocks might create rubber or a range of chemicals that can be used in sustainable aviation to clothing pigments to laundry soap pods.
Currently, the world's leading bioindustrial manufacturing facilities reside in Europe. They're often generated by technology developed in the U.S.
"We had a leading technology developed in labs here in Minnesota," Florian Schattenmann, Cargill's chief technology officer, said. "But we couldn't scale them at that intermediate, semi-commercial scale [in the U.S.]."
Schattenmann said the company, instead, found a facility in Italy.
In the most recent federal omnibus spending bill, Congress and the Biden administration approved $300 million to spur biomanufacturing facilities. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat representing St. Paul, said such an investment is an important national security backstop, given recent economic volatility.
"If there's anything we've learned over the last few years, between COVID and what's happened in the war in Ukraine," McCollum said, "it's supply chain."
McCollum suggested other states — from Ohio to California — may also look to bid on the federal matching grant, upping the competitive stakes for Minnesota.
According to BioMADE's Friedman, the campus would span between 500 and 1,000 acres, replete with water treatment, electricity, and rail access.
That initial facility may need only 10 acres, said Friedman. But startups could further build-out operations — "over the fence, across the street," he said — on the larger campus as they expand.
Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said he supported creating new manufacturing jobs in Minnesota, but wanted to see further details in the bill.
"I would recommend some tax incentives to keep industry here," he said.
The BioMADE campus would be the latest in large-scale agribusiness developments in the state. The University of Minnesota recently purchased 750 acres of land in Mower County toward an ag research complex outside Austin.