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Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Advanced BioSystems Workshop Shows Path Ahead for Bioproducts

Nov. 14, 2019
Participants from the 2019 Advanced BioSystems Workshop

Just as the importance of renewable energy has grown in recent years, so too has interest in renewable or biobased sources of materials in products. In September, the Advanced BioSystems Workshop highlighted how the partnerships between growers, industry, and researchers are driving bio-based materials forward. 

From personal care products to jet fuel, more and more products and energy sources are utilizing stored energy or other properties from biomass. As consumers look for products containing more natural ingredients, industry looks to fill their demand. In turn, researchers are aiding companies in finding more natural sources and ingredients, and in turn helping growers identify profitable plants to source these endeavors, or even in some cases use parts of existing crops that are not used. 

This was the third year the Advanced BioSystems Workshop brought together growers, industry, and researchers to share strategies, stories of success, and research updates in order to continue to build these crucial partnerships. 

According to Ajay Shah, originator and organizer of the workshop, “There are several challenges throughout the biosystem value chain, from feedstock production in the field to conversion technologies to utilization of the products by consumers. This offers tremendous collaborative opportunities among academia, industry, commodity groups and farmers to work toward improving the productivity, cost and environmental and social impacts of the agricultural and biobased systems.” 

Shah is an Associate Professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and leads the BioSystems Analysis Lab (BSAL) at The Ohio State University. The mission of his lab is to improve the sustainability of agricultural and biobased systems to contribute toward meeting the increasing global food, energy and products demands.  

This year’s keynote was delivered by Zia Abdulla, Biomass Program Manager at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). In his address, Abdulla discussed the importance of partnerships to grow bio-based efforts in products and energy, and how the NREL aided producers and industry in their efforts. 

Other speakers included:

  • Kevin Jarrell, CEO of Modular Genetics, who spoke about developing a fermentation process for production of surfactants and the steps and challenges faced in scale up.
  • Kenneth Heater, President of METSS Corporation, shared his experiences in creating and bringing to market ‘green’ products that use renewable feedstocks and/or degrade after use.
  • Ajay Shah, Associate Professor at Ohio State, and Barry McGraw, Director of Product Research for the Ohio Soybean Council, updated attendees on current and planned research efforts.
  • Daniel Derr, Founder of NATSURFACT, discussed his company’s journey in developing a bio surfactant, from identifying the key microorganism to patent applications.
  • Patrick Heist, SCO and Co-owner of Ferm Solutions and Wilderness Trail Distillery, wrapped up the day with entertaining stories about how one idea led to another, which led to a new business, which led to another idea. 

Workshop attendees also had the option to attend a pre-workshop tour of Cargill’s Bioprocessing Plant in Sidney, Ohio. Here, attendees got to see first-hand how companies like Cargill turn soybeans from farms throughout the region into food grade oil for a wide variety of consumer products. 

Ashish Manandhar, a recent PhD graduate, noted that the workshop provided “tremendous opportunities to interact with representatives from commodity groups, industry, growers and academia and helped me broaden my thoughts and insights about the potential of biobased industries.”

The Advanced BioSystems Workshop sponsored by the BioSystems Analysis Lab (BSAL) and the Ohio Soybean Council. To learn more about BSAL, visit


by Chip Tuson