COLUMBUS, Ohio – Students at The Ohio State University and Central State University, a historically black university in Wilberforce, will soon benefit from a $2.8 million grant designed to develop leaders for the bioeconomy industry in Ohio and nationwide.
Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) is overseeing a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to create a consortium of 20 participating universities and industry partners.
The grant is part of a three-year project to train the future workforce in the bioeconomy industry. The Consortium for Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Education (CABLE) will be led by Ohio State, said Dennis Hall, director of Ohio State's Ohio Bioproducts Innovation Center (OBIC). The center works to expedite the commercialization of bioproducts.
Biobased fuels and products are those made from crops and waste from farms that can be sustainably used to create energy, fuels, and biobased products, Hall said.
The project's goal is to train 60 students over three years in the area of biobased technology to increase the number of students pursuing leadership positions in bioeconomy-related careers, he said. Those jobs include chemical and mechanical engineers; biochemists; agricultural engineers; genetic engineers and scientists; and regulation compliance workers, among others.
"According to a U.S. Department of Energy study, biobased economic development has the potential to utilize up to a billion tons of renewable biomass as a source for energy, transportation fuel, and products, which can create an estimated 1.1 million jobs in the U.S.,” Hall said. “It can also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 400 million tons per year.”
The project will recruit a team consisting of a student and faculty member from each of the participating 20 colleges and universities. The students will spend a year in leadership training in the bioeconomy industry. The training will include one-on-one mentoring with industry leaders, feedback on career preparation and academic training needs, internship and externship opportunities, and workshop and conference participation.
“The ultimate goal is to increase student engagement, knowledge and skills in the bioeconomy industry to increase the bioeconomic workforce,” Hall said. “We are excited to be working with partner universities and industry to develop the leadership skills necessary to realize this vision.”
In addition to Ohio State and Central State University, participating universities include: Alabama A&M University; Auburn University; the University of Arizona; California State University, Fresno; Colorade State University; Delaware State University; Iowa State University; Louisiana State University; New Mexico State University; North Carolina State University; North Dakota State University; Oklahoma State University; Rutgers University; the State University of New York; Missouri State University; University of Tennessee; and West Virginia University.
Jim Lane, publisher of the daily Biofuels Digest, will serve as the chair of the project’s external advisory committee.
“The bioeconomy industry will need highly educated young people with excellent skills to work effectively in multi-disciplinary business settings,” Lane said. “CABLE will surround these students with academic, industrial and governmental relationships to help them champion workforce development priorities.”
According to a recent Federal Activities Report on the bioeconomy, the industry is still in its infancy.
“In order for the U.S. to remain a global leader in the use of biobased resources, public-private partnerships will be key to the development of breakthrough technologies,” Hall said. “CABLE will provide an industrial ecosystem for these relationships to develop.”
The OBIC Bioproducts Innovation Center, a recognized leader in the commercialization of biobased products, has worked to help commercialize sevevral bioenergy companies including Quasar Energy Group, a leading biomass-to-energy (biogas production) firm headquartered in Cleveland.