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NSF grants enhance science, engineering research capacity

The Dakota Bioprocessing Consortium (DakotaBioCon) recently received a three-year, $6 million Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 award from the National Science Foundation.DakotaBioCon brings together researchers James Rice, South Dakota State University, and Philip Boudjouk, North Dakota State University, to develop sustainable resources based on biomass processing. 

Bioprocessing of renewable resources addresses strategic national security priorities by reducing national dependence on imported oil and creating new jobs.Through research and development, DakotaBioCon plans to become a recognized intellectual leader in biomass bioprocessing that can help regional, national and global societies transition to a bio-based economy.  

Working together, scientists will combine their expertise to develop methods for isolating the chemical from the raw plant materials, purifying them and converting them into a form that allows them to be used directly in industrial manufacturing processes. 

“If we have even a small research impact in this field it could have a significant economic impact on South Dakota and the northern Great Plains because of the importance of these manufactured materials in today’s economy,” Rice said.The project builds on research infrastructure investments that the South Dakota and North Dakota EPSCoR programs have been making for the last five years in the basic and applied sciences.

The investments have been in people; new faculty, new graduate research programs and strengthened undergraduate science and engineering programs. There have also been investments in the tools; core instrumentation and computer facilities, and the buildings that house their laboratories that are critical to performing experiments that have produced the ideas that this proposal is based on.

“With these investments this proposal couldn’t have been funded, and South Dakota and the region would not be poised to reap the jobs that could result from this research once it is commercialized,” said Rice. “As a chemist, I am fascinated by the idea that we can use renewable biomaterials such as switch grass to replace petroleum as the source of the chemicals that are the starting materials in the manufacture of polymers and plastics, synthetic fabrics like rayon and nylon, household detergents and cleaners and medicines,” said Rice.

“This project involves a wide range of basic and applied sciences that includes chemistry, biology, microbiology and chemical engineering.”DakotaBioCon was one of four projects the NFS chose to receive up to $6 million over a three-year period in Research Infrastructure Improvement, Track-2 awards as part of NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.Together, these Research Infrastructure Improvement, Track-2 awards involve researchers from multiple institutions in 10 states and address important research challenges such as the health of coastal lands, sustainable and efficient water use.“

These RII awards enable diverse teams to leverage the expertise of their individual researchers and delve into solving challenges that have a direct impact on the economies of their regions," said Denise Barnes, head of NSF's EPSCoR program. “With NSF funding, these teams may also create and sustain a diverse STEM-enabled workforce in their regions that contribute to a brighter economic future for America as a whole.”