Mines News

Release Date Wednesday, November 10, 2021

POET Bioproducts Institute to Transition Research to the Marketplace

Dignitaries gathered on Nov. 10, 2021, for the groundbreaking of the new POET Bioproducts Institute at SDSU in collaboration with South Dakota Mines. (from left,) From left: Executive Director of the Research Park at SDSU Dwaine Chapel, POET President and COO Jeff Lautt, South Dakota Mines President Jim Rankin, SDSU President Barry Dunn,  Mines Professor of chemical and biological engineering and nanoscience and nanoengineering David Salem, SDSU Vice President of Research and Economic Development Daniel School,  First Bank & Trust Brookings President & COO Kevin Tetzlaff,  (and member of the SDSU Growth Partnership board of directors), South Dakota Board of Regents representative Jeff Partridge,  and Mines Vice President for Research Ralph Davis.


A new laboratory will bring researchers from South Dakota Mines and South Dakota State University together with industry partners to transition bench-scale bioprocessing and bioproducts research to the marketplace.

The POET Bioproducts Institute “will provide structure and simplicity for private enterprise to collaborate with university scientists to develop products,” according to SDSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development Daniel Scholl.

POET Bioproducts Institute Mines Vice President for Research Ralph Davis says, “The vision is to move existing research at the two universities to a higher level with our industry partners and to do final proof-of-concept work that will show commercial viability.”

To facilitate those public-private partnerships, the specialized lab in the Research Park at SDSU will be managed by a newly established not-for-profit organization, Dakota Bioproducts Innovation Institute.

“Private enterprise experts will help university researchers ask the right questions,” Davis explains. “It is important to have that partner who says ‘that’s an interesting process in a 100- or 250-milliliter flask, but what are you going to do when you take it off the Bunsen burner?’”

The 45,000-square-foot facility is made possible through $20 million in legislative funding, $5 million from POET and $2 million from South Dakota Corn. Furthermore, the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council will provide $500,000 annually for five years—a total of $2.5 million—and the state committed a yearly $500,000 for operational costs.

“We want to acknowledge the South Dakota Legislature and the Governor’s Office and our industry partners and stakeholders who have invested in this facility and share our vision of the potential economic benefits for our state,” Davis says. A request has been submitted to the U.S. Economic Development Administration for $3 million to help with the purchase of specialized equipment.

Developing biomaterials

Mines is strong on the bioprocessing side, developing biomaterials through two centers begun with state funding. The Composites and Polymer Engineering Lab, or CAPE Lab, was founded in 2004 and develops advanced polymers and composite processing.

The Composite and Nanocomposite Advanced Manufacturing – Biomaterials Center, or CNAM-Bio, was launched in September 2018 and is housed within CAPE. Through collaboration among disciplines ranging from microbiology to mechanical engineering, the center seeks to meet the need for sustainable polymers and strong, multifunctional biocomposites and bionanocomposite structures.

“We have processes and products ready to move to the next level, which we cannot do within our facilities. The bioproducts laboratory will be equipped to accommodate the right volume industry needs to show that a technology can be commercialized,” Davis says.

Mines professor David Salem, who directs the two composite materials research centers, says, “The new laboratory is a crucial component in bringing innovative biomaterials, such as biodegradable plastics, to the marketplace through cost-competitive, sustainable bioprocesses."

Another product of the laboratory will be highly trained scientists and engineers who can help industry partners expand operations. That workforce will also encompass administrative and accounting as well as technical people responsible for plant and facility operation. “We can build that whole spectrum of beyond-$15-an-hour jobs,” Davis says.

Scholl concluded, “We are creating a growth industry for our graduates, diversifying the South Dakota economy and adding value to agricultural products.”

Using agricultural feedstock

Based on recommendations from an international bioscience consulting team, Scholl and Davis chose two specialization areas: specialty animal feeds, specifically prebiotics and probiotics that have the potential to reduce the need for antibiotics; and biomaterials, including bioplastics that are degradable.

“These are the areas we judged to have the highest likelihood of success,” Scholl says, pointing to the state’s abundant supply of agricultural feedstock.

SDSU’s strengths are on the feedstock and preprocessing side as well as the downstream animal feed testing trials. Associate Professor of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Joy Scaria develops probiotics to improve animal and human gut health. He is in the latter stages of optimizing a mixture of bacterial strains that may reduce piglets’ susceptibility to disease and infection during weaning.

“A facility like this would be beneficial in terms of scale-up capacity,” Scaria says. Mines’ expertise in fermentation will also be helpful for his research. 

“Our research relationships with the nutrition industry also create a lot of potential,” Scholl says. Associate Animal Science Professor Crystal Levesque says, “We have a strong connection to producers through SDSU Extension and an established relationship with the feed industry through research we’ve already conducted.”


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu