Collaborative research and commercialization at the heart of POET Bioproducts Center

October 17, 2023

A ribbon cutting on October 11 officially opened the POET Bioproducts Center at South Dakota State University’s Research Park. The venture brings together researchers from SDSU and the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City with industry partners to get bioprocessing and bioproducts research to the marketplace.

A nonprofit organization called Dakota BioWorx was set up by the South Dakota Board of Regents to provide specialized expertise in the POET Bioproducts Center “to enable the center to do what it’s intended to do,” said Daniel Scholl, who chairs the board of Dakota BioWorx. In an interview with the South Dakota Soybean Network at the facility’s ribbon cutting, Scholl, who is also SDSU’s vice president for research and economic development, said Dakota BioWorx will bring together “both the private sector and the public sector for partnership on developing new bioproducts for the marketplace.”

The POET Bioproducts Center provides a space for private enterprise to partner with South Dakota Mines and SDSU scientists to do proof-of-concept work that will show commercial viability. It’s that level of collaboration that impresses Brookings County farmer and Dakota BioWorx board member David Iverson.

“To me, it’s incredible to have so many partnerships from universities to private industries to commodity groups all coming together to see the importance of creating products from the products that we produce on our farm and adding value to that,” said Iverson.

That observation is echoed by David Struck, chairman of the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (the South Dakota Soybean Checkoff), adding that the center’s opening is good news for producers of soybeans, corn and other crops that have value in food and industrial applications.

“It’s going to sustain prices; it might even improve them,” said Struck, who farms near Wolsey, South Dakota. “It’ll be good for the economy of South Dakota locally and innovations that come out of here will probably be used around the world.”

The POET Bioproducts Center’s location is an opportunity not only for farmers but for related business coming to the state, according to Jerry Schmitz, executive director of the South Dakota Soybean Association and South Dakota Soybean Checkoff. Schmitz is excited for soybean growers because of the potentially greater soybean value resulting from the center’s output.

“I think what we’re looking at is not only new products for the world, but we’re looking at new businesses across South Dakota,” said Schmitz, “because the products are right here and now the new ideas and development are right here.”

“What this undertaking represents is a means of inventing new ways to add value to soybeans and components of soybeans,” added Scholl, “thus creating greater value for South Dakota soybeans by generating products that the global marketplace is looking for in the biosciences sector.”

Scholl stressed the importance of the relationships with the South Dakota Soybean Checkoff and other organizations that helped financially, calling them “absolutely critical, fundamental, pivotal to this project.”

The almost two years of construction on the POET Bioproducts Center began in November 2021. The 45,000-square-foot facility was made possible with $20 million in legislative funding, $5 million from POET and $2 million from South Dakota Corn. The South Dakota Soybean Checkoff is providing $500,000 annually for five years – a total of $2.5 million – and the state of South Dakota committed a yearly $500,000 for operational costs.

“It’s the vision of the soybean industry leadership making it possible to innovate, to create new high-value products from soybeans that have given us this wonderful place to work with and an organization to work through,” said Scholl. “Without that leadership, I don’t think we’d be here today.”