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Grant Awarded to Establish Dakota Bioprocessing Consortium

Four universities in North Dakota and South Dakota have been awarded a $6 million grant to establish the Dakota Bioprocessing Consortium, also known as DakotaBioCon, and conduct collaborative research.

by North Dakota State University
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Four universities in North Dakota and South Dakota have been awarded a $6 million grant to establish the Dakota Bioprocessing Consortium, also known as DakotaBioCon, and conduct collaborative research.

The National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research has awarded North Dakota EPSCoR and South Dakota EPSCoR research funding for North Dakota State University, the University of North Dakota, South Dakota State University and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Funding will be used to establish DakotaBioCon. The Research Infrastructure and Improvement Track 2 grant spans three years.

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The primary goal of DakotaBioCon is to establish a multi-state, multi-institution, multi-disciplinary research collaboration that will produce economically viable renewable replacements for existing petrochemicals.

The research collaborators will use lignin as a starting raw material. Lignin binds cellulose fibers in wood and plants. It is among the most renewable carbon sources on the planet. DakotaBioCon will focus on processing lignin into renewable chemical and polymeric alternatives to petrochemicals.

The project will build long-term research collaborations among the universities in North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as develop infrastructure to study novel paths to produce high-value lignin-derived products. Through cutting-edge research and development, DakotaBioCon aims to become a recognized leader in biomass bioprocessing.

DakotaBioCon will develop novel bioprocessing technologies for sustainable production of high-value chemicals and materials from renewable resources. Emphasis will be placed on lignin-derived products as economically viable substitutes for imported fossil-fuel-based chemicals. Lignin has a significant and largely unrealized potential as a source for the sustainable production of bulk high value chemicals.

DakotaBioCon will leverage its relationships with existing programs and centers such as UND/NDSU’s Sustainable Energy Research Initiative and Supporting Education (SUNRISE) program, the SDSU-based SunGrant Initiative, and the SDSMT/SDSU-based Center for Bioprocessing Research and Development to achieve its objectives.

Focus of research

“The combined research talent at the four institutions in two states provides an opportunity to join forces to develop DakotaBioCon, maximizing research in the field of renewable replacements to existing petrochemicals,” said Philip Boudjouk, co-chair of North Dakota EPSCoR.

“This project provides an important opportunity to use our research talents to create new, high-value products from agricultural waste products, thus strengthening further the largest sector of our state economy,” said Phyllis E. Johnson, co-chair of North Dakota EPSCoR.

“This project builds on research infrastructure investments that both the South Dakota and North Dakota EPSCoR programs have been making for the past five years,” said James Rice, director of South Dakota EPSCoR. “As a chemist, I am fascinated by the idea that we can use renewable biomaterials such as switchgrass to potentially replace petroleum-based products.”

The collaborative research group seeks to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on how to replace petrochemicals as the primary feedstock for fuels, polymers and composites. The impact of cost-effective mass production of fuels and materials from biomass has enormous implications for reduction of greenhouse gases, air and water quality and quantity, national security, climate change and the country’s long-term economic and environmental health.

Opportunities for students

As it develops over a three-year period, DakotaBioCon also will include opportunities for undergraduate and graduate researchers and students at tribal colleges located in the two states to participate in the research. Additional plans call for outreach programs to middle school through high school students to learn more about bioprocessing and the scientific research to replace petrochemicals with renewables.

About the DakotaBioCon partners

The NDSU Sustainable Materials Science program focuses on materials science, including synthesis of organic materials and composites from renewable resources and novel approaches to solar energy conversion devices. DakotaBioCon member Dean Webster leads the program and Mukund Sibi, Bret Chisholm and Pinjing Zhao are members of the research team at NDSU.

The UND SUNRISE program targets interdisciplinary research capabilities focused on improving heterogeneous catalysis for sustainable energy technology development. SUNRISE is a comprehensive multidisciplinary faculty-led research cluster spanning the entire process from fundamental through applied research, development and commercialization, encompassing the entire value chain from “field to product.” The research team at UND includes Alena Kubatova, Mark Hoffmann, Evguenii Kozliak, Irina Smoliakova and Wayne Seames.

The SunGrant Initiative based at SDSU is a national network of land-grant universities and national laboratories that facilitates partnerships among universities, national laboratories, federal and state governments, the private sector and public interest groups. Goals include leading the nation toward a renewable, sustainable, domestic energy and renewable chemicals industry.

The Center for Bioprocessing Research and Development brings together resources of more than 120 researchers from 12 departments at SDSMT and SDSU. The group’s goal is to reduce the dependence on imported fossil fuels and petroleum-based chemicals by developing new technologies and bioproducts to lessen the environmental impact of greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.


North Dakota EPSCoR is a federally- and state-funded program designed to help university researchers in low-population states compete more effectively for federal, regional and private research grants in the sciences, engineering and mathematics.