The Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) Innovation Hub for AgBio at Michigan State University recently highlighted two grants awarded to a Michigan Tech researcher.
Ezra Bar-Ziv (ME-EM) received his first MTRAC AgBio grant in 2018 through a competitive grant proposal submission. This $50,000 matching fund grant supported his research that uses biological materials as feedstocks for petroleum refineries. In 2019, he submitted a proposal for a second technology that resulted from previous MTRAC awarded research. This new technology is able to remove chlorine from solid plastic waste streams. Chlorine is an undesirable byproduct of burning plastics, and by removing it, the plastic can be cleanly used for combustion energy. The chlorine is recycled, as the system uses the chlorine gases to heat itself. Bar-Ziv was awarded a larger $100,000 MTRAC AgBio match grant for this second project.
MTRAC grants are awarded to assist with the commercialization of new technologies. Bar-Ziv’s research looks at environmentally friendly solutions to combustion energy, in which materials are burned to produce heat energy. He is specifically researching ways waste materials can be utilized in this manner. Instead of sending plastic waste material, such as food wrappers, to the landfill, they can be sent to facilities with Bar-Ziv’s technology.
“Feedback from the oversight committee through the MTRAC process is extremely encouraging,” Bar-Ziv said. “They have one thing in mind: They want you to focus and bring a product to the market. Without the MTRAC support, it would have been hard to do the commercialization.”
Convergen Energy, an energy company in Wisconsin, wants to commercialize Bar-Ziv’s design. Together, they are working on the pre-design, which will help the company determine how to move forward with the technology. They are exploring what the system will look like, the cost of the system and the business benefits. The system will then be used to create this clean combustion energy.
“One of the key objectives of the MTRAC statewide program is to support technology commercialization within all of our universities, hospital systems and nonprofit research centers,” said Denise Graves, university relations director at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). “This project is a great example of that collaboration — using the expertise of the AgBio Innovation Hub at Michigan State to support research and commercialization activities at Michigan Tech.”
The MSU Innovation Center MTRAC team has been working with Bar-Ziv since he was awarded the first MTRAC grant. “Dr. Bar-Ziv and the team have set a great example of how to use scientific rigor and technical ingenuity to deliver high-value solutions to real customers,” said Joseph Affholter, the commercialization program director for the MTRAC AgBio Innovation Hub, which runs under the MSU Innovation Center.
This is the spirit of translational research, Affholter explained. “They have navigated a complex innovation process. Their curiosity, flexibility and commitment to value creation has delivered a commercialization-ready technology to customers and is a timeless example to other academic researchers seeking to solve practical problems through innovation.”
“There is the so-called ‘Valley of Death’ between discovery and user adoption,” said Jim Baker, associate vice president for research at MTU. “Equally as important is the feedback from the MTRAC oversight committee as well as the program management to accomplish the core goals. MTRAC fills an essential gap between laboratory research and use.”
The MTRAC Innovation Hub for AgBio at MSU is dedicated to the commercialization of technologies that advance the competitiveness of Michigan’s food, agriculture and industrial bioeconomy. The program is co-funded by MSU and the MEDC through the Michigan Strategic Fund.
The AgBio hub is part of a network of statewide innovation hubs — including the MTRAC Advanced Applied Materials Innovation Hub at Michigan Tech, which announced funding for projects in May. Located strategically at universities strong in the sector, each hub further increases the quality and quantity of resources available.