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Sustainability bill providing big boost to bio-based companies

Renewable Lubricants
Renewable Lubricants

Bio-products -- according to the USDA, everyday products made from abundant natural and renewable resources -- are increasingly replacing less environmentally friendly products made from petroleum products. In Ohio, the growth of bio-firms could be about to boom on the tail of legislative moves and private efforts to boost the industry.

The surge began last year, when then-Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed Senate Bill 131. Sponsored by State Sen. Karen Gillmor (R-Tiffin), the new law set up a preferred purchasing program for the products similar to state "Buy Ohio" provisions which gave local vendors an advantage for state contracts. In the case of SB 131, it encouraged state agencies and universities to buy bio-product alternatives to traditional products when available.

"We were trying to put together a way to spur manufacturing in Ohio," explains Gillmor. "Ohio's already strong in manufacturing, so we began to ask 'How do we do that without spending money we didn't have?' It made sense that, since agriculture is by far our strongest industry, we needed to find a way to tie manufacturing to agriculture."

Her bill, first proposed in 2009, was the result. Modeled after the Federal BioPreferred program that was adopted as part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, SB 131 quickly passed the Ohio legislature and was signed into law in February 2010. The first state-supported law of its kind, it was recognized as a national model by the Council of State Governments last December. Along the way, it also got plenty of support from Ohio business organizations.

One of the biggest supporters was the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, which worked with Gillmor to pass the bill. According to Tadd Nicholson, the organization's director of government and industry affairs, its support was based on more than just dollars and cents. There was also a strong environmental upside.

"Bio-based products have less impact on the environment than petroleum-based counterparts because they are biodegradable, comprised of renewable resources and have decreased disposal and cleanup costs," Nicholson explains.

As part of its support, the group launched recently launched a website which touts bio-products and the Ohio-based companies that make or sell them, and encourage others to follow suit. The site, www.fromtheearth-bioproducts.com, officially went online during the inaugural Ohio Bioproducts Symposium in Columbus on Feb. 18.

Featuring more than 500 individual bio-products and dozens of Ohio companies that offer them, the website also offers links to the businesses' sites for easy information and ordering. Other information includes a searchable database to find products made from corn, wheat or soy byproducts, and content of other bio-products.

William Garmier, vice president of Hartville-based Renewable Lubricants Inc., one the companies featured, says it's gratifying to see Ohio's bio-product industry finally getting attention.

"We're glad to see it happening. We've been to Columbus for meetings to discuss what the state could be doing to raise our profile, and we've been working with other people to see what could be done," he says. "This is something the state has really needed. It's good to see people getting on board."

Renewable Lubricants, which has been in business since 1991, produces food-grade oils, lubricants and solvents from corn and soy products. Their clientele includes Campbell's Soup and Donatos pizza stores, but the company hasn't done much business in-state until recently. Now, it supplies lubricants to the city of North Olmsted and Kent State University, and Garmier sees more in-state growth on the horizon.

"We've been selling a lot in Michigan, supplying its state parks system and other state agencies since 1999," he explains. "They've been one of our biggest buyers. Hopefully, the new law in Ohio and the attention of the website will mean we'll be selling as just as much to in-state buyers."

Green Paper Products, based in Highland Heights, has already seen a slight uptick in orders from the website, says its president, R. Steven Saks. He started the business two years ago in response to growing environmental concerns. It specializes in cups, bowls and plates made from corn products and sugar cane.

"I think we all know landfills and oil wells are a necessary evil, but landfills have a finite capacity and petroleum-based products are irreversible. Once we're done with them, they sit in a landfill forever. Our landfills are full," Saks says.

Instead, the company's inventory -- like most bio-products -- are easily reclaimed after their use by composting.

Only two years old, Green Paper, which also sells a line of biodegradable trash bags, still does the majority of its business with out-of-state buyers. Since the passage of SB 131, orders have been on the rise from Ohio businesses.

"It's starting to pick up, and the (From the Earth) website will help," says Saks. "Bio-products is a growing industry. People realize that, given the advantages of our products, this is the way it's going to be."

Like Saks, Mike Kasbeck sees the state purchasing program as a boon to Ohio companies specializing in bio-products. As a sales executive with Terresolve Technologies, which has several soy-based products on the From the Earth website, he says most of his company's current business is done with private companies.

"I think for most companies like ours, the market has been almost completely in the private sector," he says. "Since the state government adopted the preferred purchase program, though, public sector sales are picking up."

Sidney-based USA Soy Solutions, which specializes in lubricants and other soy products such as asphalt release agents that replace the use of kerosene or diesel fuel, is also banking on more in-state business because of SB 131 and the resulting demand.

According to Michael Fresithler, the company's owner and president, the state's new focus on bio-based production serves as a wake-up call.

"It increases visibility for companies like us," he says, "but the biggest thing it does is let people realize that they have options open to them other than petroleum products. We don't have to push that rope up the hill anymore, because the word's getting out. Instead, we can utilize what we already grow. And in most cases, bio-products are better. They perform better, and they're better for the environment."

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