Kansas University officials told the Kansas Bioscience Authority’s board of directors the university is pursuing new ways to make petroleum-based chemicals that could have a large benefit for the Kansas economy, particularly in rural parts of the state.
KU researchers are working on new ways to create chemicals essential to the making of all kinds of household products as part of the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis.
Currently, many of these chemicals are petroleum-based, and KU researchers, in tandem with several industry partners, are working to develop alternatives made from grasses and other plant matter.
The effort could be an economic boon to the state, said Bala Subramaniam, who said that capturing as little as 1 percent of the market for these sorts of chemicals in the U.S. would represent a $7.2 billion per year industry.
As part of the efforts, ADM initially plans to locate two researchers in Lawrence’s Bioscience and Technology Business Center, and Tom Binder, senior vice president for research for ADM, told the board that the company could locate “several” researchers in Lawrence in the future as part of the ongoing collaboration.
Dan Watkins, chairman of the KBA’s board of directors, told fellow board members of the state-sponsored agency that helps fund a variety of bioscience companies and initiatives around the state that KU could be coming back for requests on this project in the future.
“We don’t have any specific requests,” at this time, said Steve Warren, KU’s vice chancellor for research and graduate studies.
Still, the overall effort will likely involve some of the initiatives the KBA funds in similar enterprises.
The effort needs funding to recruit additional talented faculty members, some help with building facilities and other opportunities for matching funds, which could be requested in the future, Warren said.
The KBA’s board also on Monday approved a number of investments previously considered by its investment committee, including naming KU chemistry professor Jon Tunge as a Bioscience Authority Rising Star.
With the designation, KU will receive $650,000 over eight years to retain Tunge, who is one of the university’s top researchers in drug discovery and delivery.
Also at the meeting on Monday, Janice Katterhenry, the KBA’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer, announced her resignation from the authority.
David Vranicar, the KBA’s interim president and CEO, told the board that Katterhenry would be resigning to “do some new and interesting things.”
Katterhenry briefly addressed the board by telephone, saying she would miss the opportunity to be a part of the agency’s work in the future.
Vranicar said her departure was not related to the as-yet unreleased findings of an ongoing outside forensic audit of the authority.
Ruth Saale, the KBA’s director of accounting and financial reporting, will assume the role of interim chief financial officer.