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Exciting Opportunities for AURI and Collaborators Lie Ahead

The future for value-added agriculture looks bright, with many opportunities for AURI to expand markets and positively impact Minnesota’s agriculture sector. Minnesota has advantages in many areas: we have strengths in production and processing, we are well connected from the producer level to the corporate level via various coalitions, and we have an innovative spirit and history of success. AURI will look forward strategically to prioritize focus areas, build pipelines of clients and collaborators, and continue helping to build our ecosystem for new and continued market growth of agricultural products.

New Resources
After roughly 30 years in the same location in Waseca, Minnesota, AURI transitioned to a new home in January 2024. The new AURI facility roughly doubles our previous pilot capabilities and allows us to add new equipment to aid the commercial market expansion of ag-derived products. We added capabilities around anaerobic digestion, biomass drying, decortication, and oilseed pressing at an annex site a few years ago. Bringing these capabilities and our densification and processing operations under one roof creates new synergies and efficiencies and enables us to better fill scale-up gaps for bio-industrial client projects and initiatives.

AURI’s Marshall site is undergoing a major upgrade with new equipment and/or replacement of older equipment. We recently added small-scale fermentation processes and biomethane potential analysis. In the year ahead, the analytical lab will offer new mass spectrometry technology to serve a greater number of projects. These new instruments greatly enhance our capabilities to perform work beyond our current means while providing Minnesota food and bio-industrial entrepreneurs and businesses with the data they need to make informed decisions in developing new products and processes. Additionally, an elemental analyzer and inductively coupled plasma (ICP) instrument will assist work in nutrient recovery (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) and biobased fertilizers.

In summary, the Minnesota legislative investment for new equipment and upgrades to laboratory sites was a major catalyst in improving AURI’s capabilities and better servicing Minnesota’s innovative agriculture sector.

AURI fills a unique role in collaborating across the value chain to accelerate opportunities. One area we are particularly proud of is our ability to connect the dots across and between industry challenges and opportunities. While we do this at a 1:1 level with businesses, we also see great value in broader industry collaborations to build possibilities for the agriculture industry.

AURI sits on the Executive Council of MBOLD, a coalition of 11 Minnesota-based companies and entities, and co-leads efforts in entrepreneurship and innovation. AURI works to help scale high growth food and ag companies through MBOLD’s Bold Growth program, which has included nine companies to date.  AURI also is engaged with MBOLD members around protein sustainability to build upon Minnesota’s rich protein assets.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a prominent partner in pursuing innovation opportunities through its Agricultural Marketing Service, offering local and regional meat processing assistance programs. AURI is one of seven USDA-designated technical assistance providers with a partnership extending through December 2026. The partnership builds upon the state of Minnesota’s support in developing a more resilient local and regional meat processing sector. Additionally, USDA’s Rural Development named AURI one of nine Agricultural Innovation Centers across the country to work with producers in developing value-added opportunities for crop and livestock production. AURI has also found repeated success via the USDA Rural Cooperative Development Program, allowing AURI to leverage state funds with federal dollars to assist cooperatives and producer-owned entities.

Finally, BioMADE is a relatively new endeavor based in Minnesota that is working to advance a bio-industrial manufacturing industry in the United States. AURI joined in 2023 and looks forward to working with BioMADE and the agricultural industry on analyzing various agricultural feedstocks for bio-industrial purposes through this collaboration, which consists of over 250 entities. Investment from the State of Minnesota and the federal government to build BioMADE’s first fermentation scale-up site in Minnesota puts our state and agricultural sector at the forefront of a new wave of bio-manufacturing.

Hydrogen and Agriculture
Carbon intensity and related policy incentives are now regular topics of conversation. Looking ahead, AURI is exploring new ways for agricultural feedstocks and byproducts to contribute to the circular economy— thereby creating new rural industries while also reducing environmental footprints. Green fertilizer is an exciting area for Minnesota. Since we do not produce synthetic fertilizer in the state, industry advancement in this area can create and retain wealth across our rural communities. The University of Minnesota is at the forefront of green ammonia and its potential applications. Meanwhile, AURI is using those foundational efforts to analyze the potential for a viable green fertilizer industry using green ammonia and carbon dioxide from biofuel production. Additionally, the recovery of essential excess nutrients from agricultural value streams has the potential to be recycled for feed inputs and fertilizer applications to add new value.

Exploring how AURI can advance sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and renewable diesel is also intriguing. AURI seeks to fill information gaps to ensure success for those venturing down these paths. Hydrogen is a key ingredient in these processes. Identifying multiple markets for hydrogen–from green fertilizers to SAF to renewable diesel and fuel cells–will help de-risk future investment.

In closing, the future is full of opportunities. AURI looks forward to both driving and supporting these exciting areas to build new value and markets for our state’s important agricultural sector.