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How AURI Works Part III

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a series exploring AURI services to Minnesota. The first segment surveyed AURI’s mission and projects; the second overviewed the application process. In this issue, AURI’s technical services are on display, including its scientists, technologists, pilot plants and laboratories.

The 1987 state legislature wasn’t thinking about quick name recall when it established the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. Try building name recognition with 15 syllables.

But AURI never intended to be a public relations outfit; it takes every word of its name seriously — agriculture, new uses, research.

With three laboratories and three pilot plants located in three corners of the state, and a dozen scientists and technologists ready to help with their various areas of expertise, AURI provides statewide services unreplicated by any other organization.

“We do applied research, not basic research,” says Keith Sannes, AURI deputy director in Crookston. “We help businesses evaluate the usefulness or the efficacy of technology that’s right at the commercialization stage.”

Over the past few years, AURI has shifted away from providing financial assistance packages to value-added ventures. New product initiatives are inherently high-risk. Even with the best of help, failure rates can exceed 90 percent. Rather, AURI is focusing on providing enough technical help to strengthen a business’s position for attracting private financing.

“We don’t lead with our checkbook; we lead with our technical services and people, backing that up with a little money if needed,” says Max Norris, senior scientist in Marshall.

That can mean analyzing, testing and doing trial production runs of a new natural fertilizer or a lamb entrée or pea fiber. Some of AURI’s work may not be fully realized for awhile, such as 10 years of work on biodiesel or plastics made from agricultural materials. But the AURI researchers working in the labs and pilot plants featured on the following pages know that when products reach their potential in the marketplace, the state’s economy will benefit long-term.