As the number-two person in the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Doug O’Brien has some interesting challenges. His primary responsibility is to oversee and deal with issues related to energy, agriculture, bioproducts, and such laboratories as the Consumer Analytical (food safety) and Animal Disease Diagnostic laboratories in Reynoldsburg.
O’Brien is well-suited for his position as Assistant Director at the ODA, having grown up on an Iowa farm, earned his undergraduate degree at Loras College in Dubuque, gone on to a law degree at the University of Iowa and further specialized in agriculture law at the University of Arkansas. During law school, he clerked for an Iowa Supreme Court Justice, worked for the U.S. House and the Senate Ag Committee, taught law at Drake University in Des Moines, and was a staff attorney and co-director for the National Agriculture Law Center in Arkansas. Most recently, O’Brien worked in the Iowa Governor’s office on a legislative initiative dealing with renewable energy and bioproducts. Then Ohio called, and he answered.
Two years into his employment with the ODA, O’Brien has served as chair of the Ohio Agriculture-to-Chemicals, Polymers, and Advanced Materials Task Force, which was created to provide recommendations to the Ohio General Assembly and Governor Strickland. They delivered their suggestions on June 14, 2008. O’Brien’s Task Force recommended efforts to increase bio-refinery capacity, collaborate among in-state agencies to capture opportunities to lead bioproducts developments, conduct material flow and economic studies, and support ag bioproducts entrepreneurs through such existing Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) programs as the Third Frontier.
At ODA, O’Brien’s office is working closely with ODOD, ag industry representatives, and academic institutions to build bioproducts within Ohio’s Job Stimulus Package (JSP). Within the JSP, a $50M portion JSP funds are earmarked for bioproducts industry incentives, especially on finding ways to increase capacity and accelerate more bio-based products to the marketplace. The JSP is currently tied up in litigation, but when that is settled, O’Brien wants to be ready to roll with the bioproducts job program.
What else is on O’Brien’s plate? He is also working with a number of biofuels firms in Ohio to encourage them to identify opportunities for using some of their co-products as the basis for new bioproducts applications. O’Brien is also working with others to explore how to smooth the way for the State of Ohio to purchase more bioproducts for its own use. Beginning with such things as soy oil derived from Ohio soybean crops, O’Brien is working out paths through the state procurement system. Finally, O’Brien also works with the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center (OBIC), facilitating OBIC’s networking and technical support services for companies and organizations in Ohio. He also sometimes participates in the OBIC Board of Directors activities to keep lines of communication open between OBIC and state government, and work out ways to share OBIC’s excellent resources with Ohio agriculture industries and the state government.
The Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center (OBIC) is a new research initiative that integrates academia and industry toward the development of renewable specialty chemicals, polymers/plastics and advanced materials. The Center was funded in 2005 by the Ohio Department of Development through an $11.5 million Wright Center of Innovation (Third Frontier) award, leveraged with matching funds from external partners. OBIC was created to support the development of novel germplasms; connect related agricultural and chemical industry components; accelerate commercialization; increase jobs and economic growth/stability; catalyze strategic investments in renewable feedstocks and value-added chemicals and polymers; work with industry to create value chains for bioproducts; leverage platform building blocks/chemicals to create a bioproducts innovation pipeline; and create platform technologies.