Plastics, cosmetics, detergents, fibers, and solvents all have one thing in common: they are made from the byproducts of oil refining. Iowa State University is working to change that by replacing oil with plant-derived chemicals. And it is providing researchers the training they need to take their discoveries to market.

“Chemicals derived from plants are the chance for a second wave in the chemical space,” said Brent Shanks, director of the Iowa State-based Center for Biorenewable Chemicals. “Not only can we use biobased carbon to make products, but we can also start accessing new compounds that aren’t easy to get from petroleum.”

In addition to researching methods to develop bio-based chemicals, the center helps Iowa State student researchers turn their discoveries into businesses. A “Biobased Foundry” provides students with entrepreneurial training as well as training in marketing and by helping them identify ways to pursue venture capital.

The program has helped create nine startup biochemical companies. Three have gone on to win innovation research or technology transfer grants from federal agencies.