WELLSVILLE — Alfred State College, thanks to a state grant presented to the college this week, is another step closer to its financial goal for a multimillion-dollar project that will introduce a new technology to the masses.

“The School of Applied Technology is fostering a Silicon Valley-like epicenter of new and existing industrial technology, and what we are announcing today fits into that,” said State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, as she presented a $1 million check to the college during a ceremony Thursday at the college’s School of Applied Technology campus in Wellsville.

The state funding, along with financial contributions provided from Allegany and Cattaraugus counties, will help jump-start the establishment of Alfred State’s Biorefinery Development and Commercialization Center (BDCC), a $10.6 million small-scale research facility that will be used to conduct the scientific process of hot water extraction on one of the Southern Tier’s greatest natural resources — trees, the state senator said.

“The best economic strategy is to capitalize on your strengths … You only have to look around to soak in the awesome abundance of natural resources in the Southern Tier, especially the trees and the rolling farmlands that dominate our landscape,” the senator said prior to unveiling the check. “For hundreds of years, those forests and field have provided economic sustenance to our people. Now, it’s time to take these resources to a new level.”

The forest produces industry already pumps $8.8 billion annual into the state’s economy, while agriculture is a big business with a $40 billion annual impact statewide, and the BDCC has the potential to increase those figures exponentially, she said.

“We are hoping to start a wave of transformation across rural New York to review the upstate economy, especially in forested regions where the economy is struggling,” Young said.

The center will be designed to enable private firms to scale the production of biorenewable materials and sustainable energy from lab-bench to commercial volumes. It will offer public and private entities access to shared infrastructure and services including material handling equipment, large reaction vessels, and the heat and power load to drive down chemical costs and process bottlenecks that can hinder companies’ abilities to bring products to the market. The university will gain a unique educational opportunity for students to get hands-on learning alongside industry, the senator said.

Alfred State welding, machine tools, drafting and computer animated design and engineering students and faculty will be involved in developing and building the new facility, she noted.

The hot water process that will be used in the facility extracts various chemicals, sugars, cellulose and other products from wood. The chemicals can then be used for various industrial products, and the remaining cellulose material can be used for pellets and products used in structures.

“Fuels such as ethanol, butanol, methanol and algal biodiesels from the fermented sugars generated in the process are produced through the environmentally cutting-edge technique,” Young said. “I want to stress that this is green technology. This is protecting our forests and our natural resources, and it’s being done in an eco-friendly way.”

Dr. Thomas Amidon, biorefinery research institute director, and Preston Gilbert, SUNY presidential fellow from New Forest Economy and assistant director for Community Development, developed the process in a laboratory at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

The creation of the BBDC is vital to ensuring this technology reaches the masses, Amidon said.

“This project is essential to expedite the commercial the commercializing of the technology and then building commercial facilities in Cattaraugus and Allegany county,” he said. “Those facilities, and others to be subsequently built around New York and the United States, will need highly skilled employees, and Alfred State is moving quickly to be the best place to educate them.”

Young said she will continue to push for additional state funding along with federal dollars. There is a pending application to the Regional Economic Development Council for more funds, she noted.

The college will learn more about the council’s funding next week, college dean Craig Clark told the Times Herald earlier this week. The council has already provided $500,000 toward the project, he added.

“We’re grateful for all of the funding we receive because we’re extremely excited about this project,” he said. “Having a live factory on campus will change the learning environment greatly for all of the students. We will be turning out people who have even more advanced skills than they already do from the education they receive here.”

(Contact reporter Darlene M. Donohue at ddonohue@oleantimesherald.com. Follow her on Twitter, @DarleneMDono)

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