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Agricultural Utilization Research Institute names NewStarch Solutions Ag Innovator of the Year

Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) has recognized the Minnesota-based company NewStarch Solutions as 2021 Ag Innovator of the Year.

AURI founders.jpg
NewStarch Solutions founders Dean Bartels, Matt Niles and Don Niles.
Contributed / Agricultural Utilization Research Institute
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PLYMOUTH, Minn. ― The convergence of Americans receiving more home deliveries than ever and an increasing demand from consumers for increased use of more sustainable materials is helping fuel an innovative Minnesota company.

NewStarch Solutions, based in Plymouth, Minnesota, produces a range of sustainable, biodegradable packaging materials made from locally sourced starches from crops. For their innovations, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute has recognized the company as its Ag Innovator of the Year for 2021.

NewStarch Solutions was founded in 2016 by three partner-owners — Dean Bartels, Matt Niles and Don Niles. Bartels and Matt Niles worked with starch at a previous company before starting their own venture.

“We saw the benefits of starch from a sustainability standpoint and wanted to start a company that would use it as the primary ingredient to create products to replace non-eco-friendly plastics while being competitively priced,” said Bartels.

According to Bartels, starch makes a good base material for their products because it is sustainable, plentiful, economically priced and comes from products grown regionally.

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Bartles said they utilize a "variety of plant starches" from farmers in Minnesota and some farmers in Wisconsin, but information about what types of crops go into the products is proprietary information.

All of products made by NewStarch Solutions start with resin.

“We blend starches together then run them through an extrusion process to form resin,” said Bartels. “The resin is packaged in 2000-pound supersacks, then loaded on a container or semi-trailer 20 at a time and shipped to customers worldwide to make our finished products.”

Products derived from the resin include starch packing peanuts or loose fill. Packing peanuts are typically used for the protection and cushioning of fragile products.

“Traditional packing peanuts are made from polystyrene or Styrofoam, both of which are not good for the environment,” said Bartels. “Our packing peanuts are sustainable because they’re made from starch.”

NewStarch Solutions also produces starch spheres that Bartels says are similar to packing peanuts, but with a spherical shape. These spheres can be used in a range of products from stuffing in a dog chew toy to packaging solutions for shipping sheets of paper or film.

The newest product from NewStarch Solutions is a starch sheet with application ranging from medication delivery to food delivery. Boxes or envelopes can utilize the sheeting as it provides both protection and insulation.

“This is a huge market that is growing,” said Bartels. “It’s largely Styrofoam that lines these boxes, but with a focus on sustainability and the environment, consumers and companies are looking for an eco-friendly alternative. Our starch sheet provides this alternative at a cost that is competitive.”

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Where AURI comes in

Since 2002, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute has recognized a Minnesota company or entrepreneur each year for its innovation and contributions to value-added agriculture through the Ag Innovator of the Year Award. AURI selected NewStarch Solutions as the recipient of the 2021 award.

Bartles said that AURI has been "instrumental" in helping test its products for thermal insulation and cushioning, along with helping to secure grants from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

The company enlisted AURI's help to develop the biodegradable starch sheet.

AURI engineer Riley Gordon, who worked to help determine the process necessary for production, said the market opportunities for biodegradable sheets that provide both protection and insulation is large and growing.

“You can use the sheets for applications like shipping electronics, appliances, medical supplies or other things that need to be kept warm or cold,” said Gordon. “It could be interesting to see all the different markets that could open up with this type of product.”

Gordon said that AURI worked with some "large packaging companies" that are interested in NewStarch Solutions products. He's also helping NewStarch Solutions navigate the process for becoming green certified.

“Once they’re certified, they can then use the Biodegradable Products Institute logo,” said Gordon. “Customers want that certification because it holds a lot of clout in the marketplace.”

AURI’s Executive Director Shannon Schlecht said the U.S. Department of Agriculture added 412 new companies to its BioPreferred certification program in 2021. To date, more than 3,300 companies from 49 countries have secured the BioPreferred certification.

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“AURI sees a high degree of interest in biobased, renewable, non-plastic and lower carbon intensity products as well as circular approaches,” said Schlecht. “Packaging continues to be a high interest area for new innovation and NewStarch Solutions falls in the middle of these trend areas, leading me to believe that they and other Minnesota innovators in this space have a bright future if they are solving a consumer or industry problem with a biobased product.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTATECHNOLOGYCROPS
Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast.

While covering agriculture he's earned awards for his localized reporting on the 2018 trade war, and breaking news coverage of a fifth-generation dairy farm that was forced to sell its herd when a barn roof collapsed in the winter of 2019. His reporting focuses on the intersection of agriculture, food and culture.

He reports out of Rochester, Minnesota, and can be reached at nfish@agweek.com
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