Today we are having a conversation with Nicole Rudningen of Evonik. Thank you for stepping into the bio spotlight.
PLEASE TELL US A BIT ABOUT EVONIK AS A GLOBAL SPECIALTY CHEMICAL COMPANY.
Evonik is active in many industry segments from animal nutrition, healthcare (pharma API’s), baby care (super absorbers), high-performance polymers (your cell phone screen), oil additives, silica and many more.
WHAT IS YOUR FOCUS IN NEBRASKA AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU OPERATED HERE?
For the past 16 years, Evonik has been producing lysine (trade name Biolys) in Blair, where we run Evonik’s largest industrial biotechnology facility. In Nebraska, we’re part of Evonik’s nutrition and care segment in its animal-nutrition business line. Why is animal nutrition so important? The global population is growing – and with it, the demand for meat, fish, milk and eggs. Our focus to meet increasing demand, without overstraining natural resources, depends on optimizing animal feed. Key components in making this possible are essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body itself and must be fed to animals. With a balanced amino acid content, the total protein in feed can be reduced. This reduces the amount of land and water necessary to produce animal protein. It also drastically reduces nitrogen penetration into the environment as manure production of the animal is reduced.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN EVONIK? AND PLEASE SHARE A LITTLE ON YOUR BACKGROUND?
I am the site manager for the lysine plant in Blair. I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota, so agriculture-based business has always been a part of my life. I attended St. Cloud State University and received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. I started working for Cargill in Blair directly out of college as a quality assurance chemist. The Evonik lysine plant was originally a JV between Cargill and Evonik. When I transferred to the lysine plant, I worked in process development. In 2003, Evonik acquired full shares of the plant. In 2005, I moved to Germany to work at Evonik’s R&D facility, and two years later I returned to Blair, managing fermentation operations, and in 2012 I became the site manager.
EVONIK HAS A VERY STRONG BRAND FOCUS ON INNOVATION IN SUSTAINABILITY. IS THIS A REFLECTION OF YOUR EUROPEAN ROOTS?
Europe is more sensitive to sustainability topics, because they already face land mass and natural resource limitations that are less obvious in the United States. It is very important that Evonik is focusing on these central sustainability topics, because the world’s population is already taxing our natural resources. It is up to companies such as Evonik to be innovation solution providers. If there are no innovations around sustainability, then meeting the basic human demand for protein in say, 2050, will not be possible. The world needs a solution which provides healthy, sustainable nutrition for a growing population. I personally like going to work and knowing that what I do every day positively impacts the environment.
HOW DOES BEING PART OF THE BLAIR BIO INDUSTRIAL “CLUSTER” HELP YOUR BUSINESS?
We are a part of a bio-industrial complex where the businesses on site support each other in many ways. We use products, which are produced on site, as raw materials for further processing of additional products. We create a nice critical mass for many needs each business would otherwise have to meet on their own. This spans many things from joint safety and emergency response teams to having enough work to keep skilled contractors and labor on site.
WITH BLAIR BEING EVONIK’S LARGEST INDUSTRIAL BIO FACILITY, WHAT SCALE IS THAT?
The plant has a capacity of 280,000 metric tons for L-lysine. We have about 100 people working for Evonik in Blair.
HOW ARE YOUR ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS SOLD?
They are feed additives sold to fully integrated poultry and swine producers. Amino acids are also becoming more important in the aquaculture industry. Evonik does produce some amino acids for human nutrition, but not at our Blair facility.
DOES EVONIK LIKE DOING BUSINESS IN NEBRASKA?
I think Nebraska has a great workforce, and this is noticed and appreciated by Evonik leadership. Nebraska’s corn production and outstanding agriculture programs make it a prime location for biotechnology.
STATE LEADERS ARE ASSESSING IDEAS TO GROW OUR INDUSTRIAL BIO BASE. ANY ADVICE FOR THEM?
The State of Nebraska needs to focus on making sure investment incentives keep it ahead of other corn-producing states. Energy prices and renewable energy strategies also are important for bio processes. Has the state considered offering a special incentive category for industrial bio? This can be a win, win, win. It promotes the agricultural backbone of Nebraska by creating high-value products from local corn, brings new business and technology to the state, and in many cases, offers more environmentally sustainable solutions.