Biochemicals industry calls for more support from US

15 May 2013 23:52  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The federal government should provide more regulatory and financial support for promoting renewable chemicals in the US, the biotechnology industry said on Wednesday.

“Renewable chemicals can already compete on cost with petroleum chemicals, with lower production volumes required for commercial scale,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

“The market potential exists because consumers around the world are looking for safer and less polluting alternatives to petroleum products,” he said during a conference call with reporters on what renewable chemicals mean for consumers.

The renewable chemical industry is still in early development, but a growing number of projects are reaching the commercial production stage.

“While renewable chemicals were first envisioned as co-products of biofuels that helped to balance the economics of integrated biorefineries, these early commercial production facilities are being built as standalone biorefineries,” Erickson said.

“The capital required to build or retrofit a renewable chemical biorefinery is lower than that for an advanced biofuel facility,” he added.

The US government has spent a lot of effort promoting ethanol and biofuels with initiatives such as a Renewable Fuel Standard or tax credits for cellulosic biofuels.

However, the biochemicals industry is urging the government to provide it with a “level playing field” among other renewable energy resources and the oil and gas industry with initiatives such as funding, biochemical production tax credits and job credits.

“Biofuels is the wrong place to being putting money,” said Adam Malofsky, CEO of US-based sustainable polymer producer Bioformix.

“There’s a lot of fuel around; it’s just whether people want to pay for it,” he added. “By giving the kind of chemicals that our companies are trying to work for that doesn’t require those gargantuan investments, [this] is the first place to improve efficiency.”

There is also a need for policy and legislation that support the cellulosic view of the bio-based industry, said Toby Reid, CEO of Canada-based bioplastics manufacturer Solegear.

However, the US Department of Agriculture’s BioPreferred programme, which labels how much bio-based material is in a product, specifies bio-based content as the percentage of the product that comes from new carbon versus old carbon, Reid said.

“The bio-based label deals with carbon as typically sourced from plants, whereas if you take it from a smokestack, that actually won’t qualify as bio-based material,” said Mark Herrema, CEO of US-based bio-plastics manufacturer Newlight Technologies.

More resources into the program and clarity on bio-based content would give consumers more knowledge on the products and allow them to make their own decisions on whether or not they want to purchase bio-based products, he said.

Herrema added that he would like to see labelling on chemicals and other products that detail contents, similar to the labelling that appear on food.

BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology will be held 16-19 June in Montreal, Canada.

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By: Tracy Dang
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