Boosting economy with biobased products

US producers of bio-based products will be happy to know that President Obama signed a presidential memo yesterday that requires the federal government via the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) BioPreferred Program to track and increase its purchases of products made from plants and other renewable agricultural materials.

The memorandum directs federal agencies to take decisive steps (such as small business assistance, increase biobased product categories, education and outreach) to dramatically increase the purchase of biobased products over the next two years. This Memorandum is expected to result in a 50% increase in the number of new products that are designated as biobased within a year.

According to the USDA, this memorandum will expedite job creation in rural part of the US. The USDA’s BioPreferred program, which started in 1998, has two major initiatives: certify and award labels to qualifying biobased products, and designate categories of biobased products that are afforded preference by Federal agencies when making purchase decisions.

Here is a short video from USA Today on the news about President Obama’s biobased products memo.

At Jim Lunt’s bioplastic seminar held on Monday, BioPreferred Program’s deputy manager Kate Lewis actually talked about the factors driving growth for biobased products including bioplastics. The BioPreferred program currently has about 9,000 individual products listed on its database under 64 categories that the USDA designated for preferred Federal procurement.

“Consumer preference are clamoring for these types of innovative, more sustainable products although they don’t really know what they’re asking for and what they’re getting. Another reason this market is poised for explosive growth is corporate commitment in reducing greenhouses gases as well as reducing their carbon footprint. They’re looking and starting to implement opportunities. Finally, international and national policies, mandates and regulations are supporting and contributing in the forward movement of biobased products.” – Lewis

By the way, Lewis noted that federal agencies and the US Department of Defense actually spent about $500bn for their “stuff.” She also noted that because of efforts, they know that there are about 25,000 biobased products that are being manufactured at this time and that 10,000 are listed in their database. About 3,100 manufacturers are also listed under the 64 categories of biobased products.

With regards to jobs, Lewis said that in the US, about 100,000 direct new jobs a year were created as a result of biobased product activities (development, science, technology, trade) throughout the value chain.

Another interesting point she noted in her presentation is that only about 1% of corn grown in the US are directly consumed by us and most go to animal feed. Also, 1/3 of every bushel of corn used for ethanol is returned back as animal feed called DDGs (dry distilled grain), which is a byproduct from ethanol production that are high in protein.

“Factors that really drive prices up for commodity products such as food staples is really the increase in demand for fuel and high oil prices. As long as oil stays at $90-100/bbl, that has ripple effects throughout different products and industries. The high costs of fertilizer, energy use for harvesting and delivery is impacting prices – it’s not about the use of agriculture for biofuel.” – Lewis.

Another big factors are increasing global population which leads to increase in demand for food, energy and other products where resources are not unlimited; uncontrollable weather such as drought, crop failures…

Meanwhile in Europe, the European Commission has actually launched early this month its own bioeconomy roadmap “Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe.” THe goal focuses on developing new technologies and processes for the bioeconomy; develop market and competitiveness in bioeconomy sectors; and push policymakers and stakeholders to work more closely together.

The Commission defined bioeconomy as an economy using biological resources from the land and sea, as well as waste, as inputs to food and feed, industrial and energy production. It also covers the use of bio-based processes for sustainable industries.

The EU bioeconomy reportedly already has sales of nearly €2 trillion and employs more than 22 million people, 9% of total employment in the EU. It includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, biotechnological and energy industries. Each euro invested in EU-funded bioeconomy research and innovation is estimated to trigger €10 of value added in bioeconomy sectors by 2025, according to the Commission’s report.

Still, some industry organizations note that the new strategy lacks specific actions to support biobased industries in Europe. While welcoming the EU bioeconomy strategy, the European Bioplastics said it hoped for more specific measures for bioplastics to be integrated into the strategy.

“The bioplastics industry is technologically well developed and can demonstrate a wide range of mature applications already today. What we need are strong measures to support the market development of bioplastics products.”

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