USDA report outlines opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2014 -USDA today released a comprehensive report synthesizing current literature that explores the opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy.

The 40-page report, entitled Why Biobased?, will be followed by a more comprehensive economic study, mandated in the 2014 Farm Bill, to be released in the coming months by the USDA BioPreferred Program on the economic impacts of the biobased products industry.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the report presents the opportunities the bioeconomy is presenting for U.S. agriculture and forests.

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“The recent inclusion of mature market products into the BioPreferred Program strengthens our commitment to the U.S. biobased economy and brings together two of the most important economic engines for rural America -- agriculture and manufacturing," Vilsack said in a news release.

Some of the reports key findings:

-The biobased economy is being driven by government policies and industry-to-industry sustainability programs.

 -Nations around the world are investing in public-private partnerships to expand their biobased economy for domestic and international consumers.

-USDA's BioPreferred Program and federally supported research continue to drive R&D in the U.S., making available broader sets of biobased consumer products.

-There is a lack of understanding of the economic benefits of the bioeconomy and especially the non-fuel bioeconomy in the U.S.

USDA said the study demonstrates that the biobased economy is growing and offers great potential for increased job creation in numerous sectors across the U.S.

For example, one report cited in the study concludes that biobased chemicals are expected to constitute over 10 percent of the chemical market by next year. Another report in the study asserts that there is a potential to produce two-thirds of the total volume of chemicals from biobased materials, representing over 50,000 products, a $1 trillion annual global market.

The USDA BioPreferred program works to increase the purchase and use of designated biobased products through a preferred procurement initiative for federal agencies. As of September, USDA had certified over 1,940 biobased products in more than 187 product categories for the voluntary “USDA Certified Biobased Product” label. Certified products include construction, janitorial, and groundskeeping products purchased by federal agencies, to personal care and packaging products used by consumers every day.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) estimates that U.S.-based jobs for the renewable chemicals sector will rise from approximately 40,000 jobs in 2011, which represents 3 percent to 4 percent of all chemical sales, to over 237,000 jobs by 2025. This employment level would represent approximately 20 percent of total chemical sales.

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BIO thanked Vilsack for supporting the research and having the report written. Brent Erickson, executive vice president of Bio's Industrial and Environmental Section, said the report is the first comprehensive quantification of the job opportunities and economic benefits of the biobased products and renewable chemical industry.

“USDA's new report on opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy is an important first step in quantifying those economic impacts, and we thank the authors of the report,” Erickson said. “We encourage USDA to continue to develop an economic impact model that will identify additional opportunities and track the growth of the bioeconomy.”

The report was written by Jay Golden, director of the Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce and a faculty member on the Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the Nicholas School of the Environment, and Robert Handfield, the Bank of America University Distinguished Professor of Supply Chain Management at North Carolina State University and the director of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative.

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