Focus on Jobs from Biofuels and Biobased Products

On July 26, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced four new project areas for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. BCAP, created in the 2008 Farm Bill, helps farmers and forest landowners cover the start-up costs of planting energy crops for bioenergy, biobased products and advanced biofuels. The program is designed to ensure sufficient biomass is available to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard.

One of the new BCAP project areas was sponsored by cellulosic biofuels and renewable chemicals company ZeaChem, a member of BIO. Their goal is to enroll up to 7,000 acres in Oregon for growth of hybrid poplar trees. The project area, managed by GreenWood Resources (GWR), surrounds a integrated demonstration biorefinery and 25 million GPY first commercial biorefinery, located at the Port of Morrow, near Boardman, Ore.

Another BCAP project area, sponsored by BIO member Abengoa Biofuels, has been designated to grow up to 20,000 acres of switchgrass in Kansas and Oklahoma. The project area surrounds Abengoa’s biomass conversion facility in Hugoton, Kan.

According to industry estimates, these new BCAP project areas will create more than 3,400 jobs in the biorefinery, agriculture and supporting sectors. There are now a total of nine project areas, covering parts of 10 states – Arkansas, California, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington – in every region of the United States. Overall, USDA estimates the total economic impact from implementing BCAP in conjunction with the RFS to be $88.5 billion in economic activity and the creation of nearly 700,000 jobs.

Vilsack the day before announced designation of 14 new categories of products eligible for the BioPreferred Program. More than 8,900 biobased products are now eligible for preferred purchasing by federal government agencies and contractors. Iowa State University estimates that the biobased product industry generates another 100,000 jobs.

The job estimates are consistent with those that BIO has produced for both advanced biofuel production under the RFS and renewable chemicals. Coincidentally, BIO’s policy director Sarah Thornton gave a presentation on these jobs estimates at the Department of Energy’s Biomass 2011 conference. While other participants at the conference called these job figures overstated considering that cellulosic biofuels have not reached commercial production yet, Thornton pointed out that many of the jobs are still created in the pre-commercial research and development phase – including the biotech R&D jobs.

There are more than 50 advanced biofuel projects underway in North America, each of which is already generating jobs. In fact, Biofuels Digest recently took a look at jobs already created in the advanced biofuel industry. Using data from 76 open positions posted on its Jobs Board over two years, the Digest calculated how many people viewed the jobs and how many applied for them.