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BIO’s World Congress Session: Building a Biobased Economy

May 1, 2012
In the wake of President Obama’s announcement last week of the new National Bioeconomy Blueprint, BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing held a timely plenary session Monday focused on “Fostering a Biobased Economy”. Moderated by BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood, panelists included Doug O’Brien, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); Valerie Sarisky-Reed, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); Andrew Hagan, World Economic Forum; Philip New, BP Biofuels; and Roger Wyse, Burrill & Company.

Greenwood compared the bioeconomy to a whole pie made up economic activity fueled by biological sciences and called the biobased economy a large and growing wedge of that pie. Through this Blueprint, he said, the U.S. government is recognizing the potential of the bioeconomy to unleash the promise of biotechnology.

The Blueprint, Greenwood continued, is a great step forward, but there are other steps to take. BIO has identified several important areas to focus on to spur continued growth of the biobased economy. Reauthorizing the Farm Bill energy title is key to continue the tremendous positive impact these energy programs have had in revitalizing rural America and helping new agricultural markets emerge. In addition to putting more than 150,000 acres of underutilized farmland in over 150 counties into production raising next generation energy crops, these programs have led to an explosion of renewable chemicals innovation, demonstration and early commercialization here in the U.S.

Also important is maintaining the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which is the bedrock policy encouraging continued investment in production of biofuels. In addition, tax policy should focus on driving innovation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, lower gas prices, and create high quality U.S. based career opportunities. This means an extension of current advanced biofuels tax credits and an expansion to include renewable chemicals tax credits as well, supporting the full range of biorefinery opportunities and leveling the playing field for U.S. companies.

New of BP Biofuels talked of BP’s excitement about biofuels. BP believes there will be a 20-25 percent increase in energy needs for transportation in the coming years and thinks that biofuels will be the answer to meet those needs.

O’Brien talked about the USDA’s efforts to strengthen the USDA BioPreferred Program. In effect since 2002, he said, they have sought to provide greater definition to the program to substantially increase purchases of biobased products, driving new job growth and innovation. A recent presidential memorandum directs the program to increase the number of both designated categories of and individual biobased products eligible for preferred purchasing by 50 percent within one year. It also included provisions to establish a web-based registration system for biobased products, increased reporting of biobased product purchases and implemented solutions to increase the visibility of biobased products and the BioPreferred program.

The panel also focused on the recently approved $510 million memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the U.S. DOE, USDA and the Navy to help establish commercial advanced, drop-in biofuel refineries. The Navy is very serious about adopting green technologies, Sarisky-Reed said, and the MOU is a mechanism that draws the three agencies together to help accomplish this. The USDA can find the feedstocks, the U.S. DOE can help find and build biorefineries by selecting successful projects to fund and the Navy plays a critical role in being the first buyer of that technology.