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USDA Illuminates the Economic Benefits of Moving Toward a Biobased Economy

October 10, 2014
“A bioeconomy is one based on the use of research and innovation in the biological sciences to create economic activity and public benefit.” - White House (2012)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  Secretary Tom Vilsack has recently announced the release of a comprehensive report synthesizing current literature that explores opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy.  The report, entitled Why Biobased?, was created by the USDA as a precursor for a more comprehensive economic study to be released in the coming months by the USDA BioPreferred program on the economic impacts of the biobased products industry.
"This new report presents the opportunities U.S. agriculture and forests have in the emerging bioeconomy," said Vilsack. "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."

The report characterizes a Bioeconomy as a new generation of environmentally-friendly materials and products and economic opportunities for U.S.-based agriculture, chemical, and manufacturing sectors and their value chains, with far-reaching potential impacts on socioeconomic development and the resurgence of production in the U.S.

In the initial summary report the USDA focused on Biobased Materials to the exclusion of Biobased fuels and energy sources.  The agency examined the literature from governments, academia, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) supplemented by a workshop and a survey to answer the following three primary questions:

1: What are the drivers and opportunities of the Bioeconomy?
2: Are there barriers and challenges to manage?
3: What gaps in knowledge must be addressed?

Looking into the future, the report recognizes that the market for biobased products is growing because of the efforts of manufacturers, consumers, and government officials to promote the development and acceptance of these products as they become commercially viable.
"One of the main objectives of the efforts to increase the market share for biobased products is to reduce the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil. However, the widespread use of such products also would help to rejuvenate the rural economy so that it is less dependent on government subsidies and also would help to create a self-sustaining sector that relies on domestic renewable resources."

Some of the many biobased products that are currently produced are bioplastics, biolubricants, biosolvents, bio-surfactants, and other biosynthetics. In addition, many biofuel co-products are emerging that can be produced from a variety of different sources of biomass.

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

Read BIO's release on the report and the importance of driving towards a stronger Bioeconomy.