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Study finds potential for Mississippi Delta to join global bioeconomy

By Lisa Gibson
The U.S.'s Mississippi Delta Region can secure a leadership role in the $140 billion global bioeconomy by leveraging its agricultural and forestry assets and attracting technology partners from outside the region, according to "Regional Strategy for Biobased Products in the Mississippi Delta," a Batelle Technology Partnership Practice study released Aug. 25.

The study, initiated by Memphis Bioworks Foundation, covers 98 counties in five states-Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee-and includes participation from several companies and organizations in all five states. The total area of the study covers 36 million acres.

Among other things, the study concluded that sustainably grown and harvested biomass in the region can supply an $8 billion biofuels and biobased products industry without affecting the food and feed supply. The study also found that the transformation would create more than 25,000 green and supporting jobs in the next 10 years, along with more than 50,000 in the next 20 years; it would open up markets for new crops that will increase biodiversity in the region, leading to reduced use of synthetic fertilizers, agricultural chemicals and water, while increasing options for local farmers; and would contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increase air quality, provide sustainable raw materials for local industries and boost national security, according to Memphis Bioworks.

The biomass addressed in the report includes all agricultural crops and trees in harvested, unprocessed form, alternative crops such as canola and perennial grass, and woody biomass. The types of biomass are separated into four groups: oilseeds, sugar and starches, lignocellulosics, and niche crops.

A Mississippi Delta regional bioeconomy would provide farmers an opportunity to grow alternative crops and participate in value-added agriculture, according to Steven Bares, Memphis Bioworks executive director. It also would allow companies to benefit from a reliable source of renewable raw materials, attract regional investment, add value to underutilized biomass resources, and create opportunities to grow high-value biomass on marginal lands, among other advantages, according to the report.

Each of the five states will launch individual initiatives appropriate for its region aimed at enhancing existing opportunities and expanding its role in the biobased products industry, according to Memphis Bioworks.

The full report can be downloaded at www.agbioworks.org/regional.cfm.
 

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