USDA report highlights potential of the biobased economy

By Erin Voegele | October 14, 2014

The USDA recently published a report that synthesizes current literature and explores opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy. The report, titled “Why Biobased?” is a precursor to a more comprehensive economic study on the economic impacts of the biobased products industry that is expected to be released soon by the USDA BioPreferred program.

"This new report presents the opportunities U.S. agriculture and forests have in the emerging bioeconomy," Agriculture Secretary Tom 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 explores have government policies and industry business-to-business sustainability programs are driving the biobased economy and demonstrates that the biobased economy is growing and offers great potential for increased job creation.

According to the report, biobased chemicals are expected to comprise 10 percent of the chemical market by 2015. Another report cited in the study concludes 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’s report addresses biobased chemicals, including biopolymers, bioplastics, biolubricants, biosolvents, biosurfactants, and other biodynthetics. It also considers the production of biofuel coproducts, biopharmaceuticals, microorganisms and enzymes, inks and dyes, and consumer products.

Regarding opportunities in the bioeconomy, the report indicates many nations in the world anticipate significant long-term growth potential. The report also addresses job creation, citing an analysis published by the Biotechnology Industry Organization that forecasts jobs in the renewable chemicals and biobased products industry will increase to more than 137,000 jobs in 2025, up from 40,000 in 2007.

The USDA’s report also highlights government, industry and consumer drivers of growth in the bioeconomy. In the U.S., the USDA’s Biopreferred Program is one of many government initiatives driving growth in the sector. Industry drivers cited in the report include The Sustainability Consortium and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Although a recent survey of consumers determined that uncertain opinions of bioproducts are likely the result of a lack of exposure to information, consumers were willing to pay 10 percent more, on average, for goods made using biologically-derived plastic.

BIO issued a statement welcoming the USDA’s report.  “The bioeconomy is rapidly growing, creating new economic opportunities and providing well-paying jobs for tens of thousands of Americans. By 2025, employment in the renewable chemical sector could represent approximately 20 percent of all U.S. chemical jobs, “said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s industrial and environmental section. “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. We encourage USDA to continue to develop an economic impact model that will identify additional opportunities and track the growth of the bioeconomy.”

A full copy of the report is available on the USDA website