Bioeconomy under the Radar
by Chris Clayton (DTN The Progressive Farmer) Leaders Tout Potential Growth, Challenges for Renewable Refinery Products — … Whether it is spoons, Coke bottles or carpets made out of corn, livestock enzymes for pharmaceuticals, or John Deere tractors using soy oil for plastic, supporters of a growing bioeconomy are trying to highlight that renewable chemicals is a more than $252 billion market that could grow to more than $440 billion by 2020.
Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of BIO, testified before a House Agriculture Subcommittee on Thursday about some of the economic impact and potential of the bioeconomy and the role of energy programs in the farm bill.
“As we look at it, there is potential for advanced bioproducts to affect rural America as profoundly as ethanol has over the last 20 years,” said John Bode, president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association.
Other bioproducts won’t have the volume of demand as ethanol, but still have a profound impact because of capital investment and jobs that come from developing those processing facilities. Bode pointed to the example of a $100 million investment to add a fermentation unit to a wet mill.
“There are now restaurant chains that are priding themselves on the fact that all of the utensils — the plastic utensils, packaging, everything they use — is bio-based,” Bode said. “The waste from those restaurants goes into corn-based trash bags and all of the waste goes into composting. None of it goes to landfills.”
Bode said leading scientists said EPA sought to treat biogenic carbon dioxide — carbon released when a crop is processed — as the same as carbon released from fossil fuels even though the biogenic carbon has a one-year lifecycle while the fossil-fuel carbon had been sequestered for millions of years.
“It disregards the fact that there is a fundamental difference, and the natural lifecycle of plant growth is part of our environment,” Bode said.
“These are risks that companies are going to evaluate within the emerging bioeconomy,” said Rod Snyder, executive director of Field to Market.
Executives at food companies are actually having conversations about topics such as nutrient management, buffer strips and cover crops. “They want to make sure their products are not having an adverse effect on the environment and that they can engage with farmers upstream and help to advance better practices,” Snyder said.
Snyder expects that, in the coming years, companies are going to want more transparency about crop sourcing for products in the U.S., so they can talk to consumers and shareholders about agricultural sustainability.
The other side of the conversation, however, is that a new level of transparency is just going to be part of doing business in the coming years. Companies will simply want more information about how they are sourcing their raw materials but are not planning to pay more for such information. READ MORE