“The U.S. and world economies have evolved over 100 years to rely on petroleum. It will take time to transform the entire economy to rely on biomass instead,” says Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the industrial and environmental section of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), www.bio.org.
Complicating matters is that with current economic woes, the investment community is more than a little gun shy. Investments in the biobased industry, as in other businesses, have slowed down. For this reason, BIO, which represents 1,200 biotech companies, academic institutions and state industry development organizations, is fighting for major federal investments in the commercialization of advanced biofuels and biobased products.
In fact, BIO recently took several policy recommendations to legislators on Capitol Hill.
Focus on Infrastructure
First, BIO recommends that the government implement a systems approach to advanced biofuels and biobased products deployment that recognizes the need for coordinated end-to-end infrastructure development.
“Our policy recommendations include government support for key biofuel infrastructure—including pipelines, E85 pumps and Flex Fuel Vehicles—because that infrastructure is necessary to the growth and success of our member companies,” Erickson says.
The development of infrastructure for producing, collecting and delivering second-generation feedstocks (such as corn stover, cereal grain straws and trees) is also necessary. “These feedstocks are needed by our members in the biobased products sector so we’re advocating a full range of policies to support the parallel growth of all parts of the industry,” Erickson says.
While there is currently no coalition supporting this kind of infrastructure development, BIO does meet informally with other concerned parties, including vehicle and farm equipment manufacturers, small engine manufacturers and agricultural groups to discuss policy options and overall industry development.
More than Biofuels
Another of BIO’s policy recommendations is to” incentivize the full range of biobased products produced by biorefineries by extending programs beyond support for liquid fuels.”
Erickson points out that nearly any product that can be made from petroleum can also be made from cellulose through fermentation processes. Biobased products include plastics (such as PLA and PHA), bulk and fine chemicals (such as succinic acid and furfural) and food ingredients, such as flavorings.
“There are also many enzymes that can naturally replace chemicals in common household products or manufacturing processes,” Erickson says. “So, just as a petroleum refinery produces more than just gasoline, a biorefinery can make the most of cellulosic feedstocks by adding other production units for these products. Many biofuel producers—POET and BioEnergy International, for example—are pursuing this business model.”
BIO understands that the biofuel and biobased industries face many hurdles. That is why it is fighting for these industries in Washington. As Erickson says, “It will take continual effort to get legislators and policy leaders to understand that biobased industries are developing in every region of the U.S.”