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Biobased increasingly more important for US economy, new USDA report

The biobased economy is playing an increasingly important role in the American economy. Through innovations in renewable energies and the emergence of a new generation of biobased products, the sectors that drive the biobased economy are providing job creation and economic growth according to a recently released report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Global and United States bioplastic production from 2008 to 2016 (in million tonnes). Sources: Chen, Jason. (2016) “Global Markets and Technologies for Bioplastics” BCC Research; European Bioplastics (2013) “Bioplastics Facts and Figures” (graphic courtesy USDA).

According to the recently published report “Indicators of the U.S. Biobased Economy“, the biobased economy is playing an increasingly important role in the American economy. To further understand and analyze trends in the biobased economy, the report compares 2011 and 2016 report data.

Under “bioenergy”, the report finds that:

  • Ethanol production in the United States surpassed 14.7 billion gallons in 2015. This compares to just 175 million in 1980.
  • The number of ethanol plants in the United States continues to see modest growth, increasing to 199 plants in 2016 with 3 new facilities under construction. This accounts for over 270,000 American jobs.
  • Biodiesel production reached 1.26 billion gallons in 2015 as compared to 343 million gallons in 2010.
  • During the period of 2005 to 2012, soybean used for biodiesel increased from 0.67 billion pounds to 4.1 billion pounds.
  • Wood pellets manufactured primarily in the Southeastern United States have become an important component of the bioenergy sector. Driven by commitments by countries outside of the US to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals in the electricity-generating sector, the US has established itself as the largest exporter of wood pellets. The US exported over 4.6 million tonnes of wood pellets, which is the global leader by almost 3.0 million tonnes over the second-largest exporter.

For renewable chemicals and biobased products, the report notes that the BioPreferred program catalogues a product as a biobased product if it derives from plants and other renewable agriculture, marine, and forestry materials, and does not include fuels, food, or animal feed. Thus it finds that:

  • The number of renewable chemicals and biobased products that are USDA “certified” as BioPreferred has rapidly increased from 1 800 in 2014 to 2 900 in 2016.
  • The estimated overall number of biobased products in the US marketplace was greater than 40 000 in 2014, up from 17 000 in 2008.
  • The number of jobs contributed to the US economy by the US biobased products industry in 2014 was 4.22 million.
  • The value-added contribution to the US economy from the US biobased products industry in 2014 was US$393 billion.

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