1. Establish Uniform Definitions for Common Biobased Product Terminology
Across government agencies and the private sector, many terms are used when discussing products in the bioeconomy, including plant-based, biobased, biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable. Many of these terms are confusing to consumers, industry stakeholders, and policymakers because they are used inappropriately or inconsistently, are not well defined, or are simply not well known. The lack of harmonization for key bioeconomy terms leads to consumer distrust, confusion in the marketplace, inaccurate industry data, and misguided policy. In particular, uniform definitions are critical to the success of federal policy, from determining who qualifies for relevant federal programs to ensuring consistent and accurate collection and analysis of industry data. USDA has distinct expertise in the ag bioeconomy and biobased product markets. PBPC recommends that Congress provide USDA with appropriate statutory authority to establish nationally uniform standardized definitions of key bioproduct industry terms.
2. Modernize USDA’s BioPreferred Program
During the Farm Bill process, Congress has the opportunity to both celebrate the 20th anniversary of USDA’s BioPreferred Program and modernize the program so it can maximize its ability to spotlight the broad array of biobased products for government procurement and use by businesses and consumers. PBPC supports the Ag Energy Coalition’s recommendations to modernize the BioPreferred Program to strengthen its support for rural economic development in the U.S. and to enhance U.S. competitiveness in global bioeconomy markets. Recommendations include minimum requirements for biobased-only procurement contracts; definition of minimum price differentials; improved compliance, reporting, and data collection across the federal government; expanded promotion of biobased products within the federal government and to the public; regular updates to product categories and biobased content requirements; and updated funding levels.
3. Create NAICS Codes for Biobased Product Manufacturing
It is hard to measure what one cannot see. Today, biomanufacturers are very difficult to see in government collected data because they do not have their own codes under the current North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Under the present NAICS codes, biobased product manufacturing is hidden in a smattering of classifications (e.g., plastic, chemicals, packaging, etc.), rather than given distinct codes for their production. New biobased product manufacturing NAICS codes would greatly enhance the ability of firms and researchers to track the industry and for government policymakers and other stakeholders to make more informed decisions and policy. Measuring growth in economic areas like jobs and average wages is key to understanding how public policy is helping this new industry, what barriers should be addressed, and where investment is needed.
The 2018 Farm Bill included language directing the Department of Commerce and USDA to work together to develop NAICS codes specifically for the biobased product manufacturing industry. While this work was not completed for inclusion in the 2022 NAICS updates, additional progress is anticipated pursuant to the Biden Administration’s September 2022 Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy. Congress should codify an interagency technical working group, under the direction of USDA, to ensure bioeconomy related revisions are finalized for incorporation in the 2027 NAICS updates.
4. Establish Grants for Pilot/Pre-Commercial Phase Biorefinery Development
Bioproduct entrepreneurs and companies in the U.S. face challenges when it comes to quickly bringing new products to market and supporting acceleration of R&D. Access to biorefineries that allow an entrepreneur to pilot a new bioproduct and to demonstrate the pathway to commercial scale production is very limited, creating a bottleneck in the development and launch of American made bioproducts. Such scale up infrastructure is essential for de-risking investments in newer innovations aiming for full-scale commercialization. Importantly, the federal government can help by providing funding support for additional bench scale and semi-commercial scale infrastructure to help de-risk and accelerate the commercialization of new and emerging bioproducts. The lack of demonstration grants is a major gap in the farm bill energy title that can be corrected using a prior program model and appropriate funding. Specifically, Congress should add cost-sharing grants for demonstration scale plants to USDA’s Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (Section 9003 of the Farm Bill). The program previously provided for such grants for biofuels and that model can be revised to fill an infrastructure development niche for non-fuel industrial biobased products demonstrations.
5. Enhance USDA Funding for Composting Infrastructure
Compostable plant-based products and materials can be used to help divert food waste from landfills to composting facilities where it is converted into compost, a valuable soil amendment. A combined stream of food scraps and compostable food packaging can be diverted to industrial composting facilities instead of going to a landfill, reducing landfill waste and methane emissions. However, the current lack of industrial composting infrastructure in the U.S. is a significant hurdle to the broader adoption of compostable plant-based materials. PBPC supports the COMPOST Act and other efforts of the U.S. Composting Infrastructure Coalition to advocate for opportunities in the Farm Bill to strengthen USDA’s support of composting infrastructure development across the nation.