U.S. Department of Agriculture

Worldwide, the bioenergy and bio-products industries are emerging as new and rapidly growing sectors; given the high productivity of the U.S. agricultural industry, bio-based product manufacturing is a significant opportunity for the U.S. to support growth of a bio-economy. Expansion of the bio-economy has the potential to sustainably harvest and utilize 1 billion tons of new biomass in the U.S. without affecting existing farm and forestry product markets, growing the current market five-fold over the next 15 years and adding $500 billion to the annual bio-economy.

The agricultural sector is essential for ensuring sustainable, reliable, and accessible production of bioenergy and bio-based products that: 1) replace the use of petroleum and other strategic materials that would otherwise need to be imported, 2) create higher-value revenue streams for producers in rural and agricultural communities, 3) improve the nutrition and well-being of animals and humans; and
4) provide ecosystem services such as ensuring clean air and water, biodiversity, and nutrient cycling to the environment and society.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognizes the role that manufacturing plays in maximizing the benefits of a sustainable, rural economy. Areas of interest include bio-manufacturing and bio-products development to: 1) establish processes and chemical platforms leading to high-value intermediate and end-use products, 2) support commercialization of products developed from basic and applied research, 3) build domestic capability for ongoing bio-manufacturing and bio-products development, and 4) educate and train needed workforce. The growth of the bio-economy also depends upon understanding and addressing the entire supply chain of the bio-economy, rural America’s role in the bio-economy, and the role of research and development.

In addition, nanocellulose materials have enormous promise to bring about fundamental changes in and significant benefit from our Nation’s use of renewable resources. These cellulose nanomaterials when derived from trees: 1) are renewable and sustainable; 2) are produced in trees via photosynthesis from solar energy, atmospheric carbon dioxide, and water; 3) store carbon; and 4) depending upon how long cellulose-based products remain in service, are carbon negative or carbon neutral. Cellulosic nanocrystals, for example, are predicted to have strength properties comparable to Kevlar, have piezoelectric properties comparable to quartz, and can be manipulated to produce photonic structures. Current global research directions in cellulose nanomaterials indicate that this material could be used for a variety of new and improved product applications, including lighter and stronger paper and paperboard products; lighter and stronger building materials; wood products with improved durability; barrier coatings; body armor; automobile and airplane composite panels; electronics; biomedical applications; and replacement of petrochemicals in plastics and composites.