The Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG) helps members develop and bring to market their innovative biobased and renewable chemical products through insightful policy and regulatory advocacy. BRAG is managed by B&C® Consortia Management, L.L.C., an affiliate of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On June 6, 2017, AkzoNobel, a member of the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®), announced the winners of its Imagine Chemistry challenge.  The following winners have been awarded joint development agreements with AkzoNobel’s Specialty Chemicals business to help bring their ideas to market:

  • Ecovia Renewables was awarded for its fermentation technology to make polyglutamic acid, which can be used to make thickeners for personal care products and other uses;
  • Industrial Microbes was awarded for its solution to use genetically modified microorganisms to turn CO2 and natural gas into key chemical building blocks, such as ethylene oxide; and
  • Renmatix was awarded for its technology to use pressurized water to break down plant biomass into cellulosic products with a range of end-use applications.
The awardees were selected from a group of 20 finalists that participated in a three-day event at AkzoNobel’s Deventer Open Innovation Center.  In addition to the winners, seven other finalists were awarded prizes, such as a research agreement with AkzoNobel, chemical research support from AkzoNobel, a rent voucher for the Deventer Open Innovation Center, partner support by Icos Capital and KPMG, and partner support by Icos Capital and KPMG.  More information on the Imagine Chemistry Challenge is available in the BRAG blog post “AkzoNobel Launches Global Chemicals Start-Up Challenge.”

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On May 31, 2017, Deinove, a biotech company focused on producing high-value compounds from rare bacteria, announced the beginning of the second phase of a project with Flint Hills Resources to develop a nutritional supplement for animal feed.  Flint Hills Resources is a member of BRAG and a leading refining, petrochemicals, and biofuels company in the United States. 

During the first phase of the project, which began in November 2015, several bacterial strains were selected from Deinove’s library to produce target compounds.  The second phase will involve:​

  • Producing the additives in sufficient quantities to test their beneficial effects on the target animal species and analyze the results obtained;
  • Optimizing the fermentation parameters; and
  • Defining the technical and economic conditions for the development of the production process.

Depending on the results of efficacy tests, one or two strains may be selected for the industrialization step. 


 

By Kathleen M. Roberts

On May 9, 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), along with seven additional Democratic Senators, sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) requesting an investigation into the activities of Carl Icahn for potential insider trading, market manipulation, and other securities and commodities law violations in the renewable fuel credit market.  The letter states that the actions of and the massive profit earned by Icahn raise questions related to conflict-of-interest rules that apply to government officials, and questions regarding insider trading and market manipulation of renewable fuel credits, known as Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN) -- which SEC, EPA, and CFTC have jurisdiction over.  EPA oversees the issuance and trading of RINs.  CFTC works with EPA to ensure integrity in the RIN market since it has broad authority to prevent insider trading and other market manipulation in commodities markets and futures markets.  SEC has jurisdiction to investigate whether Icahn’s actions as a senior adviser to President Trump affected CVR Energy's stock value or the accuracy of the company's annual and quarterly financial reporting and disclosure. 
 
The Senators maintained that RIN insider trading and market manipulation hurts all parties, including biofuel producers and refineries, and requested an investigation by the three agencies based on the publically available information detailed in the letter.  The Senators also requested information on whether EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and SEC Chairman Jay Clayton would recuse themselves from the investigation.


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is hosting its tenth annual Bioeconomy 2017: Domestic Resources for a Vibrant Future conference on July 11-12, 2017, in Arlington, Virginia.  As in years past, the conference will bring together government agency officials, members of Congress, industry leaders, national laboratory scientists, and academic researchers focused on moving the American bioeconomy forward.  Discussion will focus on:

  • Innovative technologies for the emerging bioeconomy; 
  • The economic opportunities of reliable American feedstock;           
  • New and growing markets for the bioeconomy;
  • Bioenergy as part of the modern transportation future; and     
  • Leveraging the bioeconomy to create new jobs and address global challenges.

Registration is available online.


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On May 2, 2017, the Maine Senate approved a bill to support Maine’s emerging biobased products industry.  An Act to Improve the Ability of Maine Companies to Manufacture and Market Bioplastics (LD 656) would provide the Maine Technology Institute with a $1.5 million grant to provide competitive grants for the development, production, and marketing of bioplastics.  The bill was introduced by Senator Jim Dill (D-Old Town) and endorsed by Senator Dana Dow (R-Waldoboro), Senator Tom Saviello (R-Wilton), and 17 Democratic Senators.  Following approval by the Senate, the bill will be introduced to the Maine House of Representatives for an initial vote.


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On April 12, 2017, the nova-Institute announced the publication of its commentary on the European Commission’s proposal for a revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED).  The proposal, which is referred to as RED II, aims to raise renewable energy usage in Europe to 27 percent by 2030 and to require fuel suppliers to include a minimum share of advanced biofuels in their offering, which will increase steadily between 2021 and 2030.  In its commentary, the nova-Institute analyzed how the revisions presented in RED II would impact the biobased materials sector.  According to the report, the inclusion of CO2-biobased fuels in RED II indicates that the available support will be spread across more forms of energy supply than before, which may improve competition and access to biomass.  The report also states that the cap on biofuels produced from food or feed crops will likely allow an increase of biomass demand by biobased materials, which can be expected to contribute to an upswing of the biobased materials sector.


 

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On April 4, 2017, Members of the European Parliament (MEP) approved a resolution calling on the European Commission (EC) to phase out the use of palm oil as a component of biofuels and advocating for a single certification scheme for palm oil entering the European Union (EU).  The resolution states that biofuels production accounts for 46 percent of the palm oil imported by the EU and requires about one million hectares of tropical soils.  To limit the deforestation and habitat degradation that comes from unsustainable palm oil production, the EU aims to phase out the use of vegetable oils that drive deforestation as a component of biofuels by 2020.  Additionally, the resolution encourages the use of a single certification scheme with specific sustainability criteria for palm oil to ensure that only sustainably produced palm oil and products enter the EU market.  MEP also called on EC to improve the traceability of imported palm oil. 
 
Following the approval of the resolution, Neste, a member of the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®), announced an update to the Crude Palm Oil Dashboard on its website.  The dashboard provides information on Neste’s crude palm oil suppliers across the supply chain in an effort to improve supply chain transparency.  Neste states that all of its crude palm oil has been fully traceable to the plantation level since 2007 and has been 100 percent certified since 2013.


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D. 

On March 24, 2017, the California Energy Commission (CEC) published a notice on the proposed recipients of up to $23 million in Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) funding for applied research and development (AR&D) and technology demonstration and development (TD&D) activities focused on advancing bioenergy electricity generation.  The funding opportunity is focused on three main bioenergy applications, including:

 
■  Efficient, Sustainable and Lower-Cost Bioenergy: Innovations to Improve Woody Biomass-to-Electricity Systems ($5,000,000);
 
■   Demonstration and Evaluation of Environmentally and Economically Sustainable Woody Biomass-to-Electricity Systems ($10,000,000); and
 
■  Demonstration and Evaluation of Environmentally and Economically Sustainable Food Waste Biomass-to-Electricity Systems ($8,000,000).
 
Of the 57 abstracts submitted, 28 passed Phase 1 screening.  All of the 23 proposals received during Phase 2 passed the administrative screening process.  CEC published the recommended funding and score for each of the 23 proposed projects.  The funding recommendations will be approved during the Energy Commission Business meeting, at which time the Energy Commission can add, remove, or shift funding to make additional awards and negotiate with applicants to modify the project scope, schedule, or funding level.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham

On March 9, 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) announced the release (pre-publication version) of a new report:  Preparing for Future Products of Biotechnology.  Pursuant to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's (OSTP) July 2, 2015, memorandum, “Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products,” NAS was tasked with looking into the future and describing the possible future products of biotechnology that will arise over the next five to ten years, as well as providing some insights that can help shape the capabilities within the agencies as they move forward.  More information regarding the July 2015 memorandum is available on our website under the key phrase Biobased Products, Biotechnology.

Via an ad hoc committee, the Committee on Future Biotechnology Products and Opportunities to Enhance Capabilities of the Biotechnology Regulatory System, NAS developed this report through several months of gathering and synthesizing information from several sources, including:  74 speakers over the course of three in-person meetings and eight webinars, including one presented by Lynn L. Bergeson; responses to its request for information from a dozen federal agencies; statements solicited from members of the public at its in-person meetings; written comments through the duration of the study; and recent NAS studies related to future products of biotechnology.

The report presents conclusions concerning the future biotechnology products themselves, as well the challenges that federal agencies will face in regulating them, which include:

  • The bioeconomy is growing rapidly and the U.S. regulatory system needs to provide a balanced approach for consideration of the many competing interests in the face of this expansion;
  • The profusion of biotechnology products over the next five to ten years has the potential to overwhelm the U.S. regulatory system, which may be exacerbated by a disconnect between research in regulatory science and expected uses of future biotechnology products;
  • Regulators will face difficult challenges as they grapple with a broad array of new types of bio-technology products -- for example, cosmetics, toys, pets, and office supplies -- that go beyond contained industrial uses and traditional environmental release;
  • The safe use of new biotechnology products requires rigorous, predictable, and transparent risk-analysis processes whose comprehensiveness, depth, and throughput mirror the scope, scale, complexity, and tempo of future biotechnology applications.

The report provides three recommendations for federal agencies in responding to these challenges, which it states should be taken to “enhance the ability of the biotechnology regulatory system to oversee the consumer safety and environmental protection required for future biotechnology products”:

  1. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other agencies involved in regulation of future bio-technology products should increase scientific capabilities, tools, expertise, and horizon scanning in key areas of expected growth of biotechnology, including natural, regulatory, and social sciences. 
  2. EPA, FDA, and USDA should increase their use of pilot projects to advance understanding and use of ecological risk assessments and benefit analyses for future biotechnology products that are unfamiliar and complex and to prototype new approaches for iterative risk analyses that incorporate external peer review and public participation. 
  3. The National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other agencies that fund bio-technology research with the potential to lead to new biotechnology products should increase their investments in regulatory science and link research and education activities to regulatory-science activities.  

Commentary

The report is well-written and contains an impressive amount of new, relevant, and important information.  The Committee participants are to be commended for an important new piece of scholarship in this area.

The report’s conclusions are also significant, but not entirely unexpected.  For those of us working in this space, we have recognized for years the lack of clarity regarding jurisdictional boundaries, the paucity of government resources, and the urgent need for regulatory clarity and significantly enhanced funding.  Unfortunately, given current Trump Administration efforts to diminish government funding for EPA, FDA, and elsewhere, the well-crafted and spot-on recommendations may tragically fall on deaf ears.  Shareholders should carefully review the report and work hard to ensure the recommendations are implemented.  The consequences of failing to “increase scientific capabilities, tools, expertise, and horizon scanning in key areas of expected growth of biotechnology, including natural regulatory, and social sciences” -- the number one recommendation in the report -- are too great to ignore.


 
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