By Kathleen M. Roberts
On July 26, 2017, the European Commission announced the launch of the Bioeconomy Knowledge Centre, which was created by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Directorate General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) to better support policy makers with science-based evidence in the bioeconomy field. Rather than generate information, the objective is to build on JRC’s expertise in knowledge management. The online platform will collect, structure, and provide access to knowledge from a wide range of scientific sources on the bioeconomy, the sustainable production of renewable biological resources, and their conversion into valuable products. The platform will also support the European Commission in the review of the 2012 Bioeconomy Strategy, taking into account new political and policy developments, such as the Paris agreement, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, and the Circular Economy Package.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On July 20, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded 34 grants totaling $15.1 million for research on renewable energy, biobased products, and agroecosystems. The grants, which are funded through the agency’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), are expected to help develop the next generation of renewable energy, bioproducts, and biomaterials; protect the ecosystems that support agriculture; and improve the agricultural systems and processes that help feed the nation.
The following institutions were awarded grants for projects focused on cover crop systems for biofuel production:
- USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) received $494,000 for the development of lupin, cereal rye, and carinata winter cover crops for biomass in the southern coastal plain;
- Purdue University received $498,000 for the development of cover cropping for the development of sustainable co-production of bioenergy, food, feed (BFF) and ecosystem services (ES);
- Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $498,378 for the development of perennial cover crop systems for maize grain and biomass production;
- Louisiana State University Agricultural Center received $387,000 to study the feedstock production potential of energy cane-sweet sorghum rotation with a winter cover crop system; and
- University of Nebraska received $500,000 to assess innovative strategies to maximize cover crop yields for biofuel across a precipitation gradient.
The following institutions were awarded grants for projects focused on the socioeconomic implications and public policy challenges of bioenergy and bioproducts market development and expansion:
- Auburn University received $499,886 to identify the economic barriers to biomass production, to evaluate the effectiveness of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in stimulating biomass market expansion, and to explore the economic and ecosystem service implications of biomass production;
- Colorado State University received $499,000 to produce a unified atlas of marginal lands in the U.S., and provide insight on the costs, potential environmental benefits, and overall practical likelihood of using those lands for biomass feedstock production;
- Purdue University received $492,099 to develop a dynamic theoretical model on rejuvenating coal-power plants with biomass;
- Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $499,622 to provide an integrated model-based assessment of the socioeconomic, policy, and market implications of sustainable bioenergy derived from cellulosic biomass; and
- University of Missouri received $498,441 to evaluate impacts on forest resources surrounding power plants using woody biomass, assess economic impacts of wood biopower systems, and quantify tradeoffs between cost, carbon reductions, and renewable energy generation obtained by the increased use of wood biopower.
More information on the grants is available at the NIFA website
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On July 20, 2017, USDA released its technology transfer report for fiscal year 2016. The report outlines the public release of information, tools, and solutions and the adoption and enhancement of research outcomes by collaborative partners and formal Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) that occurred in 2016.
The report highlights several research initiatives by ARS scientists focused on supporting the bioeconomy, including:
- Development of a new yeast strain with a unique cellulolytic enzyme that efficiently breaks down biofeedstock, shows resistance to inhibitory compounds, and eliminates the need to add other enzymes to the production process;
- Engineering a yeast strain from a Brazilian ethanol plant to convert plant xylose to ethanol and then identifying a strain with excellent performance;
- dentification of a strain of yeast capable of converting inulin, a major polysaccharide derived from coffee processing waste, into cellulosic ethanol;
- Development of genetic methods to control the conversion of agricultural sugars to compounds called liamocins using yeast; and
- Studying the use of lytic enzymes as an alternative to antibiotics for preventing and controlling bacterial contamination of fuel ethanol fermentations during biorefining.
The full report, titled “Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report on Technology Transfer” is available on USDA’s website
Scientists, executives, and investors gathered in Montreal, Canada on Tuesday evening for a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion on current issues facing bioeconomy leaders and innovators. The reception, hosted by Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) and Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox P.L.L.C., included a brief question and answer (Q&A) session with Christine Lhulier, Corporate Counsel for DuPont Industrial Biosciences, Richard E. Engler, Ph.D., Senior Chemist with B&C, and Jeremiah B. Frueauf, Director in the Biotechnology/Chemical Group at Stern Kessler. The panel discussed the variety of the incentives and challenges related to growing the bioeconomy, and fielded questions from many of the attendees.
When asked what industries might be affected by the bioeconomy in 2040, Ms. Lhulier stated that she could not name an industry that would not be impacted by renewable resources in the future. In response to the question “what should be the key driver in growing the bioeconomy?,” the panelists highlighted the need for clear regulatory policies that ensure parity for the commercialization of biobased and petroleum-based products, while recognizing the role that industry and academic institutions play in driving innovation. It was also noted that global alignment on biobased policies and procedures, and the development of feedstock-agnostic technologies, would help to accelerate the growth of the bioeconomy.
After a guest commented on the impact the negative public perception of biotechnology has on innovation, Dr. Engler pointed out the public’s poor understanding of biotechnology, its safety, and the extent to which it is utilized in the marketplace already. Another attendee suggested that the biobased industry consider playing a role in informing the public of the benefits of biobased processes. At the conclusion of the Q&A portion of the evening, many guests stayed to continue the conversation with the panelists and attendees.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
Renewable Industries Canada (RICanada), a principal stakeholder representing Canadian producers of clean-burning renewable fuels, announced that the Quebec Government’s 2017-2020 Action Plan under the 2030 Energy Policy included, for the first time, renewable fuel volume requirements for fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The renewable fuel blending requirement was set at 5% for gasoline and 2% diesel and is expected to increase after 2020. RICanada stated that the “announcement on renewable transportation fuels further entrenches Quebec’s position as a leader in the production of renewable energy and in the broader battle against climate change” and that its “members look forward to helping the Government of Quebec ensure that the province’s GHG targets in the transportation sector are achieved.” More information on the Action Plan for Energy Policy 2030 is available on the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources website.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On June 30, 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released the final version of its report Preparing for Future Products of Biotechnology, which is the result of a collaboration by a committee of experts convened by NAS. The report provides an overview of the committee’s discussion on “the future products of biotechnology that are likely to appear on the horizon, the challenges that the regulatory agencies might face, and the opportunities for enhancing the regulatory system to be prepared for what might be coming.” The committee reached consensus on its conclusions and recommendations regarding actions that can be taken to enhance the capabilities of the biotechnology regulatory system to prepare for the anticipated future of biotechnology products, which are also presented in the report.
More information on the NAS report is available in the Biobased and Renewable Product Advocacy Group (BRAG®) blog post “NAS Releases Final Report on Preparing for Future Products of Biotechnology.”
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On June 30, 3017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released its final version of its report Preparing for Future Products of Biotechnology, which it states “analyzes the future landscape of biotechnology products and seeks to inform forthcoming policy making [and] … identifies potential new risks and frameworks for risk assessment and areas in which the risks or lack of risks relating to the products of biotechnology are well understood.” This report is a collaboration among a committee of experts including the Committee on Future Biotechnology Products and Opportunities to Enhance Capabilities of the Biotechnology Regulatory System (Committee), the Board on Life Sciences, the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology, and the Division on Earth and Life Studies and sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Lynn L. Bergeson was an external contributor to the Committee’s deliberations and presented before the Committee on the subject of the biotechnology regulatory system.
The report includes sections on emerging trends and products of biotechnology; the current biotechnology regulatory system; understanding risks related to future biotechnology products; opportunities to enhance the capabilities of the biotechnology regulatory system; and an index on congressionally defined product categories that FDA regulates; as well as conclusions and recommendations that were included in our blog item on the prepublication version.
More information on the regulatory issues of biotechnology products is available on our biobased products blog under key word biotechnology, as well as the Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) regulatory developments website under key phrase biobased products, biotechnology.
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.