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 Kathleen M. Roberts

On November 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) issued a statement soliciting applications for its Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program.  The program aims to support the generation of new information that will assist federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the effects of introducing genetically engineered (GE) organisms, including microorganisms, into the environment.  Exploratory research that relates specifically to federal regulatory needs is preferred. USDA anticipates approximately $3.5 million in funding will be available for 2018 grants.  Applicants must submit a letter of intent by 5:00 p.m. (EST) on December 21, 2017.  Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. (EST) on February 22, 2018.


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On November 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it was withdrawing its proposed rule that would have revised the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered (GE) organisms.  The proposed rule, which was issued on January 19, 2017, aimed to “update the regulations in response to advances in genetic engineering and understanding of the plant pest and noxious weed risk posed by [GE] organisms, thereby reducing burden for regulated entities whose organisms pose no plant pest or noxious weed risks.”  After reviewing public comments on the proposed rule, USDA decided to re-engage with stakeholders and explore alternative policy approaches.  More specific comments from USDA and the reasons supporting its decision are set forth in the notice.
 
While it appears that some in industry may welcome the withdrawal, most would agree that all stakeholders should work collaboratively and quickly to develop a new framework to speed the process to market, and to ensure the regulatory landscape is more efficient and clearer than it currently is.  USDA and pertinent others should immediately begin another process to enable the regrouping to begin.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham

On November 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a notice in the Federal Register (82 Fed. Reg. 51582) stating that it was withdrawing its January 19, 2017, proposed rule on the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered (GE) organisms to “update the regulations in response to advances in genetic engineering and understanding of the plant pest and noxious weed risk posed by [GE] organisms, thereby reducing burden for regulated entities whose organisms pose no plant pest or noxious weed risks” (82 Fed. Reg. 7008).  Citing comments on the proposed rule critical of the proposed revisions, USDA stated it is committed to “explor[ing] a full range of policy alternatives” instead, and that it will “re-engage with stakeholders to determine the most effective, science-based approach for regulating the products of modern biotechnology while protecting plant health.”  More specific comments from USDA and the reasons supporting its decision are set forth in the notice.

While it appears that some in industry may welcome the withdrawal, most would agree that all stakeholders should work collaboratively and quickly to develop a new framework to speed the process to market, and to ensure the regulatory landscape is more efficient and clearer than it currently is.  USDA and pertinent others should immediately begin another process to enable the regrouping to begin. 


 

By Kathleen M. Roberts

On October 17, 2017, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced the recipients of 17 grants totaling $7.3 million for projects focused on the development of next generation agricultural technologies and systems to meet the growing demand for food, fuel, and fiber.  Funding is provided by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), as authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.  Recipients include:

  • Auburn University, which received $481,539 to develop and optimize the hydrothermal liquefaction of lignin (HTL) chemical stream and to determine the best way to modify epoxy-based resins with the lignin derived material;
  • University of Georgia, which received $472,965 to develop new markets, products, and processes using activated carbon monolith catalysts produced from wood and to generate value added products from platform chemicals derived from agricultural and forest resources;
  • Iowa State University, which received $482,905 to further develop the engineering of the membrane of microbial cell factories to improve production of biobased fuels and chemicals;
  • Ohio State University, which received $482,448 to improve the efficiency, costs, and emissions of the feedstock supply system for cellulosic biorefineries by conjointly supplying corn grain and stover; and
  • University of North Texas, which received $482,905 to improve the efficiency of the pyrolysis production of biomass and product quality for biofuel and activated carbon from self-activation process.

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On September 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded six grants totaling nearly $21.1 million to support the development of new jet fuel, biobased products, and biomaterials from renewable sources.  The funding is provided through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts (SBEBP) Challenge Area.  Grant recipients include:

  • University of Arizona, which received $7,026,000 for the cultivation of two desert-dwelling feedstocks, specifically guayule and guar, that can provide biomass year round for biofuel production;
  • University of Florida, which received $7,026,000 for the development of a resilient Brassica carinata-based biofuel and bioproduct supply chain in the Southeast;
  • University of Missouri, Rolla, which received $32,000 to help develop a viable market for guayule resin through laboratory and field research, and expand the research and educational capacity of the asphalt laboratory at the Missouri University of Science and Technology;
  • North Carolina State University, which received $2,750,000 to prepare a diverse group of college students and high school teachers with the knowledge and interdisciplinary tools necessary to advance the future of America's bioenergy, bioproducts, and the bioeconomy;
  • The Ohio State University, which received $2,750,000 to create a national network of universities, industry, and government agencies that derive sufficient benefits to be sustainable long-term; and
  • Oklahoma State University, which received $1,500,000 to educate the next generation of engineers and scientists in renewable resource utilization.

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

USDA awarded Spero Energy Inc. a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $100,000 to conduct research and development to increase the availability and competitiveness of biobased products within the agricultural market.  Spero Energy is an Indiana-based company focused on the development of cost competitive processes for the conversion of biomass to renewable chemicals and fuels.  The SBIR grant aims to support the development of a series of patent-pending biobased and biodegradable chelates.  Chelates bind and deliver micronutrients to a variety of crops, which has been shown to increase crop production and yields.  The funding will be used to finalize the chelate formulation, scale up the reactions, and further prepare for commercialization.  Spero Energy, which began as a Purdue University startup, developed its technology in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On October 12, 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced two public meetings regarding its Agricultural Biotechnology Education and Outreach Initiative.  The meetings will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, on November 7, 2017, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (EST) and in San Francisco, California, on November 14, 2017, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (PST).  FDA states the purpose of the public meetings is “to provide the public with an opportunity to share information, experiences, and suggestions to help inform the development of this education and outreach initiative.”  This initiative, which Congress appropriated $3 million to fund, calls upon FDA to work with USDA to provide education and outreach to the public on agricultural biotechnology and food and animal feed ingredients derived from biotechnology.  More information on the initiative and information on how to register for the meetings is available on FDA’s website.  Comments on questions listed in the Federal Register notice, scheduled to be published tomorrow, are also being requested and can be filed in Docket FDA-2017-N-5991 on www.regulations.gov.  Comments are due by November 17, 2017.


 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded researchers from Clemson University a $147,744, two-year grant to evaluate the effectiveness of producing biofuels to mitigate climate change.  The project will analyze how switchgrass fields and loblolly pine forests affect local temperatures through the exchange of water, energy, radiation, and carbon with the atmosphere; and quantify below- and above-ground carbon fluxes in both loblolly pine and switchgrass plantations and assess the greenhouse gas emissions of the full biofuel production chain for each crop.  The goal is to develop a comparative picture of the potential of these feedstocks to reduce carbon emissions when generating electricity by co-firing in a coal power plant, and ultimately to aid the development of effective land-use policies. 


 

 

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.

 
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