If You Blinked, You Missed The Big News About Biofuel & The Bioeconomy

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It’s become commonplace for President* Trump’s administration to promote initiatives of its own under the very nose of the Commander-in-Chief, and this latest case is on the scale of ludicrous mode. A laundry list of federal agencies has just released a report billed as a “framework for advancing the bioeconomy,” aka a roadmap for promoting biofuel and bioproducts that kill coal and shrink the market for oil and natural gas, too.

Ouch! Not surprisingly, the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Energy co-chair the collaborative effort, titled “The Bioeconomy Initiative: Implementation Framework.”

The initiative also includes the Departments of Transportation, Interior, and Defense, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

STP happens to occupy a line in the organizational chart right under the Executive Office of the President. So yes, under his nose.

Biofuels, The Bioeconomy, & Climate Change

Before you get too excited, consider that the whole thing could be so much smoke and air designed to pacify the nation’s beleaguered farmers, many of whom are suffering the ripple effects of Trump’s trade policies.

On the other hand, the emerging bioeconomy is a key growth opportunity market for the US agriculture and forestry sectors. That market is moving far beyond biofuel as the green chemistry movement grows.

One big fan of green chemistry is the Department of Defense, which has been trying to reduce risks and hazards associated with dependency on toxic chemicals (perhaps too little, too late but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).

In addition, the whole ocean plastic mess is prompting leading brands to cut plastic packaging and other non-sustainable materials from their supply chains, leading to a whole new market for renewable materials and sustainable alternatives.

The bioeconomy initiative builds on an ambitious biofuel and rural economic development program launched during the Obama administration, which enlisted USDA, DOE, and the Department of the Navy in a collaborative effort.

The Obama administration also established seven new “Climate Hubs” in USDA, designed to help rural communities deal with the impacts of climate change.

Apparently USDA did not get that thing about Rule Number One: Don’t talk about climate change. The agency still has a working link to a page headed “Changing Climate Is Affecting Agriculture in the U.S.:”

The changing climate presents real threats to U.S. agricultural production, forest resources, and rural economies. These threats have significant implications not just for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, but for all Americans. Land managers across the country are already feeling the pressures of a changing climate and its effects on weather. As these risks continue and amplify, producers will be faced with the challenges of adapting.

USDA also seems to be keeping up with the Climate Hubs program, so there’s that.

Come to think of it, the agency is still providing grants to farmers for renewable energy projects under the Obama-era REAP program.

As for DOE, we’ve spilled way too much ink on the agency’s recent clean tech initiatives already, just Google it. DOE’s latest hijinks include promoting floating wind turbines and floating solar panels to name a few.

The Deep State, Biofuel, & The Bioeconomy

The new initiative has its roots in the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000. That piece of legislation gave birth to a coordinating body called the Biomass Research and Development Board.

In 2013 BR&D Board developed the Bioeconomy Initiative as a platform for addressing “key scientific and technical challenges to enable the sustainable production and utilization of biomass for affordable domestic biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower.”

Deep State!

The new biofuel and bioeconomy roadmap fits neatly into the BR&D mandate. Here’s the money quote from a press release put out on March 5 by USDA’s Department of Research, Education, and Economics:

“The emerging bioeconomy presents an opportunity to expand and enable new agriculture and forest markets while also improving the sustainability of the broader modern economy and environment,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Scott Hutchins. “Strategic federal investments are developing technologies for the bioeconomy that promise to create new possibilities for renewable product supply-chains, jobs, and economic opportunities.”

DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Daniel Simmons echoed the sentiment, noting that “biobased technologies can provide diverse, affordable, domestic supplies of energy and other products.”

Notice that neither Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue nor Energy Secretary Rick Perry decided to leave their fingerprints on this one!

Biofuels & The Bioeconomy Of The Future

For that matter, the March press release is not archived on the USDA home page (it got shuffled off to REE), and it doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the DOE site , not even at the home page for the agency’s hyperactive Bioenergy Technologies Office, which has been steadily juicing the bioeconomy for the past two years.

If you can find that press release anywhere else but REE, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Meanwhile, the Framework is pretty clear on its intention to kill of coal and have a whack at oil and natural gas, too. Here’s the money quote from the Executive Summary:

…The cutting-edge research and development (R&D) described in this Framework can advance technologies to provide a secure, reliable, affordable, and enduring supply of U.S. energy and products.

There has been great progress to date, but many opportunities remain to unlock the full potential of the U.S. bioeconomy.

According to the Framework, the idea is to take specific action steps that will address technological “uncertainty.” It will also “leverage government, academic, industrial, and non-governmental resources and capabilities; stimulate public-private partnerships and investment; and generate technical information that can inform decision-makers and policymakers across complex value chains.”

CleanTechnica is wondering how all this fits into the recent explosion of activity in the US petrochemical sector. We’re reaching out to REE for some additional insights, so stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, drop us a note in the comment thread if you’re thinking that long-awaited breakthroughs in the algae biofuel market are forthcoming. Hint: take a look at section 4.3 of the Framework.

Last time we checked, algae biofuel was still an avenue of pursuit — with an assist from papayas, no less.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Photo: Algae biofuel infographic via energy.gov.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3146 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey