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OPINION: Trump Presidency: What is the future of US bioeconomy?

After last night’s election results, I actually just wanted to curl up in a ball on a corner (at least for a day). The question now is whether the new Republican-led Congress and Trump’s presidency could change the course of direction towards the build-up of US Bioeconomy that various federal agencies have slowly been building up during the Obama administration.

You can check out a past blog post in this link just to review some of the activities from several US federal agencies when it comes to promoting bioeconomy. The report on the link noted the interagency collaboration between the Departments of Energy (DOE), Agriculture (USDA), Interior, Transportation and Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology.

The US Republican party and the president-elect are known to be non-believers in Climate Change. It is widely believed that the Trump presidency will drastically reshape climate policies in the US as Trump is expected to install climate skeptics to lead several agencies especially EPA and DOE. An article from Scientific American on 26 September reported possible picks for Trump’s EPA/DOE cabinet.

With the new Trump presidency, the focus for these agencies is expected to be more on strengthening domestic energy sources such as shale gas/oil explorations and coal production. However, the biofuel industry could still benefit from a Trump presidency given the strong Republican ties towards rural America. Still, with stronger focus on domestic fossil fuel production, how long can biofuel remain competitive even with subsidies? The fossil fuel industry will continue to clash with the biofuel industry regarding the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The use of biomass for fuel and chemicals has long been a big focus for DOE, EPA and USDA. Several US agriculture-centric states have been enthusiastic on innovation in this field and federal agencies have been promoting this through grants and loans. In my personal opinion, these activities will not slow down (hopefully I’m correct) as utilization of waste to higher value products will always make good business sense and not because of just reducing carbon emissions.

Strategies for renewable chemicals development in the US are already being redefined even during the Obama administration. Gone are the days when companies developing products look for drop-ins just because they have lower carbon footprint. Price economics and better product performance are key drivers to innovation and growth. The use of waste feedstock for chemical production will be added bonus.

Allocation of government funding and implementation of chemical regulations are key changes going forward. Some of the drivers toward R&D of green chemistry-based products are through regulations of chemicals. The silver lining here is that most chemical buyers and producers would prefer their products that are compliant with many regulations around the world and not just the USA. Down the value chain, consumers are also more vigilant and outspoken (through social media) when it comes to certain chemicals in the products they use, and consumer pressure will continue to move companies to do their own self-regulation and towards innovation.

All in all, I remain hopeful as I uncurled myself from the corner. Like many of my colleagues in the renewable chemical industry, I am a believer in Climate Change and I believe green chemistry will significantly contribute to its slowdown. Maybe we just need to change our marketing attitude and promote green chemistry as more of a business tool that makes sense.

I don’t usually write an opinion piece but I feel strongly enough to write about this and I encourage discussions and your own opinion as the US moves to a new administration.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.

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