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Connecting the Biobased Dots

By Dan Lemke

Numerous surveys show that when given the choice, consumers would rather purchase products made from renewable, biobased ingredients than those from non-renewable products like petroleum. AURI collaborates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help give consumers access to information on biobased products while helping Minnesota businesses take advantage of market opportunities.

The BioPreferred program was established by the 2002 Farm Bill to increase the purchase and use of renewable, biobased products while providing “green” jobs and new markets for farmers, manufacturers and vendors. Biobased products derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials encompass a wide range of products, including lubricants, cleaning products, inks, fertilizers, and bioplastics.

“The BioPreferred program’s purpose is to spur economic development, create new jobs and provide new markets for farm commodities, which makes it a logical match for AURI,” says Becky Philipp, AURI project manager.

USDA estimates biobased products nationwide contribute $369 billion to the economy, support 4 million jobs and add $126 billion in value.

“It’s remarkable how big the biobased footprint could be,” says Jennifer Wagner-Lahr, AURI senior director of innovation and commercialization.

Wagner-Lahr says AURI conducted a study in 2010 that showed biobased products would become an important and growing opportunity, though one that could be challenging to understand. AURI’s connection to USDA is helping to draw those opportunities into focus.

The USDA BioPreferred program has two major parts; voluntary biobased product labeling and mandatory purchasing requirements for federal agencies and their contractors.

The USDA Certified Biobased Product label can be displayed on a product certified by USDA as meeting certain criteria. This can provide useful information to consumers about the product’s content. There are over 2,250 Certified Biobased Products on the market. More than 100 Minnesota companies and 125 Minnesota-made products are on that list, including many produced by current and former AURI clients says Philipp.

“This program is a good fit for AURI and our clients, which is why we make clients aware of the program and encourage many of them to consider participating,” Philipp says. The potential benefit for them is increased use of their products and expanded market opportunities.”

The Federal Acquisition Regulation, and Presidential Executive Orders direct that all federal agencies purchase biobased products in categories identified by the USDA. Currently, there are 97 categories for which agencies and their contractors have purchasing requirements. They include cleaners, carpet, lubricants and paints. Companies with products approved for mandatory federal purchasing can then market their products to the federal government and its contractors.

AURI has long focused on biobased products, working with clients on a wide range of products from sorbents and packaging materials to fertilizers and personal care products. AURI recently held an event focused on soy-based road sealants.

“Biobased products present a massive opportunity that doesn’t influence just one industry,” Wagner-Lahr adds. “It has broad impact potential.”

AURI recently met with USDA BioPreferred representatives to collaborate on ways to get more businesses familiar with the program and to seek certification. Meanwhile, AURI is encouraging its clients to pursue the program as a way to tap into growing markets for biobased products. For more information on the USDA BioPreferred Program, please visit: