Advancements in processing and manufacturing technologies have opened the floodgates for biobased products on store shelves; there are thousands of USDA certified BioPreferred products available at retailers near you. Despite the wide variety in products and manufacturing, all bioproducts require some kind of feedstock. Feedstocks are the organic matter that biobased products are made out of. For example, corn, soy, and switchgrass are commonly used feedstocks. The production of these feedstocks is the most important part of the bioproduct manufacturing process; without feedstocks, there would be no bioproducts. The men and women who produce feedstocks in the U.S. are known simply as farmers. Although we don’t typically associate American farmers with industries like polymer and household cleaners, many of these products are made from agricultural commodities. Many farmers are using the growing demand for biobased products to their advantage when marketing their commodities. Farmers rely on their land to generate their income, it’s no surprise that they are doing everything they can to make that piece of land as profitable as possible.
The days of monoculture are over for some farmers, many are planting a variety of species from grasses to oil crops alongside the corn and soybeans we are used to seeing. The large variety of biobased products can be attributed to the range of feedstocks available. Farmers are able to use covercrops to protect and improve their soil between the normal growing seasons, many of these covercrops can be utilized as a valuable feedstock. Farmers are able to produce feedstock in areas that are not suited for row cropping. For example, farmers are growing miscanthus on reclaimed strip mine land. Miscanthus thrives in conditions that other crops do not, and can actually improve soil health.
As biobased products become more commonly available, some agricultural producers want to know how they can contribute to the bioeconomy. Biomass producers need more defined markets for their commodities. The biggest issue with this side of the industry is in logistics. There are polymer manufacturing companies in 76 of the 88 counties in Ohio, but only a handful of processing facilities that can create biobased polymers. As the demand for biobased products continues to rise, the industry will have to step up and provide feedstock producers with more options to market their commodities.
Bioeconomy Basics is a series centered around providing education about the emerging bioeconomy. This article was written by Bradley Collins, OBIC Student Assistant and Senior at The Ohio State University.