Special to WRAL Tech Wire
By Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America
FRANKLINTON, N.C. – Excitement is in the air again – can you feel it?
The Olympics are coming to London this summer and if the past is any indication, the U.S. should take the lead with the highest medal count of all. In 2008 we took home 110 medals, just 10 more than China, and 19 less than France, Germany and the UK combined. Is the U.S. losing its edge? How will we do this year?
This same excitement is in the air in Washington and across the country about a developing industry based on industrial biotechnology.
The Obama administration recently published its National Bioeconomy Blueprint. It describes the Bioeconomy as “a major engine for American innovation and economic growth.”
Indeed, a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report estimates that $4.4 trillion and 7.1 million jobs are up for grabs for the first-movers in this industry. Two months ago in Brussels, the European Commission was adopting its own Bioeconomy Strategy. Entitled “Innovating for Sustainable Growth,” it stresses that Europe has to transition to a post-petroleum society. China has also included the bioeconomy and biotech sector as a priority within its 12th five-year plan.
But for President Obama, this is a winner-take-all strategy that he must win. Much like the Olympics, the U.S. has been slowly losing its global dominance in taking home the gold. With a less-than-healthy economy, high unemployment and an election ahead, it would be easy to take the eye off the finish line and slip up. Federal policies that drive innovation could be shelved in favor of the status quo, or federal funds diverted to other short-term issues.
However, in this race the U.S. is currently poised to win. We have the largest base of operating biorefineries in the world. These facilities are currently manufacturing home-grown fuel made from plants. Nearly 14 billion gallons of this fuel is helping to keep your gasoline $0.89 cheaper on average at the pump.
Starting this year, we will begin to see biofuels made from agricultural and forestry waste and municipal solid waste produced at a new wave of facilities. Biorefineries are commercializing now with private companies providing the lion’s share of necessary capitol.
Novozymes is proud to begin operations at a new $200 million enzyme plant in Nebraska this summer; a plant that brings 100 new jobs and will supply the growing biofuels industry. Companies like ours are poised to succeed if our government stays the course.
Consistent and clear government policies such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) are the key to providing the long-term focus and stability investors want and need in this sector.
The RFS has successfully driven the commercialization of the advanced biofuels industry. It has created jobs, facilitated private investment and helped boost our economy. Once these facilities hit full stride making fuel, chemicals and other bio-based materials to add to our country’s supply of domestically-made energy, the U.S. will be effectively gliding over the finish line, breaking the red tape, leaving China and the EU in its dust.
Before we go grabbing the trophy and singing ‘We are the Champions of the World’, however, a lot of work still must be done. Our competitors are nimble and moving fast, and we have infrastructure and distribution to build on our home soil. But we can do it right here and right now in North Carolina. Advanced biofuels, for example, can contribute to the Obama Administration’s ‘All of the Above’ Energy strategy and they can make a difference today. Meanwhile, some EU Member States have also realized the potential and adopted action plans to boost the sector including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. Understandably so considering the EU’s bioeconomy sectors (food, feed, fuels, materials and chemicals) are worth $3.2 trillion in annual turnover and account for approximately nine percent of the workforce (22 million jobs.)
Various governments are betting on the bioeconomy as their star athlete, essentially for the same reasons: to boost domestic growth and jobs while addressing societal challenges such as energy dependence, food security, climate change, rural development and resource efficiency. And just like the Olympics, we all want to win the bioeconomy race.
The unknown is which country will put in the time and the training to take home the gold. For the future of our country, I sincerely hope it’s us.