New USDA Report Provides Trend Data Analysis about the U.S. Biobased Economy

NC State University researcher examining a soybean field.

NC State University researcher examining a soybean field.


The United States Department of Agriculture today released its first-of-its-kind report that documents indicators of the United States’ biobased economy. This report is a joint publication of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative (SCRC) at the North Carolina State University Poole College of Management and the Energy and Natural Resource Research Cluster at East Carolina University.

The biobased economy refers to all economic activity derived from scientific and research action focused on understanding how things work at a genetic and molecular level. These activities are then applied to processes to improve products and technologies in sectors including health, energy and agriculture.

The new report – “Indicators of the U.S. Biobased Economy” – includes an analysis of trends in the biobased economy from 2011-16, including trends in agriculture, renewable chemicals, biobased products, energy and government policy.

According to the report, the renewable chemicals and biobased product sectors contributed 4.2 million jobs to the American economy in 2014, with a value-added contribution totaling $393 billion. Under the USDA BioPreferred Program, which facilitates the development and expansion of markets for biobased products, the number of renewable chemicals and biobased products that are USDA-certified has rapidly increased from 1,800 in 2014 to 2,900 in 2016.

The report also found that the biobased economy is playing an increasingly important role in the U.S. economy. For example, it found that ethanol production in the United States surpassed 14.7 billion in 2015, accounting for 270,000 jobs. Additionally, the production of biodiesel has risen 367 percent from 2010, now accounting for 1.26 billion gallons. Soybeans, which are used in the production of biodiesel, have also seen a rise in production, more than quadrupling from 670 million pounds grown to 4.1 billion pounds from 2005 to 2012.

The full report is available online here.

Commissioned by the USDA under contract from the Office of the Chief Economist, the report is a joint publication of the Energy and Natural Resource Research Cluster at East Carolina University and the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative (SCRC) at the North Carolina State University Poole College of Management. It was co-authored by Jay Golden, professor in the Department of Engineering and vice chancellor of research, economic development and engagement at ECU, and Robert Handfield, Bank of America University Distinguished Professor and SCRC director at NC State University. A second volume of the report is already in development.

“I applaud the Department of Agriculture for commissioning this important work,” Golden said. “Globally, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and many countries are developing metrics to track the rapid growth being witnessed in biobased chemicals, energy and products. More than any other nation, the United States has an incredible opportunity to revitalize manufacturing via biobased products and chemicals, especially in rural regions of our country. This report will serve as a platform for policy makers and entrepreneurs to identify where we need to make investments and opportunities for new businesses.”

As part of the project, a new web-based tool that pulls together big data and analytics of the biobased economy will be hosted by ECU and will be available this spring. The tool will host visualized data for agriculture, energy and bioproduct indicators, with individual data analysis for categories in each grouping.

“This is the first initiative to combine multiple indicators of the biobased economy from multiple sources into a single unified dashboard,” Handfield said. “More than ever, the United States needs to invest in biobased innovation and create metrics that span interdependent and complex value chains across a wide range of products and sectors. For the first time, public and private actors can monitor the progress towards these goals in an integrated fashion.”

Golden and Handfield previously co-authored the inaugural “Economic Impact Analysis of the U.S. Biobased Products Industry” report, published in 2015. That report is currently being updated for release later this year.

ECU and NC State are working together to develop a strong biobased products and renewable chemicals industrial base in eastern North Carolina. ECU, led by Chancellor Cecil Staton, has made a commitment to supporting biobased production and manufacturing through its Rural Prosperity Initiative. The initiative is an unprecedented effort by ECU to grow its research enterprise while targeting its research to have the greatest positive impact on health, education and economic outcomes in eastern North Carolina.

Janire Pascual-Gonzalez, a postdoctoral scholar in the Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement at ECU, has provided technical assistance with this report.

Additional research support was provided by Duke University graduate students Ben Agsten, Taylor Brennan, Lina Khan and Emily True, in Durham, N.C.

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