What Happened Last Year in Industrial Biotech?

What Happened Last Year in Industrial Biotech?

With biotechnology advancing at such a rapid pace, it can be difficult to stay on top of all the stories, both large and small, concerning the sector’s various challenges and accomplishments. In case you missed them, here are seven of 2015’s top stories from the industrial and environmental biotechnology sector.

Renewable Fuel Standard

Image courtesy Robert Couse-Baker | Flickr

Opinions were divided when the Environmental Protection Agency announced its final rules on required biofuel volume levels at the end of 2015. In addition to setting an additional requirement for biodiesel only in 2017, the rule requires US fuel blenders to mix 18.11 billion gallons of biofuels into fossil fuels in 2016. While this figure does represent a 4% increase from the amounts set out when the rule was first proposed earlier in the year, it is less than what was originally intended when the Renewable Fuel Standard program was expanded by Congress eight years ago. Some industrial and environmental biotechnology experts, including the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, expressed disappointment in the rule, stating that the low requirement level will discourage investment in the development of advanced biofuels and continue to increase greenhouse gas emissions from fuel used in the transportation sector.

Tax Extenders

Legislation was introduced at the end of 2015 to extend important tax incentives that help biotechnology companies pursue vital research and development activities. The bill granted permanent status to the Research and Development Tax Credit—a pro-growth and pro-innovation measure that helps companies develop new processes and products by allowing a dollar-for-dollar tax reduction for qualified expenses. The bill also expanded tax credit eligibility for small businesses and startups. Other legislation extended the Second Generation Biofuel Producer Tax Credit through 2016, which was welcomed by industry groups as a show of support for the development of advanced biofuels and an important step towards tax policy parity for all industrial biotechnology applications.

DPA Advanced Biofuels Funding

The Defense Production Act (DPA) is one of several important public-private partnerships aiming to promote biofuels development and the production of cost-competitive supplies of advanced biofuels. Under the DPA Advanced Drop-In Biofuels Production Project, “drop-in” biofuels are being developed for the Department of Defense in order to help improve national security, diversify fuel supplies, and reduce military operational costs. Around $45 million in funding for the DPA transfer authority was approved in the 2015 final omnibus.

Toxic Substances Control Act Reform

Plastics industry groups welcomed the passing of a bill by the Senate that will update the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a decades-old law that regulates the manufacture, transportation, and use of chemicals. Over the last 40 years, the TSCA has seen more problems than progress, but a hold by a senator concerning unrelated legislation (the Land and Water Conservation Fund) was preventing the bill from moving forward. Once the LWCF was reauthorized in the 2015 final omnibus, however, the hold was lifted, and the process of reforming the TSCA can now begin.

World’s Largest Cellulosic Ethanol Plant

Image courtesy chumlee10 | Flickr
Image courtesy chumlee10 | Flickr

On October 30, 2015, the biggest cellulosic ethanol plant in the world opened in central Iowa by DuPont Industrial Biosciences. The third large-scale plant of its kind to open in the Midwest, the new facility has the capacity to produce 30 million gallons of ethanol annually using corn stover, the organic residues like cobs, stalks, and leaves that are left on fields after the corn harvest. DuPont is working with over 500 local farmers to gather, store, and deliver the necessary corn stover supplies—375,000 dry tons every year—which will be harvested from 190,000 acres of farmland located within a 30-mile radius of the plant.

World’s First Completely Plant-Based PET Bottle

In 2015, the first PET plastic bottle made from 100% plant materials was produced by Coca-Cola. “PlantBottle” packaging, as it’s called, provides an alternative to traditional packaging made from non-renewable materials like fossil fuels; the plant-based packaging is produced using patented technology that converts plants’ natural sugars into the ingredients used in making PET bottles. The resulting product looks and functions like conventional PET, and can also be recycled in the same way. Coca-Cola’s previous version of PlantBottle packaging, composed of 30% plant-based materials, was first launched in 2009. The company estimates that the use of this packaging has helped save the equivalent of more than 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Winners

Since 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency has presented companies using innovative efforts to address climate change with the annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. In 2015, two of the winners were industrial biotechnology companies. LanzaTech Inc. was recognized for its unique “gas fermentation process,” which converts waste carbon streams into ethanol through the use of microbes. Renmatix was recognized for its production of plant-based chemicals and fuels by using supercritical water to convert wood biomass into sugars.