Bio Agriculture Offers More than Crop Benefits – Industrial and Manufacturing Industries Stand to Gain As Well

A few weeks ago, The Commercial Appeal ran an editorial (Agricenter Positioned to Make Agriprogress) that I had written about the 50-year easement preventing commercial development at Shelby Farms and how that translates into an opportunity for Agricenter International to become a leader in the bio agriculture industry. In this BioBiz column, I would like to discuss how the industrial and manufacturing industries can benefit from bio agriculture in the years to come.


One of the top issues in the United States today is that of our dependence on foreign oil. The most obvious use for citizens is its role as a source of fuel. As a result, much emphasis is currently placed on research and development of biofuels that will allow us to economically supply our own fuel through renewable resources.

While developing biofuels is a critical step in lessening our dependence on oil, fuel is just one of the uses for petroleum. As barrels of oil are processed into gasoline and diesel, the remaining products are refined and sold for a myriad of uses. Plastics, medicines, textiles, synthetic rubber, lubricants, asphalt and solvents such as those used in paints, lacquers and inks are all examples of products made with petroleum. (Visit the Energy Information Administration, www.eai.doe.gov, to learn more about the uses of petroleum.)

As a nation, we should explore alternative, bio-based methods for manufacturing and producing these goods. A bio-based economy offers a new business model for the world, one based on cellulose and carbohydrate chemistry.

Agricultural-based processing is better for the environment and lessens our dependence on oil. Just as importantly, it can be more cost-efficient. A recent study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development analyzed various industrial companies in Europe that use bio-based materials to manufacture goods. The study showed a 10 to 50 percent reduction in capital and operating costs and a 10 to 80 percent reduction in energy and water usage when compared to traditional product manufacturing.

Industrial biotechnology companies can use the same genomic tools used in medical technology to discover new ways to make industrial raw materials, intermediates and consumer goods from bio-based products. These new discoveries have applications in the manufacture and processing of pharmaceuticals, adhesives, inks, fertilizers, absorbents, fibers, apparel and other categories.

In addition, by supporting a carbohydrate-based economy, we have the potential to develop new, undiscovered products, such as new fibers with different textures and properties.

Our region offers clear advantages for the development of industrial biotechnology. Memphis has excellent inbound and outbound logistics, agricultural capabilities, ample supplies of biomass, a long harvesting season, and strong research programs in area universities.

Logistically, the Mid-South, as America’s Distribution Center, is ideally positioned to transport the necessary crops to facilities for processing agricultural materials into products that are then shipped to manufacturers or consumers.

The Mid-South area has some of the most fertile land in the region as well; which, combined with our mild climate, is ideal for growing a wide variety of plants that can meet a multitude of biomass needs.

Memphis also has a well-organized biomedical sector that offers the industrial biotechnology industry access to trained workers and qualified researchers who understand chemistry, genetics, and biological processes.

In a recent Commercial Appeal article on bioagriculture, University of Tennessee President John Peterson was quoted as saying West Tennessee will be the likely place to grow the materials needed for a biomass ethanol plant, but the research should be near Knoxville and Oak Ridge Labs-ORNL.

I agree that when it comes to lab-based research ORNL and UT are much better positioned than West Tennessee for this particular part of the research process. However, the research needed is much broader than just labs. For example, soil conditions, machine collection, transport logistics, environment, equipment design and other areas all represent opportunities for West Tennessee.

West Tennessee can be a valuable research partner with UT/ORNL. Our farmers will receive substantial benefits, and much of the technology will be deployed here, including mainstream production and distribution.

No one denies that the earth’s supplies of oil are dwindling. The only question is how long we have until they are gone. Now is the time to develop a sustainable bio-economy by investing in research and development of technology built around a carbon-neutral solution. We cannot wait until the planet’s oil is gone before investing in alternative sources.

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