January 26, 2023

Sustainable bioproduct manufacturing receives boost from NIFA

Sustainable bioproduct manufacturing receives boost from NIFA

By: Sydney Sheffield 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it will invest $9.5 million in the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA’s) bioproduct pilot program, which will fund three bioproduct manufacturing projects. The program was authorized under the Infrastructure Invest and Jobs Act in November 2021 to give the United States a competitive advantage in the global economy. 

NIFA’s bioproduct pilot program invests in programs such as those with cost savings relative to other commonly used alternative materials, greenhouse gas emission reductions and other environmental benefits relative to their commonly used alternative materials, lifecycle and longevity-extending characteristics relative to other commonly used alternative materials, lifecycle and longevity-reducing characteristics relative to other commonly used alternative materials, landfill quantity and waste management cost reductions, product development and production scale-up, and any other benefits that the Secretary determines to be appropriate.

“Adopting a more circular economy ensures that wealth and other economic benefits in the form of jobs and other opportunities are created, and stay, in rural communities,” said USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We must support and incentivize practices like these because it’s what consumers want — and what farmers, and our planet, need.”

The program’s exploration into bioproducts accelerates USDA’s efforts to develop circular bioeconomices, where agricultural resources are harvested, consumed, and regenerated in a sustainable manner. The investment will also fund research and development of value-added products from agricultural commodities.

The three awardees are:

  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: Converting food waste into biodegradable, polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA)-based bioplastics that can be used for a variety of consumer plastics, including flexible and rigid packaging and containers for food and beverages.

  • The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: Converting swine manure and other organic feedstocks into biobinders for asphalt that increase the quality of recycled asphalt pavements. If commercialized, benefits include reduced landfill waste, reduced disposal costs for asphalt and food waste, and low-cost products.

  • Soylei Innovations, of Ames, Iowa: Transforms high oleic soybean oil into thermoplastic rubber for pavements, which has the potential to extend repair longevity for existing surfaces. Low-cost paving solutions are particularly important in rural and underserved communities where road paving and maintenance budgets are underfunded due to a reliance on local tax revenues.

The program from The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, “Pave the way: From Organic Waste to Renewable Roads With Advanced Resource Recovery Delineation (FORWARD),” received a $2.5 million USDA grant to explore the conversion of food waste and swine manure into pavement binder and transportation fuels.

“Many of our daily-life products are created from derivatives of crude oil. That includes not only fuel, but also lubricants, heating oils, asphalt, and plastics. Petroleum will eventually run out, and we need to find alternatives that are recyclable and renewable,” said Yuanhui Zhang, Founder professor of agricultural and biological engineering (ABE) and principal investigator on the grant.