“The industry has focused on the short fiber fillers as this is more easily sourced and less expensive than traditional mineral fillers,” says Ulven. “Right now, the costs for long biobased fibers as a replacement for glass fiber is challenging. We are seeing it at $5 to $6 per pound after processing as opposed to $1 to $2 per pound for glass fiber.”

Preston agrees that cost is a hurdle to implementation. “For this industry segment to grow, the replacement composite system will have to be cost neutral or provide cost savings, which includes the potential to save weight,” he says. RheTech has its customers evaluate the material as a cost per cubic inch rather than the cost per pound to get at the true part cost.

“I’m not aware of any entity that has fully realized the potential of natural fiber yet. But we’ve made great strides,” says Riddle. Buckholt notes, “Anywhere we can replace finite products with products that are renewable, affordable and work as well or better than their counterparts is a good thing. We are definitely seeing inroads in the applications for biobased fibers and biobased plastics. With so much happening, it’s an exciting time to be involved.”

USDA Releases Study on the Emerging Bioeconomy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture BioPreferred program has released a comprehensive literature study, Why Biobased, delving into opportunities associated with the biobased economy. The report explores how government policies and business-to-business sustainability programs are driving the growing biobased economy. It also cites the potential for increased job creation in numerous sectors across the U.S. For instance, one report cited in the study concludes that there is a potential to produce two-thirds of the total volume of chemicals from biobased material, representing more than 50,000 products, a $1 trillion annual global market.

On the heels of this completed study, the BioPreferred program has awarded a contract for a more in-depth economic study of biobased products and economic impacts, including research on job creation and economic value. It will be the first federally-sponsored economic report of its kind on the biobased products industry in the U.S. This report was mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill.