In COVID-19 world, biobased industries key to rebuilding a strong, sustainable economy

September 7, 2020 |

By Matt Lipscomb, CEO, DMC Bio

Special to The Digest

The globalization trend of the last 20 years focused on driving down the cost of manufacturing at the expense of all other factors. One of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the realization of the fragility of current global supply chains. As consumers and companies begin to value supply chain stability and robustness in addition to competitive prices, there is an opportunity for biobased industries to contribute to rebuilding a resilient, sustainable economy.

Distributed, biobased manufacturing using local, available agricultural feedstocks would boost rural infrastructure and help farmers diversify into supplying biorefineries while reducing society’s dependence on imports. Biobased manufacturing hubs can build supply chain robustness and provide alternatives to relying on a single geography for sourcing essential products and materials.

There is also an opportunity for governments to provide leadership as they turn their attention to rebooting the economy with direct investments to alleviate the key bottlenecks facing the biobased industry today.  One example is the availability of pilot and commercial scale facilities capable of de-risking technologies at representative scale.  More specifically, facilities with the capital equipment and personnel expertise to support aerobic fermentation at 1-3m3 scale (pilot) and 100+ m3 scale (commercial) and associated downstream processing for a diversity of product chemistries.

There are a number of successful examples of this in Europe where public-private partnerships have been created to support the biobased industries and bridge the capital equipment gap from development to deployment. These partnerships have the further advantage of training the workforce and de-risking both technology and market opportunities. As the US looks to rebuild, public-private pilot plants and distributed biobased manufacturing would do more than just strengthen domestic security. They would support economic recovery across the country.

As the industry becomes more sustainable and rural jobs are created, modern biobased technology can replace incumbent products that are currently made from petroleum or from antiquated biobased processes. We no longer have to choose between sustainability, price and security. Best-in-class fermentation-based processes like those we have developed at DMC offer a sustainable product which is also affordable, giving our industry a real opportunity to reshape how we manufacture products in the world today.

The pandemic has enabled this inflection point, giving us an opportunity to rethink our systems and habits. So much can be improved about ‘business as usual’ and more distributed biobased processing is part of our vision for the future. The pandemic has opened consumers’ eyes to what lies behind their consumption habits and they are more open than ever to doing things better. It’s time to broaden the discussion from the lowest price to the best product. The biobased industries need to be part of that shift.

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