Availability Of Biomass Resources

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World bioma production 6.9 x 1017 kcal

World bioma production 6.9 x 1017 kcal

FIGURE 1.1 Biomass resources: production and utilization.

7% utilized

FIGURE 1.1 Biomass resources: production and utilization.

In the United States, it is estimated that agriculture accounts directly and indirectly for about 20% of the gross national product (GNP) by contributing $750 billion to the economy through the production of foods and fiber, the manufacture of farm equipment, the transportation of agricultural products, etc. It is also interesting that while agricultural products contribute to the U.S. economy with $40 billion of exports, with each $1 billion of export creating 31,600 jobs (1982 figures), foreign oil imports drain the economy and make up 23% of the U.S. trade deficit (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1987 estimate).

Given these scenarios of abundance of biomass feedstocks and the value added to a country's economy, it seems logical to pursue the use of agricultural and biomass feedstocks for production of materials, chemicals, and fuels [4].

1.1.2 Government Policy Drivers

Biobased materials/products are nonfood, nonfeed agricultural products used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, thereby harnessing the energy of the sun to provide raw materials. Biobased products include fuels, energy, chemicals, construction materials, lubricants, oils, automotive supplies, and a host of other products. The U.S. government has set the goal of tripling U.S. use of bioenergy and biobased products by the year 2010. Meeting this goal could create an additional $15 to 20 billion a year in new income for farmers and rural America while reducing annual greenhouse gas emission by an amount equal to as much as 100 million metric tons of carbon [5]. Europe and several Asian countries rich in renewable resources are also putting in place policies and goals for the use of their annually renewable resources.

Biomass-derived materials are being produced at substantial levels. For example, paper and paperboard production from forest products was around 139 billion lb in 1988 [6], and production of biomass-derived textiles was around 2.4 billion lb [7]. About 3.5 billion pounds of starch from corn is used in paper and paperboard applications, primarily as adhesives [8]. However, biomass use in production of plastics, coatings, resins, composites, and other articles of commerce is negligible. These areas are dominated by synthetics derived from oil and represent the industrial materials of today.

The development of biobased materials/products — including new commercial (nonfood, nonfeed) markets for agricultural products, the use of agricultural byproducts, and the development of new crops — will directly help farmers by providing direct new streams of income and opportunities to become involved through ownership in technology-based value-added enterprises. The farmer also receives benefits through enhanced crop production of current row crops through the inclusion of new crops. New crops help build soil health, reduce perennial weed cycles, and help build resistance to insects and other predators.

1.1.3 Environmental Considerations

New environmental regulations, societal concerns, and a growing environmental awareness throughout the world have triggered the search for new products and processes that are compatible with the environment. Sustainability, industrial ecology, ecoefficiency, and green chemistry are the new principles that are guiding the development of the next generation of products and processes. Thus, new products have to be designed and engineered "from conception to reincarnation," incorporating a holistic life-cycle-thinking approach. The ecological impact of raw material resources used in the manufacture of a product and the ultimate fate (disposal) of the product when it enters the waste stream has to be factored into the design of the product. The use of annually renewable resources and the biodegradability or recyclability of the product is becoming an important design criterion. This has opened up new market opportunities for developing biodegradable and biobased products as the next generation of sustainable materials that meet ecological and economic requirements — ecoefficient products [9-12].

Currently, most products are designed with limited consideration of their ecological footprint, especially as it relates to their ultimate disposability. Of particular concern are plastics used in single-use disposable packaging and consumer goods. Designing these materials to be biodegradable and ensuring that they end up in an appropriate disposal system is environmentally and ecologically sound. For example, by composting our biodegradable plastic and paper waste along with other "organic" compostable materials like yard, food, and agricultural wastes, we can generate much-needed carbon-rich compost (humic material). Compost-amended soil has beneficial effects by increasing soil organic carbon, increasing water and nutrient retention, reducing chemical inputs, and suppressing plant disease. Composting is increasingly a critical element for maintaining the sustainability of our agriculture system. Figure 1.2 shows a conceptual schematic for the closed-loop use of corn feedstock to prepare starch and protein and then process them into biodegradable, single-use, disposable packaging and plasticware for use in fast-food restaurants. The food wastes, along with other biowastes, are separately collected and composted to generate a valuable soil amendment that goes back on the farmland to reinitiate the carbon cycle [13, 14].

Polymer materials have been designed in the past to resist degradation. The challenge is to design polymers that have the necessary functionality during use but that self-destruct under the stimulus of an environmental trigger after use. The trigger could be microbial, hydrolytically or oxidatively susceptible linkage built into the backbone of the polymer, or additives that catalyze breakdown of the polymer chains in specific environments. More importantly, the breakdown products should not be toxic or persist in the environment, and they should be completely utilized by soil microorganisms within a defined time frame. To ensure market acceptance of biodegradable products, the ultimate biodegradability of these materials in appropriate waste-management infrastructures within reasonable time frames needs to be demonstrated beyond doubt.

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