Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Memphis-area initiative aims to develop crops as feedstocks for industrial products

The Memphis Bioworks Foundation is promoting a "future in which farmers throughout the Mid-South [will] ship crops to Memphis, where chemical companies convert them into everything from paint to plastic bottles," writes Daniel Connolly in The Commercial Appeal.

"The nonprofit, which focuses on building up science-based businesses and creating highly paid jobs, is planning a big push into industrializing agriculture. They're calling the initiative AgBio. 'The long-term trend says that a bio-based economy is going to develop,' said Bioworks leader Steve Bares. 'That opportunity for job growth is something we want to be positioned for.' Bares and associates emphasize that the effort goes beyond bio-based fuels. The foundation envisions farmers growing special crops for industrial purposes and using non-edible 'biomass,' including leftovers like corn stalks, to make products such as lubricants, fibers and coatings."

"Bio-based products are a dramatically growing part of our domestic and the global economy," Bruce Scherr, head of Informa Economics, a Memphis-based agriculture consulting firm that focuses on agriculture, food and energy, told Connolly. Some time may pass before bio-based fuels take hold in the United States, he said: "The science for creating fuel out of cellulose remains crude, he said. But there's lots of potential to create lubricants, fibers and other products from biological sources."

A strategic plan for building up the agricultural industry in the Memphis area "should by ready by early 2009, and while it's being developed, the group plans to draw farmers throughout the area into the planning process," Connolly writes. Bares told him, "The message to farmers is this is clearly an opportunity for farmers to make money and to leverage the assets they have in hand."

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