UPDATE March 31: White House official talked about bioplastics goals as part of the solutions laid out by the Biden administration's plan to address climate, food and health challenges.
Biden sets US goal to replace 90% of plastics with biomaterials
President Joe Biden's administration is setting a goal of replacing 90 percent of fossil fuel-based plastics with bio-based alternatives over the next two decades.
In a report released March 22, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) outlined what it called bold goals for helping the U.S. to be a leader in bioeconomy technology, produce low-carbon-intensity chemicals to fight climate change and shore up domestic supply chains.
"In 20 years, [the U.S. should] demonstrate and deploy cost-effective and sustainable routes to convert bio-based feedstocks into recyclable-by-design polymers that can displace more than 90 percent of today's plastics and other commercial polymers at scale," the report said.
According to the report, plastics are a target because they are major greenhouse gas emitters — the size of the global aviation industry today — and are projected to grow rapidly, accounting for more than 20 percent of annual global fossil fuel consumption by 2050.
"Accordingly, an urgent global need exists to rapidly enable a more circular economy for today's fossil carbon-based polymers production and to source chemical building blocks for tomorrow's recyclable-by-design plastics from bio-based and waste sources," the report said. "Additionally, waste plastics accumulating in landfills and the broader environment is well recognized as a planetary-scale pollution crisis."
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The report also set a goal of meeting 30 percent of U.S. chemicals demand from biomanufacturing over 20 years and called for public-private partnerships to work toward the goals.
It pointed to the Department of Energy's Strategy for Plastics Innovation program and outlined several areas for research, including scaling up work to recycle or upcycle plastic waste, with an emphasis on multicomponent plastic waste that's not recycled today.
It also called for redesigning plastics to improve end-of-life properties like recyclability and compostability, developing pilot processes for new polymer processing technologies and researching converting lignin and hemicellulose biomass into plastics.
"Biotechnology innovations can create new processes to make products ranging from active pharmaceutical ingredients to biofuels, chemicals, plastics, enzymes, critical materials and beyond," the report said. "State-of-the-art biomanufacturing facilities can lead to long-term production cost savings and transform domestic manufacturing to be more sustainable and reduce environmental impacts compared to traditional production pathways."
The March 22 announcement builds on a September executive order from Biden, including an announcement at the time of $1.2 billion in Department of Defense spending on national security-related biotech development.
OSTP will develop an implementation plan for the research needs identified in the report.
"I love it when I see big, bold, barely feasible goals because then it tells you what you need to do to start creating the future you want," said Arati Prabhakar, OSTP director, in an interview with Bloomberg News at a Washington biotech conference. "It's sort of crazy when you think about it: We're digging up dead dinosaur molecules to make plastic and other materials so integral to the world that we live in."
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