Biobased products are becoming more mainstream

Products for many consumer uses are made from biobased materials and are available for your use.

Many products that are used every day by Michiganders are made from biobased feedstocks. Personal care, packaging, cleaning and construction products are likely to contain biobased materials. Many of these products are marketed for their performance and benefits to the application and have the additional benefit of being made from biological feedstocks. The Farm Bill defines biobased products as: commercial or industrial products (other than food or feed) that are composed in whole, or in significant part, of biological products, renewable agricultural materials (including plant, animal and marine materials), or forestry materials. A significant benefit of biobased products is that they are renewable and biodegradable.

If products are not biobased, what are they made from? A wide range of products are made from ingredients that can be traced back to petroleum such as paints, adhesives, plastics and textiles. The petroleum industry has been very effective at identifying new uses for its many derivatives over the years. As global petroleum demand increases the costs of using petroleum based inputs rise, many innovative people are finding alternatives in the form of biobased products.

The production of many plastics is based on petroleum feedstocks. A biobased feedstock that is making significant inroads into this market is polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is derived from corn grain which offers a degradable alternative in many plastics and styrofoams. Examples of PLA uses are in thin films, like in grocery bags, as well as rigid plastics like eating utensils. Corn is also used to make things like carpet backing, salt substitutes and packing peanuts, the peanut shaped foam that is used to project fragile products during shipment. The Corn Marketing Program of Michigan has developed some information on biobased products that are made from corn.

Another biobased product that has gained considerable market share is the use of soy-based inks. Soybean oil derivatives have proven to be a high quality base for many vibrant colors that are used in printing today. Soybean oils offer many other opportunities in items such as cosmetics, candles and foam rubber used in automobiles. The Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee offers a webpage to a list of soybean-based bioproducts.

Congress has recognized the availability and benefits of biobased products and has developed the “BioPreferred Program.” This program offers a system to certify products as biobased and encourages their use by federal government agencies.

As the public demands more environmentally-friendly products, we will see more options for everyday use of biobased products. Michigan State University researchers are an active part of the research and development that continues to find alternatives to fossil fuel-based goods. Michigan State University Extension educators and the MSU Product Center are engaged in the support of entrepreneurs and businesses that are developing new ventures in this area.

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