This chapter has examined the significance of carbon in the economy and identified potential consequences of relying on fossil versus biological sources of carbon. An increased emphasis on biobased industrial products could enhance access to diverse markets, provide environmental advantages, and diversify sources of strategic feedstocks. Whether such a shift occurs will depend on public policy decisions and developments in several key areas addressed in the remainder of this report.
Chapter 2 examines existing and potential renewable raw materials that could be used as a source for biobased industrial products. The chapter provides an overview of current production of plant materials and describes the potential for increasing the variety and amounts of plant material available for industrial uses. It also addresses applications of technologies to develop new resources such as genetically modified plants and microorganisms.
Chapter 3 considers some of the most significant current examples of biobased industrial fuels, chemicals, and materials. An outline of the scope, magnitude, and developmental dynamics of such products is presented to provide a framework for analyzing future prospects.
In Chapter 4 the committee discusses biomass processing, covering thermal, mechanical, chemical, and biological processes. The chapter focuses in particular on the development of biorefineries as an essential step for biobased industrial products to replace most fossil-based products.
Chapter 5 presents the committee's major conclusions and recommendations derived from analyses in the preceding chapters. Here, the committee describes opportunities to integrate science and engineering to reduce the cost of processing abundant raw materials into value-added biobased products. The chapter identifies specific priorities for investment in research, development, and commercialization and summarizes the public- and private-sector activities that could accelerate the growth of a biobased industry in the United States.