ITC releases biotechnology report

By Anna Austin
The U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent, nonpartisan, fact-finding federal agency, released a report July 15 that analyzes the effects of innovation and research when it comes to the development and future productivity of U.S. biotechnology. Much of the data for the study was gathered via questionnaire from the liquid fuel and chemical industries.

The 182-page report, titled "Industrial Biotechnology: Development and Adoption by the U.S. Chemical and Biofuel Industries," was compiled in response to a November 2006 request from the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. The committee sought to compare government policies in the United States and key competitor countries throughout the world on the development of biotechnology and biobased products. The request required the ITC to analyze business activity in the biofuels industry, examine factors affecting the development of biobased products, and determine how the adoption of industrial biotechnology processing and products impacts the productivity and competitiveness of firms in these industries.

"[Industrial biotechnology] has the potential to lower production costs, create sustainable production processes, and reduce the environmental impact of producing and using fuels and chemicals," the report stated. It also found that the development of industrial biotechnology may result in the creation of innovative products or processes, such as biodegradable plastics, that can compete with conventional products. It may also provide a range of environmental benefits including sustainable production, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less waste.

The ITC attributed the growth of biotechnology to industries that are increasing use of enzymes, microorganisms and renewable resources in the production of fuels and chemicals.

In 2007, the commission found that the liquid biofuel industry (ethanol and biodiesel) grew at a faster rate in shipments, but the biobased chemical industry (pharmaceuticals and other chemicals) was larger. "All measures of innovation increased between 2004 and 2007, including research and development expenditures, patent and trademark activity, strategic alliances, and government grants," the ITC said.

In reference to government mandates regarding biofuels, such as the renewable fuels standard, the commission found them essential in furthering the development of the industrial biotechnology industry. "Government incentives and mandates are significant, and have been vital to the growth and development of many of the companies that rely on [industrial biotechnology], particularly for the liquid biofuels industry," the ITC said.

The ITC concluded that industrial biotechnology may potentially benefit the U.S. economy "by allowing for the substitution of liquid biofuels for conventional liquid fuels, potentially reducing crude petroleum imports and stimulating the development of rural economies as a result of increased agricultural feedstock consumption."