Developing sustainable bioeconomy solutions to generate carbon negative biochemicals, biomaterials, bioenergy, and food products.

Issue

In a world with too much CO2 already in the atmosphere and more accumulating every year, reversing climate change requires rapid development of industries that remove and use CO2 at a gigaton scale.  For more than three billion years, photosynthesis has been removing tens of gigatons of CO2 per year from the atmosphere, forming the foundation of a food and energy web that has sustained life on Earth.  For a few dozen centuries, humans have harnessed photosynthesis through agriculture and forestry, producing raw materials for our food, fiber, and energy industries.  We have now begun to consider ways to reconfigure those industries to solve the climate challenge. 

Bioenergy and biomaterials can substitute coal and petrochemical products to reduce fossil carbon emissions, as well as sequester carbon in long-lived wood products, bioplastics, and other biomaterials.  Organic wastes can be composted, digested or converted to biochar and returned to soils to increase soil carbon storage, while waste CO2 from bioprocessing can be pumped underground to massive geologic storage reservoirs or upcycled to fuels and polymers.

Growing and transforming a new Bioeconomy

Developing industries and products that carbon negative offers remarkable potential for both rural economic development and environmental sustainability.  At a global scale, the annual CO2 captured by the photosynthesis of forests, agricultural crops and grasslands exceeds fossil fuel emissions by a factor of ten.  Converting just a few percent of that photosynthesis to carbon negative bioenergy and biomaterials can play a critical role in reversing climate change and generate millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars of new economic activity.  However, there are a range of technical, social, economic, and policy barriers to realizing that vision.  The initiative aims to catalyze the development of integrated innovative processes rooted in systems approaches that ensure the viability and long-term sustainability of the solutions.

Conveners

Juliana Vasco-CorreaPh.D.
Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Tom L. RichardPh.D.
Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Director of Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment
Bioenergy and Bioresource Engineering

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