FAQs: Biobased Chemicals

What is a "biobased product"?

While there is no formal definition of biobased chemicals, the term "biobased product" is defined in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 as a "commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that is composed, in whole or in significant part, of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials (including plant, animal, and marine materials) or forestry materials" (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-107publ171/pdf/PLAW-107publ171.pdf). 

What is biotechnology?

Biotechnology is generally described as the use of living organisms, or substances produced or derived from such organisms, to make or modify a product.  See Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress, Commercial Biotechnology:  An International Analysis 3, 503 (1984).  "Industrial biotechnology" is often used to describe biotechnology used for the production of biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products. 

What are the primary renewable feedstocks used for biobased production?

Biofuels and biobased products may be made from a variety of feedstocks such as corn, soybeans, and sugar to algae, purpose grown energy crops, and municipal solid wastes, among other sources. 

Does the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) apply to renewable chemicals?

Yes, renewable chemicals are chemical substances and, as such, are subject to TSCA.  TSCA authorizes EPA to regulate chemical substances, defined broadly to include "any organic or inorganic substance of a particular molecular identity."  Renewable chemicals include substances of a particular molecular identity; that these substances may be derived from renewable feedstocks does not preclude application of regulation under TSCA.  All renewable chemicals under TSCA’s jurisdiction and not exempt are required either to be listed on the TSCA Inventory or be submitted for review by EPA as a new chemical. 

Are renewable chemicals considered "new chemicals" under TSCA?

Many renewable chemicals can be considered "new chemicals" under TSCA.  TSCA Section 8(b)(1) directs EPA to compile and keep current a list, commonly referred to as the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory, of each chemical substance that is domestically manufactured or imported into the U.S.  The TSCA Inventory was initially created in the late 1970s, during a time when commercial chemistry was largely petroleum-based.  While renewable chemicals were present on the original TSCA Inventory, their number and variety were limited in comparison to petroleum-based substances.  As such, many of the renewable chemicals entering the market will be considered "new chemicals" subject to TSCA Section 5 notification. 

How does EPA apply naming rules and conventions to biobased chemicals?

The Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Chemical Abstract (CA) Index Names and Registry Numbers (CASRN) is used under TSCA and is widely accepted around the world as a consistent and valid method of identifying chemicals.  EPA and the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA, now the American Cleaning Institute) jointly developed a system for naming chemical substances derived from natural fats and oils and their synthetic substitutes.  This system, referred to as the SDA Nomenclature system, may be of special relevance to renewable chemical substances derived from natural fats and oils.

EPA applies CAS nomenclature in naming TSCA Inventory chemicals, although EPA may also follow a number of naming conventions that are or can be distinct from a strict CAS approach.  These conventions may be based on the way EPA approached the naming of a particular chemical or are derivative of approaches outlined in EPA documents that provide guidance in the naming and identification of TSCA-regulated chemicals. 

What is the BioPreferred® Program?

Created by the 2002 Farm Bill, the Farm, Security and Rural Energy Act of 2002, the BioPreferred®Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), serves to increase the purchase of biobased products by the federal government by awarding federal procurement preference status to qualifying products.  The program was expanded significantly in the 2008 Farm Bill. 

Was the BioPreferred® Program terminated?

No.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 did not include funding for the program under provisions extending parts of the 2008 Farm Bill.  As a result, USDA has suspended the processing of applications for voluntary certification of biobased products.  USDA expects to continue limited activities related to the federal procurement preference program as staff resources allow.  All existing biobased product label certifications will remain valid.  For information on the current status of the BioPreferred®Program, and answers to frequently asked questions on it, please visit http://www.biopreferred.gov/

What is the National Bioeconomy Blueprint?

The National Bioeconomy Blueprint is the Obama Administration's plan that "outlines the steps that agencies will take to drive the bioeconomy -- economic activity powered by research and innovation in the biosciences -- and details ongoing efforts across the Federal government to realize this goal."  The Blueprint specifically outlines strategic objectives for a bioeconomy with the potential to generate economic growth and address societal needs.  The Blueprint is available online.  

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