USDA to Expand Biofuel Loan Program to Plant-Based Materials

The U.S. Agriculture Department this week announced that it will expand a federal loan guarantee program to manufacturers of plant-based plastics, fibers and other materials.

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The U.S. Agriculture Department this week announced that it will expand a federal loan guarantee program to manufacturers of plant-based plastics, fibers and other materials.

The program, which allows companies to borrow money at lower rates to fund construction of new facilities, helped 10 biofuel developments over the last seven years with more than $844 million in funding.

Under the federal farm bill passed last year, however, USDA rules will allow the loan program to provide up to $250 million to companies that develop plant-based materials for use in manufacturing.

A report announced today by the USDA estimated that the bio-based products industry contributed 4 million jobs and $369 billion in economic impact in 2013 alone. The report also said using bio-based products effectively displaced the use of about 300 million gallons of petroleum per year, or the equivalent of removing 200,000 from the road.

Companies including Coca-Cola and Ford made use of bio-based plastics in recent years. Coke -- which partnered with Wisconsin-based biotech company Virent -- recently debuted the world's first plastic bottle made entirely from plant materials.

"This is, I think, the beginning of a very exciting opportunity for rural America, the beginning of an opportunity to attract manufacturing to rural communities, to add additional market opportunities for those who grow and raise crops and products in the U.S.," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

In addition, the new USDA rules will expand the types of products that can receive the agency's BioPreferred label. The BioPreferred program includes more than 2,000 products deemed by federal officials to be entirely or significantly based on biological sources.

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