Representative Subtheme Challenge:

SCR-01: Resilient Domestic Supply Chains for Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biochemicals

Imagine a future where critical medical supplies reliant on natural rubber are secure within the U.S. instead of overseas. Supply chain security using a resilient crop, like guayule, thriving in America's arid lands, coupled with biotechnological advances, not only diversifies our rubber and fuel sources but also strengthens local economies. The focus on resilient plants, native to the US, which require only minimal water resources, echoes a sustainable ethos, transforming arid regions into hubs of eco-friendly innovation. This paradigm shift, underpinned by collaborative research, has reshaped the global economic landscape, positioning the US as a leader in sustainable biomanufacturing. Such strides in the bioeconomy, where once-dormant lands now fuel industries, reflect our commitment to environmental stewardship and technological innovation. It's a world where strategic investments in plant-based technologies have realized the dream of a balanced, sustainable bioeconomy.

There is an urgent need to create domestic supply chains for plants, cell lines or strains (microbial, insect, or mammalian) capable of producing or serving as sources of chemicals that provide critical raw materials for biofuels, polymers, and materials or chemicals. Current reliance on sources outside the US poses a supply chain risk due to multiple factors, including genetic, climate, social, economic, and political. Thus, alternate sources that can serve as sustainable, domestic sources of biofuels or biochemicals must be identified. Promising plant candidates would ideally offer drought resistance, regenerative growth (as perennials rather than annuals), and compatibility with existing farming equipment. However, development of alternate plant sources into a viable industry faces many challenges across all steps in the pipeline–including cultivation, processing, and market adaptation–and would require significant innovations. Promising candidates manufactured through biofermentation could utilize new high-tier strains that are tolerant to a variety of fermentation conditions, utilize non-traditional feedstocks, and outcompete contaminants in biofermentation systems.

CASA-Bio stakeholders representing government, industry, and non-profit sectors, identified areas of mutual interest where concerted effort among them may lead more quickly to the realization of the envisioned future. These are a few of their ideas. Advancing the use of domestic plants as natural sources of biofuels and biochemicals demands a focus on enhanced crop yield, processing technologies, and market development. Innovations in direct seeding and transplanting methods, improving derived bioproduct yield, and developing water-saving technologies are crucial. Advancing fermentation-based bioproduction of chemicals requires enzyme, pathway and strain development unique to each chemical, feedstock, and fermentation system scenario. Investing in commercial processing facilities and expanding market opportunities for new bioproducts are key steps toward a resilient, diversified supply chain. Public research investment is vital to address these challenges and capitalize on the potential of natural plant sources for desirable biochemicals. We emphasize that this list is not comprehensive; we need you to help us think deeper within this subtheme!

As a member of the R&D community, you too are a CASA-Bio stakeholder, and providing your insight on R&D projects that undergird this sub-theme and lead to solutions is critical. Your ideas will matter! Your individual project ideas and those developed as part of the collaborative Town Hall process will be combined to produce an aggregate view. This view will help us understand not only the interests of the R&D community, but also what they are willing to do to advance the bioeconomy. Topics among the R&D project ideas we receive will help government, industry, and non-profit stakeholders see the potential of the US R&D community to address critical future needs and help define topics for future exploration through workshops and roadmapping.

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CASA-Bio is based upon work supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under Contract No. 49100423P0058. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. National Science Foundation.
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