May 28, 2020
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Bioproducts are an important part of Maine’s economic future

Courtesy of the University of Maine
Courtesy of the University of Maine
Two researchers with the University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute work with a spray dryer for nanocellulose production, Dec. 18, 2015.

For too many of our rural communities in Maine, it’s a familiar tragic story: declining industries led to job loss, the hollowing-out of beautiful downtowns, and an exodus of young people and families from once-thriving communities. Today, nine out of Maine’s 16 counties meet the federal criteria for economic distress.

At the same time, a booming global industry now offers these rural communities an opportunity for new growth and revitalization. Demand for biobased manufacturing, which means making products out of renewable resources instead of oil and gas, is rapidly rising around the world, because sustainable plant-based products are better for people and the planet.

With Maine’s robust forest products industry, our ample supply of sustainably harvested wood, and research at the University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute that has demonstrated many of the exciting industry applications for biobased chemicals and products made from our sustainably harvested forest residuals, our state is uniquely poised to grab a share in the growing global “bioeconomy.”

Except for one problem: Right now, Maine doesn’t yet offer financial incentives to biobased companies, unlike other natural resource-rich states. This means Maine is losing investment to other states, such as Iowa and Minnesota, which offer a production tax credit for biobased manufacturing.

In order to be competitive, our lawmakers must pass LD 1698, a bill that provides a production tax credit similar to policy in other states that will incentivize biobased manufacturing and create hundreds of good jobs throughout Maine.

Biobased Maine’s analysis found that with the production tax credit, in the next 10 years, successful growth of the forest bioproducts sector alone could attract investment of more than $1 billion in new manufacturing facilities and create more than 1,000 high-paying jobs in manufacturing, logging, transportation and other support industries, revitalizing economically distressed towns in rural Maine.

Beyond its social benefits, biobased manufacturing also has tremendous environmental benefits. Our analysis also revealed that industry can replace more than 250,000 tons per year of petrochemicals and fossil fuels with biobased products made of renewable raw materials, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 750,000 tons per year as a result of bioproducts’ smaller carbon footprint during manufacture and use.

Biobased manufacturing companies are already looking to expand in Maine, as demonstrated by the recent $750,000 awards from the Maine Technology Institute to two emerging biobased companies: GO Lab, Inc. is a Belfast-based company that will manufacture biobased building insulation out of wood fiber, and Biofine Developments Northeast is pursuing commercial development in Bucksport of the first large scale bio-refinery to manufacture renewable biofuel as a heating oil substitute.

At Biobased Maine, the trade association for Maine’s biobased industry where I am board president, we have a vision for Maine’s future.

In our vision, young people and families will remain in and even relocate to rural Maine, where they will find good-paying jobs and careers, strong local schools, good medical care and thriving communities. Residents and local leaders will support sustainable forest management as well as conservation of the signature Maine lakes, rivers and wildlife that generate tourism and recreation dollars and add immeasurable richness to their communities. Maine will be a significant player in the world’s bioeconomy, grabbing market share in the rising global demand for biobased products while also seeking out new ways of converting Maine’s vast renewable resources into everyday products.

To make that vision a reality, I urge our lawmakers to vote for LD 1698 and pass the production tax credit to incentivize biobased manufacturing in Maine.

Jamie Chittum is president of the board of Biobased Maine and director of business development at Quick Plug NA Inc.

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