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CIRAS - Bioindustry - BioPreferred - In-depth Information

BioPreferred Frequently Asked Questions

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What is a biobased product?

The term 'biobased product' as defined by Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (FSRIA), means a product determined by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to be 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.

In short, biobased industrial products are produced from renewable plant and animal sources, and are generally presumed to be more environmentally benign than their petroleum based counterparts. They are usually biodegradable and can be returned to the earth at the end of their useful life or recycled and used again.

Examples of products composed of biobased contents include anything from Chap Stick to clothing to bed linen to lubricants.

Why should we use biobased products?

  1. Biobased products can be domestically produced and support the U.S. economy.
  2. Biobased products can reduce our country’s dependency on foreign energy.
  3. Biobased products are generally better for the environment to produce and use.
  4. Biobased products support our farmers and rural communities.

Why was BioPreferred created?

BioPreferred was created through the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (FSRIA) to require all federal agencies to give preference to biobased products, unless those products are 1) not reasonably available; 2) fail to meet performance standards; or 3) are available only at an unreasonable price.

What are the tasks/goals of BioPreferred?

BioPreferred collects voluntary company and product information from manufacturers/vendors of biobased products to aid federal agencies in their selection of these products.

The USDA/CIRAS has assembled a list of possible biobased items that will be used for designation under BioPreferred. These items were developed and prioritized for designation by evaluating them against program criteria established by the USDA in conjunction with other government agencies, private industry groups and independent manufacturers. The following considerations are made for products within an item:

  • Are they cost competitive with non-biobased products?
  • Do they meet industry performance standards?
  • Are the readily available on the commercial market?

In addition to these primary concerns, the USDA then considers the following points:

  • Are there manufacturers interested in BioPreferred for a particular item?
  • Are there a number of companies producing biobased products in an item?
  • Are there products available in this item?
  • What level of difficulty is expected when designating this item?
  • Is there a federal demand for the product?
  • Are federal procurement personnel looking for biobased products?
  • Will an item create a high demand for biobased feed stocks?
  • Does manufacturing of products within this item increase potential for rural development?

Before qualifying for preferred procurement, the items that the secretary has to designate have to be considered for their availability and their economic and technological feasibility, including life cycle costs. The statute also requires the secretary has to provide information on the availability, the relative price, the technical performance, the environmental affects and the public health affects and where appropriate, recommended level of biobased material to be contained in the items.

How much funding does the USDA give to BioPreferred?

The BioPreferred program received $1.9 million this year for its budget.

Where does the money go that is allocated to (CIRAS) from the USDA?

Funding is used to conduct biobased testing, revisions and improvements to the information system and collection of product data.

What are our specific program goals/tasks here at CIRAS?

  1. To submit 32-36 items to the USDA to be designated by September 30, 2006.
  2. To develop the Biobased Test Information System.
  3. To perform content testing, BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Stability) analysis, Performance testing and research.
  4. To reach out to manufacturers – investigate industry groups, work with commodity groups to encourage manufacturer participation, develop industry education.
  5. To coordinate the sharing of test costs.

As a result of this work, the following will be generated:

An electronic list of biobased product manufacturers and testing facilities, an electronic list of the biobased products tested in the program, results of tests, item summaries supporting the designation process, a list of information system problems identified and corrected, a completed OMB certification and accreditation requirements documentation, updates to website informational pages, annual OCIO (Office of the Chief Information Officer) information system reports as required by OMB, an electronic list of individuals from Federal agencies, manufacturers, and the public contacted as part of the testing program, minutes of significant meetings held with NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), scientific committees and manufacturers, and copies of papers and publications developed as part of this activity.

Who is eligible to participate? Are companies/manufacturers picked at random to participate in the tests?

Any manufacturer or vendor who may have a biobased product can participate.


What are the two tests that are done? What information do they provide?

  1. Biobased Content Testing - tests the content of C14 in the product, and figures out if it is petroleum based or agriculture based. Items are considered biobased within the limits of that certain category – in other words, there is not a standard % of C14 content that classifies an item biobased. The ASTM developed a standard for biobased content testing, and Iowa State scientists were involved in the process.
  2. BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) testing – life-cycle analysis. Estimates how much it costs to produce an item. Looks at the individual input streams that go into creating the item. I.e. plastic, rubber, metal, etc. Looks at what it does to the environment and how it affects us.
    • Environmental impact
    • Human health impact
    • Dollar amount, both operational and disposable funds
    Environmental scores summarize cradle-to-grave performance with respect to global warming, acidification, eutrophication, fossil fuel depletion, indoor air quality, habitat alteration, ozone depletion, smog, human toxicity, ecological toxicity, criteria air pollutants, and water intake.  Economic performance scores summarize performance with respect to first costs and discounted future costs.  The scores are then grouped by item and documented in a standardized report format developed by NIST.
Originally, BEES testing was used solely on building supplies and materials.

Why is BioPreferred beneficial for Federal agencies?

It creates a preferred federal market for biobased products. It’s going to acquaint federal users with product characteristics.  It is also going to help to make biobased products economically viable in consumers markets and spur development of new products as more are being purchased in the federal marketplace.

Who are the people in charge/involved in BioPreferred at the national level?

  • Ron Buckhalt – Program Manager
  • Steve Devlin- Specialist in product development and manufacturing

USDA - BioPreferredSM Program
361 Reporters Bldg
300 7TH St. SW
Washington, DC  20024

Phone: 1-202-205-4008

BioPreferred is based out of our program at Iowa State University.
BioPreferred 2272 Howe Hall, Suite 2620
Ames, Iowa  50011
Phone: 1-877-251-6522
Fax: 1-515-598-7739

Where can I find more information on the BioPreferred program?

A description of the BioPreferred program and a list of products that currently qualify for preferred procurement status through BioPreferred can be found at the BioPreferred website,