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Scales of progress, power and potential in the US bioeconomy

Devaney, Laura, Iles, Alastair
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.233 pp. 379-389
bioeconomics, biofuels, biomass, federal government, governance, interviews, manufacturing, models, stakeholders, United States
For the past 15 years, countries worldwide have sought to build ‘bioeconomies’, or manufacturing sectors that use renewable biomass resources to produce fuels, chemicals, and materials. As a still-evolving concept, the bioeconomy has been translated differently in different national contexts. In this article, we focus on the United States. The US bioeconomy comprises a highly decentralised, disconnected, fragmented system, with some US locales much more active than others. We argue that the marginal status of the US bioeconomy can be attributed to a number of factors. These include the lack of awareness and implementation of existing federal government visions; development pathway dependencies linked to investments in fossil- and bio-fuels to the neglect of other biobased products; and uneven and locked in levels of stakeholder power and influence. Drawing on the results of 16 key informant interviews, we explore these themes in an attempt to unravel some of the complex conditions that have shaped bioeconomy development and governance to date. We suggest that, for the US bioeconomy to realize its full potential, exploration of a new governance model is required: a polycentric regime based on biomass regions, collaborative efforts and innovation capabilities.