Leaders Convene to Discuss the Future California Bioeconomy

Fundamental here is something about the way we work together as institutions and individuals – a collaborative spirit is needed to solve this problem that does not acknowledge siloed boundaries. –Joseph McIntyre, Ag Innovations

Is waste wasted? Or is our thinking too limited? Everyday California farmers produce byproducts that must be disposed of in one way or another. But are we throwing away money? What if we could transform waste into profit and at the same time deliver substantial environmental benefits? There is an emerging body of research and practical applications that suggests California is ready to create a genuine bioeconomy – where every byproduct is an input to another valuable product, new industries and technologies emerge to meet rising demands, and leaders from across the system collaborate for a better food and farming future. Harvesting all of our byproducts for their best possible use quickly scales benefits by reducing greenhouse gases, replenishing water, building our economy and safeguarding air quality in vulnerable communities.

Humans have always had a bioeconomy – we live in inter-relationship with our natural world – agriculture is the maximal expression of that in our daily lives. What makes effective change in California? The most powerful kinds of change are changes that arise out of collaboration, particularly amongst unusual partners. So when we walk hand in hand with both sides of the aisle on an issue that we agree on, with solutions that are common sense, economical, and implementable, we can actually change peoples’ idea of what’s possible. We are at an intersection of need and opportunity – and this event offered a place to allow stakeholders from across the spectrum to devise creative ways to close the loop.

This provocative one-day event invited 60 leaders in California agriculture, government, industry, and NGOs to peer over the horizon towards this emerging bioeconomy, to learn about what is driving the need to find new solutions to reducing and reusing woody biomass from farms and a wide range of other byproducts of the food system.

Here is the full report from the day.

Summit Objectives

  1. Connect the dots between inputs, outputs, and opportunities – farmers, foresters, policymakers, technology, entrepreneurs, and industry
  2. Uncover new homes, markets, and emerging technologies for agricultural byproducts
  3. Inform a strategy for an innovative, thriving, California bioeconomy

Key Barriers

  • The economic case for biomass energy hasn’t been made – lack of systems to calculate externalities, or value ancillary benefits and, as well as structural and contractual issues related to biomass and renewable energy production in California.
  • Lack of collaboration of impacted sectors
  • Technology – research is needed on breaking down of lignin vs. non- lignin byproducts.
  • Geography – distributed problem + cost of transportation + availability of industrial solutions = limitations to the bioeconomy
  • Lack of markets for woody biomass energy, biochar, other products
  • Lack of a robust carbon/renewable energy credit market to make bioenergy sufficiently profitable and feasible
  • Cost of infrastructure and technology to harvest and process biomass
  • Time – processes slow and cumbersome

Key Recommendations

  1. Develop a broad-scale coalition to lead the cultivation of a California bioeconomy
  2. Frame a broad narrative and educate stakeholders about the bioeconomy
  3. Accelerate development and scaling of new products and additional value-add from biomass
  4. Develop and advocate for policy solutions that foster a bioeconomy
  5. Implement tactical solutions now!


Many thanks to our partners in CRAE, our sponsors, outstanding speakers, and the dynamic set of leaders who joined the discussion! -The Ag Innovations Team