Last January, BioDimensions held two public meetings to discuss what "green jobs" might be in the Mid-South.
This week, a study sponsored by the Memphis BioWorks Foundation suggested the answer was in bioprocessing.
The study found that a bioeconomy could support more than 25,000 green jobs in the next decade, and more than 50,000 in the next two decades, in the Mid-South Mississippi Delta, a region encompassing parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.
The Mid-South isn't a great candidate for the traditional if there is such a thing green jobs. Other regions are better situated for solar and wind power.
But with a favorable climate and a long growing season, "the primary renewable asset of the Mid-South Delta region is biomass."
From the report:
"Biomass stands out as the most flexible resource for economic development, as it can be used to generate energy (heat and electricity) and serve as a sustainable and adaptable feedstock for downstream processing to produce liquid transportation fuels, chemicals, and materials."
But what is biomass?
For the purposes of the study, done by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, biomass are agricultural crops and trees that can replace petroleum in products such as fuels, chemicals, and other materials.
The good news is: We have 21.5 million acres of farm land in the Mid-South's Mississippi Delta regions, and the crops grown here are already more diverse than, say, in Iowa.
"Traditional food and feed production are long-established sectors of the national economy. The supply chains for commodity food and feed are highly consolidated and there is only moderate room for new value-added ventures and independent innovators. However, the utilization of biomass as a core industrial feedstock and renewable energy/fuel source represents a recent development and a distinct opportunity for new transformational economic rural development."
In Memphis, the opportunity is in an already developed industrial sector.
Reid Dulberger, head of MemphisED (it stands for economic development), said at a forum last night he didn't initially see the possibilities.
"We were wrong. We weren't wrong because we're going to be growing a lot of stuff here," he said. "We were wrong because we're going to process a lot of stuff here."
Dulberger also said he expected to see several pilot projects in the near future.
I think most people are aware of the environmental implications of using fossil fuels, and I think people are seeing the economic implications (or they did last summer), but I was glad to see the report also acknowledge the global security connections.
"A dependence on foreign fossil-resource supplies places the United States at risk from foreign regimes and cartels over which control is far from assured," it reads.
The report suggested several recommendations, including establishing a regional agricultural R&D network and a regional bioprocessing technology consortium, and harmonize state policies and incentives in the five states under the plan.