In just a few days, on October 14 and 15, some of the best minds in the field of biomass, bioenergy and our bio-economy will gather in Memphis for Biomass South.

This gathering comes approximately one year after the release of the eye opening study from the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice and sponsored by the Memphis Bioworks® Foundation.

The Battelle study, “Regional Strategy for Biobased Products in the Mississippi Delta,” examined the potential for agriculture and forestry revitalization through the development of new markets, and the related industrial biotechnology opportunities in our 5-state, 98-county region.  It detailed the existing strengths, identified potential opportunities and shed light on the current and future role of Memphis and the region in bio-agriculture and its related biobased industries.  The study area covered 36 million acres (56,000 square miles) and the Memphis metro area as the urban industrial, processing and logistics center for the region, giving us a remarkable snapshot of our assets and potential.

One of the first milestones we created after the study was the assembly of a conference of the kind that is coming to fruition in Biomass South.

While the study was the soil (pardon the agriculture metaphor) from which Memphis’ leadership can grow, Biomass South is powerful fertilizer.

The basis of the bio-economy is the utilization of renewable biological raw materials called biomass – agricultural crops and forestry materials which can effectively harness solar energy – which can then serve as the building blocks to replace petroleum in fuels, green chemicals, novel polymers, and many other materials.   The assembly of experts we will have at the conference shows just how much others believe in our potential.

Keynoting on the first day will be Dallas Tonsager, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Rural Development.  He was appointed Under Secretary by President Obama, and will be representing USDA’s strategy under Secretary Vilsack, who has been an outspoken proponent of biotechnology and advanced biofuels, focused on game changing ways to create opportunity for rural development.

Tonsager is just one highlight in a two-day program which includes participation from companies and organizations including: ArborGen, Buckeye Technologies, Ceres, Chromatin, Duke University, EcoSynthetix, Entira, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Monsanto Company, National Algae Association, National Farmers Union, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, PMC Biogenix, ShowMe Energy, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee, Verdant Partners and many more.

As impressive as the people involved is the collaboration and partnership that this conference represents.  The entire southeastern United States, including the three states actively involved in our AgBioworks™ regional initiative (Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri), has come together to claim our position in this growing economic engine.  This kind of collaboration must be extended and enhanced, because together we are so much more powerful than we are on our own.

The interest in, the research on, the entrepreneurship about and the business of Biomass and the Bioeconomy have never been more important to the economy of the South or to the world.

And, from Memphis’ perspective, we are in a unique position to both build on the past and literally plant seeds for the future.  With the adaptive re-use of our idle industrial assets – repurposing, reutilizing and redeveloping infrastructure in a way that makes Memphis a key player in green industrial jobs – and with a focus on new energy crops across the region that make better use of agricultural resources for our farmers, we create an energy and economic development tool that will be rivaled by regions across the globe.