The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to create additional opportunities for growth in renewable plant-based materials.

The industry already generates substantial economic activity and American jobs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on June 17. A new report says that in 2013 alone the biobased products industry contributed 4 million jobs and $369 billion to the U.S. economy.

“Today, we are … adding to the number of innovative products carrying USDA’s BioPreferred label and expanding options for our nation’s biorefineries,” Vilsack announced. “This means small businesses and global companies alike can continue to harness the power of America’s farms and forests to create new and innovative biobased products that are used all around the world.”

The updated BioPreferred program rules will no longer exclude mature market products, providing consumers with more innovative wood products and other materials carrying USDA BioPreferred label. Forest products that meet biobased content requirements, regardless of the market share the product holds, the age of the product, or whether the market for the product is new or emerging, will also now meet the definition of “biobased product”.

USDA is also making improvements to its Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (the former Biorefinery Assistance Program), which provides loan guarantees of up to $250 million for the construction and retrofitting of commercial scale biorefineries and biobased product manufacturing facilities.

Biorefineries that receive funding will now be allowed to produce more renewable chemicals and other biobased products, and not primarily advanced biofuels. Additionally, biobased product manufacturing facilities will be eligible to convert renewable chemicals and other biobased outputs of biorefineries into “end-user” products. The new regulations also implement a streamlined application process, USDA said.

The use of biobased products in the United States currently displaces an estimated 300 million gallons of petroleum per year, which is equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road.