New DOD program aims to pollinate U.S.-made biotech

by Braxton Taylor

The Pentagon wants to give rapid prototyping contracts worth about $60 million to U.S. biotechnology firms as part of a new program designed to improve supply chains.

The Defense Department is soliciting white papers from firms interested in participating in its Distributed Bioindustrial Manufacturing Investment Program, which will explore biologically based solutions for military use. The program has five focus areas: food, fuel, fitness, materials, and energetics and munitions.  

The requests “will advance the Biden administration’s objective to build a sustainable safe and secure American bio-economy and trade new investments in bio manufacturing,” like fuel sources for unmanned aerial vehicles, Heidi Shyu, the Pentagon’s head of research and engineering, said Wednesday during a keynote at the Potomac Officers Club’s annual summit in Alexandria, Virginia. 

The White House issued an executive order to improve biomanufacturing in 2022.

The program will allocate money through the Defense Industrial Base Consortium Other Transaction Agreement, announced last month. DOD also announced $193 million in Defense Production Act spending to boost critical chemical manufacturing in the United States.

The Pentagon plans to award 30 proposals, each worth up to $2 million, in May. Proposals should detail how to build a U.S. bioindustrial manufacturing production facility. Those selected could then become part of the Pentagon’s five-year investment plan, according to the release. 

Shyu said the hope is to discover new ways to make and produce materials, such as rubber, the U.S. military relies on. 

“We don’t grow rubber plants, right? It’s tropical, takes seven years to grow,” Shyu said, noting that BioMADE, an advanced manufacturing firm, has been working on a solution: synthesizing rubber out of dandelion. “So now we’re tapping into this resource. And if we could utilize this rubber, organic rubber for aircraft tires—that is huge.”

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