Of sausage-making, DC and bioenergy budgets

June 1, 2016 |

BD TS 060216 DOE smThe signals coming out of Washington DC are so confusing, you might be wondering if there’s going to be a budget for the US Department of Energy for the fiscal year starting this October.

Yep, there will be, but let us explain the current pile of doggy droppings.

You see, the Senate took no action on the House’s original 2016 appropriation bill, for the budget year that started last October, until the past month or so. Ultimately, the Senate amended it to read “2017 appropriation” and passed it, with other amendments.

Meanwhile, the House put together a new 2017 appropriation bill, which came to a floor vote this week, and failed. Which is rare — appropriation bills are usually pulled from the calendar if they don’t have the votes.

And in this case, the House bill was, er, just a few short. It failed 305 to 112.

You might well ask, “why have two separate bills?” anyway. And why is the Senate just working on the old House 2015-16 bill, now? How can a spending bill brought forward by the majority party fall almost 200 votes short of a majority?

Ahem, welcome to Washington.

Accordingly, it will not surprise you to learn that the items in the House Energy appropriations bill that caused it to be defeated on the House floor, have nothing to do with energy, or appropriations for that matter.


The offending amendments — or, perhaps, the Offendments — regard transgender bathroom rights and the Iran nuclear deal concluded by the Administration, and Democrats and a bevy of Republican lawmakers ran away from the bill.

We assume that the GOP members of the House responsible for the Offendments would like to convert transgender bathrooms into an energy source by burning them to the ground. And combusting the Obama Iran nuclear deal paperwork as well.  Or something like that.

The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), blames the Democrats.“What we learned today is that the Democrats were not looking to advance an issue but to sabotage the appropriations process,” he told reporters. You might wonder how anyone could sabotage an energy appropriations process that had been re-centered around bathroom privileges in North Carolina. Apparently, some reporters did. To which Speaker Ryan offered up the explanation that some of the provisions in question had passed on a voice vote.

Well, that certainly clarifies the situation.

Fellow Republican and House Appropriations Committee member Charlie Dent (R-PA) was having none of it. “The energy and water bill failing is a tremendous setback for the Congress. It takes dysfunction to a whole new level, and dysfunction prevailed,” he told Roll Call. “At the end of the day, we’re the majority party and we can’t rely on the Democrats to move the ball down the field every day. We have to do it ourselves.”

What’s next for the House?

The House will re-group and try again.

Meanwhile, the DOE’s budget for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — and especially for Bioenergy — are still up in the air. The Senate appropriated $2.073 billion for EERE and the House Appropriations Committee has recommended $1,825,000,000.

In particular, the House has taken a knife to the Bioenergy budget. The Committee has recommended $168.5M for Bioenergy Technologies, $56.5M below fiscal year 2016 and $110.4M below the budget request. It’s not entirely clear exactly within the BETO proposed budget the axe falls.

The Committee wrote:

“Within available funds, the recommendation includes $50,000,000 for Feedstocks, of which not less than $20,000,000 is for feedstock supply and logistics to address issues limiting production and conversion systems at large. No funding is for the joint initiative with the Navy and the Department of Agriculture to develop commercial diesel and jet biofuels production capacity for defense purposes. The Committee encourages the Department to target technologies that utilize biosolids that have the potential to reduce the volume of waste materials, can produce byproducts to meet chemical supply shortages, such as phosphorous, and can enhance the subsequent development of technologies to deliver important chemical feedstocks, including hydrogen. 

“The Committee directs the Department to provide funds, within competitive procurements, for programs of scale-up and demonstration of technology particularly suited to extract fuels and fuel precursors from biosolids residue of wastewater treatment plants serving small- and medium-sized urban areas. The Committee notes the Department’s efforts to develop a Synthetic Biology Foundry and encourages the Department to focus on research and development within the Bioenergy Technologies Office that supports the Synthetic Biology Foundry’s strategic goals.”

What can we learn from that? Bad news for support for the Navy, USDA and DOE program for advanced military biofuels, and good news for feedstock research & development, especially residues like wastewater. Not very good news, so far, for the Synthetic Biology Foundry.

Over in the Senate

The political weather is much more favorable in the Senate, where the somewhat higher appropriation passed 90-8. The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Thad Cochran (R-MS), said that the bill “makes smart, targeted investments in our national security readiness, our energy stability, and our waterways and flood control infrastructure. I commend Senator Alexander, as well as Senator Feinstein, for their leadership and bipartisanship as we work to advance appropriations bills in the Senate.” The Senate bill increased the overall appropriation $261M above the White House request.

What’s in the 2017 Bioenergy Technologies proposed budget, anyway?

DOE budget 2017

There are 5 priorities.

• Feedstocks Supply and Logistics will support a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to develop preprocessing technologies to reduce the cost for processing and transporting feedstocks to the biorefinery, which will be an essential part of creating a national bioeconomy.

• Advanced Algal Systems will select up to three additional projects for the Algae Biomass Yield II FOA focused on improving biomass productivity, yield, and other logistical considerations.

• Conversion Technologies will support development of a Syn-Bio effort, which will leverage the tools of synthetic biology to enable the biotechnology industry to achieve substantial improvements in conversion efficiencies and the scale-up of biological processes.

• Demonstration and Market Transformation will support Phase II of the 2016 integrated biorefinery FOA to down select for the construction and operation of up to one demonstration-scale and one pilot-scale facilities to produce drop-in hydrocarbon fuels.

• Strategic Analysis and Sustainability will identify best practices for reducing air emissions, water use, and wastewater associated with advanced bioenergy pathways as well as publicly deploy Web-based tools that enable users to visualize and improve the sustainability performance of bioenergy systems.

The Office goals

They are two.

1. Verify a mature technology, plant model price of ethanol by 2017. This is based on actual integrated biore nery project plant performance data and is compared to the target of $2.17/gallon of ethanol in 2007 dollars.

2. Make drop-in hydrocarbon fuels competitive with petroleum-based fuels at a modeled, mature technology price of $3/gge, when compared to 2011 dollars. The other goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50% or more compared to petroleum-derived fuels, based on Energy Information Administration projected gasoline wholesale prices in 2017.

The Office looks back at 2015-16

Here are the 5 highlights in the Office’s target areas for investment:

Feedstocks Supply and Logistics

• Idaho National Laboratory successfully completed two State of Technology (SOT) reports on herbaceous and woody energy crops. These SOT reports highlight progress toward meeting the 2017 goal of verifying a supply and logistics system capable of delivering feedstocks to the conversion reactor throat at $80/dry ton.

Advanced Algal Systems

• California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) established a 9,000 liter system with continuous automated process controls and harvest equipment at a wastewater treatment facility in Delhi, California, for the Algae Biomass Yield FOA project.

Conversion Technologies

• Reduced the modeled conversion cost contribution from $4.09/gge to $3.70/gge via fast pyrolysis for converting biomass to a hydrocarbon fuel blendstock in a mature commercial-scale plant.

• Reduce modeled mature biochemical conversion cost from $9.09/gge to $6.40/gge of combined hydrocarbon fuel and renewable chemical on a pathway to a $3.16/gge conversion cost in 2017 by improving co-product organisms, primary fermentation organisms for fatty acid production, and reducing operating costs.

Demonstration and Market Transformation

• POET-DSM’s Project LIBERTY, a biore nery in Emmetsburg, Iowa, continued commissioning and ramping up production on a trajectory to achieve a capacity of 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year from corn waste.

Analysis and Sustainability

• Argonne National Laboratory released WATER 3.0 (Water Assessment for Transportation Energy Resources) to enable in-depth analysis of water consumption for multiple biofuels pathways.

• National Renewable Energy Laboratory assessed applicable federal air quality regulations and estimates of seven criteria air pollutant emissions for the fast pyrolysis pathway.

The BETO budget overview, at a glance, is here.

The Bottom Line

The sausage-making in DC will continue for a while, and then there will be a Senate-House conference to resolve the differences in the bills. We’d like to think that the Synthetic Biology Foundry will find approval in the final bill. We profiled that project here (although we continue to call it BOB, after its original name).

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