A Whopping $97M from U.S. Department of Energy for Bioenergy Research and Development

August 3, 2020 |

In Washington, D.C. comes news from the U.S. Department of Energy that they gave more than $97 million in funding for 33 projects that will support high-impact technology research and development to accelerate the bioeconomy. These projects will improve the performance and lower the cost and risk of technologies that can be used to produce biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts from biomass and waste resources.

In today’s Digest, details on each of the 33 projects, how one project is aiming for algae biofuels with a selling price of $2.50 to $3 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, how another project is focused on enabling the first demo flight on sustainable aviation fuel from wet waste, what these projects mean for America’s bioeconomy, energy and biofuels, and more…and it’s ready for you now at The Digest online.

The selected projects will address a variety of research and development areas, including:

  • Scale-up of bench applications to reduce scale-up risks for biofuel and bioproduct processes;
  • Waste to energy strategies including strategies for municipal solid waste, wet wastes, like food and manures, and municipal waste water treatment;
  • Cost reduction of algal biofuels by improving carbon efficiency and by employing direct air capture technologies;
  • Quantification of the economic and environmental benefits associated with growing energy crops, focusing on restoring water quality and soil health;
  • Development and testing of low-emission, high-efficiency residential wood heaters;
  • Innovative technologies to manage major forms of urban and suburban waste, with a focus on using plastic waste to make recycled products and using wastes to produce low-cost biopower; and
  • Scalable CO2 electrocatalysis technologies.

“Advancements made in bioenergy technologies will help expand America’s energy supply, grow our economy, and enhance our energy security,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “These projects will ensure the United States’ leadership across all segments of the growing global bioeconomy, and allow us to provide U.S. consumers and businesses more homegrown energy choices for their fuels and products.”

Some of the more interesting projects are those working on aviation biojet fuel, a whole category of projects on waste to energy including diesel, some involving algae, and CO2 direct air capture technologies.

Biojet fuel from Municipal Solid Waste

While most of the projects getting funding are university-led projects, there were a few going to companies like Texas-based Earth Energy Renewables whose technology originated from the effort of Dr. Mark Holtzapple at Texas A&M University. The technology underwent successful scale up from laboratory to demonstration scale, being able to process over 3 dry ton/day of Municipal Solid Waste at the company’s demonstration site in Bryan, TX. Earth Energy continues the development and commercial deployment of this technology focusing in the near term on chemicals such as organic acids and esters, and, as the company grows and the technology is scaled up, on drop-in biofuels such as gasoline, jet fuel and diesel.

This DOE funded project by Earth Energy Renewables is focused on enabling the world’s first demonstration flight on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) produced from wet waste that reduces GHG emissions by over 100% compared to fossil jet and involves VFA catalytic conversion by NREL, industrial SAF refinery knowledge by World Energy (formerly AltAir), catalytic process technology scale-up by MATRIC, ASTM jet fuel testing and approval expertise by the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) and FAA, and jet fuel supply chain knowledge and flight demonstration capabilities by Southwest Airlines and Boeing.

Getting Green with Algae Production

Another company getting some of the DOE funding is California-based Global Algae Innovations which designs innovative technology to make algae production more efficient and consistent. Their project will scale the two most important and high risk remaining novel unit operations, drying and extraction, to engineering scale to reduce the uncertainty and risk of an integrated biorefinery producing algae biofuels and co-products. The objectives are scale the processes to achieve 500 to 1000 hours of cumulative time on-stream, 100 to 250 hours of continuous time on-stream, and a throughput equivalent of 12,500 to 25,000 gallons of lipid intermediate per year with a projected minimum fuel selling price of $2.50 to $3.00 per gallon of gasoline equivalent (GGE) and a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to petroleum-derived fuels.

MicroBio Engineering is another interesting company based in California that focuses in the design and construction of algae ponds for wastewater reclamation, biofuel production, microalgae feeds and specialty products. Their project involved 3 major participants: Cyanotech, Corp, Kailua-Kona, HI, (Cyanotech), Global Thermostat LLC (GT), Brighton, CO, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Sequim, WA.

That project is focused on the utilization of CO2 from air to cultivate microalgae and produce biomass for higher value nutritional products in the near-term and commodities, including feeds, biofertilizers, bioplastics and fuels, in the longer-term. The two approaches to accomplish this objective are:

  1. The direct air-CO2 capture (DAC) by a physical-chemical process provided by Global Thermostat (GT), that delivers a near 100% concentrated CO2 stream to the algal cultures. The GT-DAC process could become commercial at the Cyanotech facility in the near-term.
  2. The use of the algal cultures and cultivation systems themselves to provide CO2 absorption from air at a rate supporting algal biomass production approaching that with high CO2 sources.

The 33 Projects

Here’s a rundown of each of the 33 projects with direct links to the project details in the “Selectee” column.

Official notices can be found at EERE Exchange or Grants.gov. To view all current solicitations for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), see the EERE Funding Opportunities page. This list is for information only—it may not be inclusive of all solicitations. Funding amounts and schedule dates are subject to change.

Bottom Line

Innovation continues to abound even in a crazy whirlwind of a year and this U.S. Department of Energy funding is a key step to ensure these technologies and innovations reach commercialization and get a chance to make a real impact.

More details on the 33 projects can be found here.


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