US Department of Energy Secretary Chu announced plans to provide nearly $800 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act targeted towards advancing biofuels research and development and for commercial-scale biorefinery demonstration projects. The $786.5 million in Recovery Act funding a mix of new funding opportunities and additional funding for existing projects, will be allocated over four main areas. Integrated pilot- and demonstration-scale biorefineries projects are to receive the bulk of the funding with the remainder going to commercial-scale biorefinery projects, fundamental research in key areas to advance cutting-edge conversion technologies, including generating more desirable catalysts, fuel-producing microbes, and feedstocks and to ethanol research.
“Developing the next generation of biofuels is key to our effort to end our dependence on foreign oil and address the climate crisis — while creating millions of new jobs that can’t be outsourced,” Secretary Chu said. “With American investment and ingenuity — and resources grown right here at home — we can lead the way toward a new green energy economy.”
The DOE biomass program will rely upon and leverage the DOE’s network of national laboratories, as well as on universities, and the private sector in order to help improve biofuels reliability, energy production profile and overcome several key technical challenges that need to be solved in order for biofuels to gain wider traction in the marketplace. The program has the goal of creating third-generation biofuels like green gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels.
Department officials said they anticipate making 10 to 20 awards for refineries at various scales and designs, all to be operational within three years.
Integrated Biorefinery Technologies to get $480 million
Integrated Biorefinery Technologies seek to improve the energy return on energy invested profiles of biofuel refineries though the use of alternatives to fossil fuels to operate these facilities, such as biofuels and combined heat and power systems. Improving the energy efficiency of the biofuel production and extraction process is critical to the long term viability of this sector. In fact the Energy Returned on Energy Invested or ERoEI profile of ethanol needs significant improvements. I have heard many who argue that it actually takes more energy for the many inputs along the production and extraction pipeline to produce corn ethanol, for example, than the energy that is contained in the final product — clearly an unsustainable proposition.
Biofuels produced from food crops as well as biofuel that is produced from non-food crops that are grown on land that would otherwise be devoted to growing food poses a number of serious ethical dilemmas as well — turning food into fuel in a world beset by hunger has a moral dimension that is not all that attractive. Furthermore recent studies have shown that biofuels produced from food crops or on land that would have otherwise produced food crops actually contribute more to global warming than burning gasoline does, which really challenges their green credentials. Understandably the Corn Ethanol industry has objected to this finding arguing that it is unfair to factor in in-direct contributions to global warming related to the production of corn ethanol. Brooke Coleman, the executive director of biofuels industry group New Fuels Alliance argues that the indirect land model isn’t a fair comparison because the indirect land use of petroleum or power generation industries isn’t considered.
To read more about a recent study that has reached this conclusion see our recent post” BIOFUEL UPDATE: Some Biofuels Worse Than Gas for Global Warming; Danforth Science Center Gets $15M in Stimulus for Biofuels; OriginOil Develops Better Way to Get Oil from Algae; FedEx: to Use 30% Biofuels by 2030.
Projects selected under this Funding Opportunity Announcement will work to validate integrated biorefinery technologies that produce advanced biofuels, bioproducts, and heat and power in an integrated system, thus enabling private financing of commercial-scale replications.
DOE anticipates making 10 to 20 awards for refineries at various scales and designs, all to be operational in the next three years. The DOE funding ceiling is $25 million for pilot-scale projects and $50 million for demonstration scale projects.
These integrated biorefineries will reduce dependence on petroleum-based transportation fuels and chemicals. They will also facilitate the development of an “advanced biofuels” industry to meet the federal Renewable Fuel Standards.
Commercial-Scale Biorefinery Projects Demonstration
$176.5 million will be used to increase the federal funding ceiling on two or more demonstration- or commercial-scale biorefinery projects that were selected and awarded within the last two years.
The goal of these efforts is to reduce the risk of the development and deployment of these first-of-a-kind operations. These funds are expected to expedite the construction phase of these projects and ultimately accelerate the timeline for start up and commissioning.
The Biomass Program plans to use $110 million to support fundamental research in key program areas, distributed in the following manner:
Expand the resources available for sustainability research through the Office of Science Bioenergy Research Centers and establish a user-facility/small-scale integrated pilot plant ($25 million);
Create an advanced research consortium to develop technologies and facilitate subsequent demonstration of infrastructure-compatible biofuels through a competitive solicitation ($35 million); and
Create an algal biofuels consortium to accelerate demonstration of algal biofuels through a competitive solicitation ($50 million).
This funding will help to develop cutting-edge conversion technologies, including generating more desirable catalysts, fuel-producing microbes, and feedstocks.
In addition the Biomass Program is planning to use $20 million of the Recovery Act funding in a competitive solicitation to optimize flex-fuel vehicles; evaluate the impact of higher ethanol blends in conventional engines and upgrade existing refueling infrastructure to be compatible with ethanol mixes up to E85
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