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DoE and USDA invest over US$24m in biomass R&D

The US Departments of Agriculture and Energy has selected biomass projects for more than US$24 million in grants to research and develop technologies to produce biofuels, bioenergy and high-value bio based products.

Of the US$24.4m, the Department of Energy (DoE) plans to invest up to US$4.9m with USDA contributing up to US$19.5m for the biomass projects. Advanced biofuels produced through this funding are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent compared to today’s biofuels.

The biomass projects must contribute a minimum of 20% of matching funds for research and development projects and 50% of matching funds for demonstration projects.

Funding is provided through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and DoE’s Biomass Program. Selected biomass projects are aimed at increasing the availability of alternative fuels and bio based products that are produced from a diverse group of renewable sources of biomass.

Projects selected for award today include:

Biofuels and bio based products:

USDA awards
  • GE Global Research (Irvine, CA) up to US$1,597,544: to develop detailed and simplified kinetic models of biomass gasification. A fundamental modelling capability enables the widespread design of feedstock-flexible biomass gasifiers that are cost-effective and scaled to match the regional distribution of biomass feedstocks.
  • Gevo (Englewood, CO) up to US$1,780,862: to develop a yeast fermentation organism that can cost-effectively convert cellulosic-derived sugars into isobutanol, a second generation biofuel / bio based product. As an advanced biofuel, isobutanol strikes a unique balance between high octane content and low vapour pressure, it can be converted into hydrocarbons, and as a bio based product it can be used as a chemical precursor for numerous high-value products such as isobutylene and PET plastic products.
  • Itaconix ( Hampton Falls, NH) up to US$1,861,488: to develop production of polyitaconic acid from northeast hardwood biomass, using an integrated extraction-fermentation-polymerisation process. Polyitaconic acid is a water soluable polymer with a 2 million tonnes per year market potential as a replacement for petrochemical dispersants, detergents, and super-absorbents.
  • Yenkin-Majestic Paint Corporation (Columbus, OH) up to US$1,800,000: to demonstrate, at scale, the operation of a dry fermentation biomass system that uses pre- and post-consumer food wastes from supermarkets and restaurants, waste sawdust, grass, leaves, stumps and other forms of wood waste to produce biogas, heat, and electrical power. enkin-Majestic uses these products to demonstrate a distributed stand-alone system for the operation of a large industrial biomass facility.
  • Velocys (Plain City, OH) up to US$2,651,612: to improve biorefinery economics through microchannel hydroprocessing. The biomass project explores the unique capabilities of heat and mass transfer inherent in microchannel reactor technology with advanced catalysts to intensify chemical processes, resulting in more efficient conversion of cellulosic residues to liquid transportation biofuels.
DOE awards
  • Exelus (Livingston, NJ) up to US$1,200,000: to develop a Biomass to Gasoline (BTG) technology that represents a shift in process chemistry and overall approach to creating biofuels. The technology uses unique, engineered catalysts that facilitate new reaction pathways to liquid motor fuels from biomass. The BTG process replaces conventional high-temperature processes like gasification and pyrolysis with a series of mild, low-temperature reactions. The self-contained process uses minimal water and no acids or chemical additives.

Biofuels development analysis:

USDA awards
  • Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) up to US$933,883: to develop an analysis of the global impacts of second generation biofuels in the context of other energy technologies and alternative economic and climate change policy options. This biomass project modifies, extends and links established modelling frameworks to capture the strengths of each framework in a hybrid, multidisciplinary system.
  • University of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN) up to, US$2,715,007: to assess the environmental sustainability and capacity of forest-based biofuel feedstocks within the Lake States region. This biomass project addresses key uncertainties about expanding feedstock harvests in the northern Lake States, including environmental impacts, economic feasibility and avoided fossil-fuel CO2 emissions.
DOE awards
  • Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (Washington, Idaho, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee) up to US$1,430,535: to compare the life cycle environmental and economic impacts for collecting forest residuals, short rotation crops, mixed waste, and biomass from fire risk reduction activities on federal lands for conversion to fuels via biochemical, pyrolysis and gasification systems. National estimates of biofuel production will be based on stratified biomass collection and processing implementation scenarios that can be evaluated against the Renewable Fuel Standard greenhouse gas emission objectives.

Feedstock development:

USDA awards
  • Agrivida (Medford, MA) up to US$1,953,128: to develop new crop traits eliminating the need for both expensive pre-treatment equipment and enzymes. Transgenic switchgrass will be engineered with cell wall-degrading proenzymes that are dormant when the plant is in the field, but activated after harvest, under processing conditions with specific temperature and pH.
  • Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, OK) up to US$4,212,845: to develop best practices and technologies necessary to ensure efficient, sustainable and profitable production of cellulosic ethanol feedstocks. Utilising large-scale biomass feedstock production research, the economic and environmental sustainability of switchgrass, mixed-species perennial grasses and annual biomass cropping systems are to be evaluated, and the synergy between bioenergy and livestock production will be explored.
DOE awards
  • The University of Tennessee (Knoxville,TN) up to US$2,345,290: to compare three varieties of switchgrass using various management practices, harvesting equipment and harvesting timelines in Eastern Tennessee. This 2000 acre demonstration-scale biomass project uses field plots ranging in size from 10-50 acres that incorporate different varieties of switchgrass seed: the current Alamo variety, the Ceres EG 1101 improved Alamo variety, and the Ceres EG 1102 Kanlow variety.


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