October 08 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2012 Rating: 5 Hot
The US Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) have released its National Biofuels Action Plan [4.9MB] detailing Federal agency and private partnership efforts to accelerate the development of ‘a sustainable biofuels industry’. While first generation biofuels such as corn ethanol have been under tremendous scrutiny in recent months, the US agencies appear to be positioning themselves to offer measurably sustainable biofuel resources that will rely heavily on next generation resources (e.g. non-food, waste biomass) and biologically driven conversion processes. [Principles outlined in Biofuel Plan Factsheet]
The official word – We have Plan
“Federal leadership can provide the vision for research, industry and citizens to understand how the nation will become less dependent on foreign oil and create strong rural economies,” USDA Secretary Schafer said. “This National Biofuels Action Plan supports the drive for biofuels growth to supply energy that is clean and affordable, and always renewable.”
Translation: We are hedging our bets on the future of bioenergy!
Looking beyond the rhetoric of energy security, and clear tip of the hat to rural agricultural politics and the influence of mainstream agricultural players, target-based plans do secure federal funding streams for next generation bioenergy solutions. And there are significant funds headed towards innovative start up companies that could develop game-changing bio industrial applications. These start ups could ease our reliance on traditional petrochemicals for making fuels, fertilizers and raw materials processing.
But the key takeaway might be that the DOE is hedging R&D investments on traditional chemical biofuel refining processes (traditional catalysts) by also advancing potentially lower cost biological conversion processes (enzymes/algae).
To develop low cost cellulosic biofuels from non-food biomass feedstock, the agency announced $12.3 million contract with bioenergy startup Novoyzme. The company will be contracted to develop enzymes capable of breaking down strong cellular plant walls under its named project DECREASE (Development of a Commercial-Ready Enzyme Application System for Ethanol).
According to Novoyzme, the company has confirmed plans to launch the enzymes required for commercially viable production of ethanol from cellulose by 2010, midway through this contract, with plans to reach an enzyme cost target that is even further reduced by 2012. But there is still rural politics infused as the primary feedstock is expected to be leftover corn biomass waste.
Additional funding announcements include
The US DOE also announced $76.3 million for cellulosic ethanol producer POET to research and commercialize ethanol production from corn cobs and other corn plant refuse at its plant at Emmetsburg, Iowa.
Other advanced biofuels projects include:
- UOP LLC (Des Plaines, Ill.) With partners: Ensyn Corp, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, Colo.), DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, Wash.) and USDA-Agricultural Research Service.
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Blacksburg, Va. and New Brunswick, N.J.) With partner: Rutgers University.
- Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa and Houston, Texas) With partner: ConocoPhillips.
- RTI International (Research Triangle Park, N.C. and Decatur, Ill.)With partner: Archer Daniel Midland Co.
- University of Massachusetts-Amherst (Amherst, Mass.) With partner: Renewable Oil International.
Press material source combinations:
- SDA & DOE Release National Biofuels Action Plan
- DOE Announces Additional Steps in Developing Sustainable Biofuels Industry Released:10/7/08