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US DOE announces US$61m funding opportunity for biofuels research

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced more than US$61 million for technologies and processes that produce low-cost, low-carbon biofuels. Biofuels are made up of renewable resources and can power heavy-duty vehicles that are difficult to electrify with current technologies—including airplanes and ships—to help accelerate America’s path to a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

“Biofuels are one of our most promising paths to zero-carbon aviation and shipping, so it’s time to double down on R&D and begin to deploy these technologies at scale. This funding is critical for decarbonizing the transportation sector as a whole —the largest source of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions—and delivering good-paying union jobs and clean air and water to American communities,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm (photo courtesy Office of the White House).

The DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is focused on developing technologies that convert domestic biomass and other waste resources into low-carbon biofuels and bioproducts. This research has led to cost reductions of the processes by approximately 45 percent to date.

On behalf of Airlines for America’s member airlines, we applaud Secretary Granholm and the DOE for helping to lead the way to a more energy secure and sustainable future, including through support for the further development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). We have made tremendous progress in developing safe and environmentally beneficial SAF, and to achieve our recently announced industry goal of having 2 billion gallons of cost-competitive SAF available to US airlines in 2030 as a waypoint for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the nascent SAF industry needs just this kind of support, said Nicholas E. Calio, President and CEO for A4A.

Demonstrate technologies at scale

BETO is turning its attention to reducing the risk of commercialization by partnering with industry to demonstrate technologies at a large scale.

Topic areas for the “Bioenergy Technologies Office Scale-Up and Conversion” funding opportunity announced on April 8, 2021, include high-impact biotechnology research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to bolster the body of scientific and engineering knowledge needed to produce low-carbon biofuels at a lower cost.

This investment will accelerate the deployment of bioenergy technologies and mobilize public clean energy investment in the biofuels, chemical, and agricultural industries, which can lead to new good-paying jobs across the bioenergy supply chain and increased investment in rural economies.

Scale-up of Biotechnologies (up to US$30.3 million): The topic area of this FOA will fund projects at various levels of technology readiness for biofuels and bioproducts including a) pre-pilot scale-up, b) pilot scale-up, and c) demonstration scale-up, jointly ranging from Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 3 to 7. BETO will identify, evaluate, and select applications proposing the scale-up of key process steps from lab-scale unit operations to industrially relevant piece(s) of equipment, as well as applications proposing project definition, development, and execution plans for the scaling of pre-pilot technologies to pilot scale and/or demonstration scale.

Of particular interest are those proposing technologies that support sustainable aviation and marine fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion, waste, and underutilized carbon feedstocks, and novel process technologies at the pilot-scale that leverage existing first-generation biorefinery assets and infrastructure.

Affordable, Clean Cellulosic Sugars for High Yield Conversion (up to US$8.5 million): The FOA also addresses the production of inexpensive cellulosic sugars that are compatible with current organisms used to produce fuels and chemicals.

While much progress has been made in this area, the widespread availability of affordable cellulosic sugar continues to be a barrier to renewable fuel and product deployment.

Separations to Enable Biomass Conversion (up to US$8.0 million): Separation technologies can represent a very significant part of the cost of any process. This topic area  – a) Separations to Enable Biomass Conversion, and b) Separations to Enable Biomass Conversion (Bioprocessing Separations) – seeks to address both energy-efficient separations technologies to isolate organic acids from anaerobic digestion (AD) systems and provides an opportunity for industry and academic partners to work with DOE’s separations consortium to further develop lower-cost, efficient separation processes and gather fundamental data to further improve separations.

Residential Wood Heaters (up to US$5.0 million): This topic area will support the development and testing of low-emission, high efficiency, and cost-competitive residential wood heaters

Renewable Natural Gas – RNG (up to US$9.6 million):  This topic area – a) RNG R&D, and b) RNG pilot-scale – addresses the production of inexpensive cellulosic sugars that also achieve the same conversion performance (by organisms or catalysts) as starch-derived sugars.

The widespread availability of affordable cellulosic sugars continues to be a barrier to advanced biofuel and product deployment, and this FOA topic seeks to develop partnerships between cellulosic sugar providers and potential customers.

The application process will include two phases: a concept paper and a full application. Concept papers are due on April 30, 2021, and full applications are due on June 21, 2021.

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