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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced on January 26, 2023, $118 million in funding for 17 projects to accelerate the production of sustainable biofuels for America’s transportation and manufacturing needs. According to DOE, the selected projects, located at universities and private companies, “will drive the domestic production of biofuels and bioproducts by advancing biorefinery development, from pre-pilot to demonstration, to create sustainable fuels that reduce emissions associated with fossil fuels.” Projects selected will contribute to meeting DOE’s goal to achieve cost-competitive biofuels and at least a 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030.
 
According to DOE, “[m]ade from widely available domestic feedstocks and advanced refining technologies, energy-dense biofuels provide a pathway for low-carbon fuels that can lower greenhouse gas emissions throughout the transportation sector and accelerate the bioeconomy.” DOE notes that financing for novel biorefinery process systems can be a barrier to commercializing advanced biofuels, and states that its funding will reduce technological uncertainties and enable industry deployment. The selected projects include pre-pilot, pilot, and demonstration projects that will scale-up existing biomass to fuel technologies that will eventually create millions of gallons of low-carbon fuel annually.

Tags: DOE, Biofuel, GHG

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently published its new Strategy for Plastics Innovation (SPI), which will guide DOE’s collaborative research and development (R&D) on plastic waste reduction. Four strategic goals focus the scope of the SPI:

  • Deconstruction: Create new chemical, thermal, and biological/hybrid pathways to deconstruct plastics efficiently into useful chemical intermediates;
     
  • Upcycling: Advance the scientific and technological foundations that will underpin new technologies for upcycling chemical intermediates from plastic waste into high-value products;
     
  • Recyclable by Design: Design new and renewable plastics and bioplastics that have the properties of today’s plastics, are easily upcycled, and can be manufactured at scale domestically; and
     
  • Scale and Deploy: Support an energy- and material-efficient domestic plastics supply chain by helping companies scale and deploy new technologies in domestic and global markets, while improving existing recycling technologies such as collection, sorting, and mechanical recycling.

According to the SPI, a lack of robust chemical and biological mechanisms limits the deconstruction of existing plastics. This is further complicated by the need for more robust processes that can convert diverse and contaminated plastic waste streams into useful chemical intermediates that can be upcycled into high-value products. The SPI states that “even when robust processes are developed to deconstruct existing plastics, the demand for plastics remains, leading to a critical need for new plastic materials that have the same advantages as current plastics but can be economically recycled or biodegraded safely in the environment.” The SPI notes that underscoring these goals “is the need to approach this problem in a manner informed by life cycle and techno-economic assessment, ensuring solutions are cost-competitive and environmentally benign.” The SPI identifies key research needs and opportunities for DOE-sponsored R&D and catalogs challenges and opportunities facing SPI efforts. DOE intends the SPI to transform its approach to plastic waste and develop new classes of plastic that are recyclable and upgradable by design.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on January 20, 2023, that a collaborative team of BETO-funded scientists from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are searching for carbon utilization technologies that can make better use of the carbon dioxide generated by industry, transportation, and agriculture by transforming it into sustainable aviation fuel and other useful products. According to BETO, the goal is to identify catalysts that can make beneficial products, such as sustainable aviation fuel, efficiently and selectively. BETO states that methanol has “rich potential for uses that contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions and help in the fight against climate change.” It can generate electricity when used for fuel cells, serve as a heating fuel for boilers, or be used as a sustainable or blended fuel for road, marine, or (potentially) aviation. Additionally, methanol is used as a chemical industry feedstock for the synthesis of formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other health and life sciences products. BETO notes that the long-term challenge of the research will be scaling up scientific findings into commercial applications. With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on the rise, “innovative research that finds ways to transform CO2 in the atmosphere into something positive is more important than ever.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on December 15, 2022, that it intends to issue two funding opportunity announcements (FOA) in early 2023. According to BETO, these potential FOAs, “Reducing Agricultural Carbon Intensity and Protecting Algal Crops” (RACIPAC) and the “2023 Conversion R&D,” will enable the sustainable use of domestic biomass and waste resources to produce biofuels and bioproducts, and to advance the Biden Administration’s goal of delivering an equitable, clean energy future that puts the United States on a path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, no later than 2050. The prospective RACIPAC FOA would support high-impact research and development (R&D), focusing on reducing the carbon intensity of agricultural feedstocks, improving soil carbon levels, and protecting cultivated algae from pests under two areas of interest:

  • Climate-smart agricultural practices for low carbon intensity feedstocks; and
  • Algae crop protection.

The prospective 2023 Conversion R&D FOA would support the development of technologies that convert domestic lignocellulosic biomass and waste resources, including industrial syngas, into affordable biofuels and bioproducts that significantly reduce carbon emissions under two main areas of interest:

  • Overcoming barriers to syngas conversion; and
  • Strategic opportunities for decarbonization of the chemicals industry through biocatalysts.

According to BETO, both potential FOAs will help to meet the goals of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, which are to reduce aviation emissions by 20 percent by 2030 and produce sufficient sustainable aviation fuel to meet 100 percent of domestic aviation demand by 2050.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has postponed the webinar originally scheduled for December 13, 2022, on the “SAF Grand Challenge Roadmap: Soaring Towards Sustainable Fuel Production Goals.” According to BETO, the webinar will take place in early 2023. As reported in our November 29, 2022, blog item, the webinar will cover the six action areas that support the Grand Challenge’s goals of:

  • Reducing life cycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 50 percent compared to conventional fuel;
  • Producing enough sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) to meet 100 percent of aviation fuel demand by 2050; and
  • Enhancing fuel sustainability.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office’s (BETO) Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium (ChemCatBio) will hold a webinar on December 14, 2022, on what is ahead for the consortium. From 2020 to 2022, ChemCatBio’s research and development (R&D) focus was on improving carbon efficiency during catalytic conversion to drive down minimum fuel selling price. ChemCatBio states that now, with three more years of funding, it aims to develop and advance biomass and waste conversion technologies for hard-to-decarbonize fuels and chemicals to achieve greater than 70 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction, and to provide foundational knowledge to address risks associated with catalyst/process durability and carbon efficiency. During the webinar, ChemCatBio Deputy Director Dan Ruddy will share highlights from the last three years of consortium R&D. He will then present plans for the next three years, focusing on process integration and fuel production with engineered catalysts.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) will hold a webinar on December 13, 2022, on the “SAF Grand Challenge Roadmap: Soaring Towards Sustainable Fuel Production Goals.” Attendees will learn about the six action areas that support the Grand Challenge’s goals of:

  • Reducing life cycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 50 percent compared to conventional fuel;
  • Producing enough sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) to meet 100 percent of aviation fuel demand by 2050; and
  • Enhancing fuel sustainability.

The webinar will feature the director of BETO and speakers from DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who will discuss engaging with industry to achieve these goals. Speakers will include:

  • Valerie Reed: Director, BETO;
  • Zia Haq: Senior Analyst, BETO;
  • Craig Brown: Bioenergy Systems Technical Integration Lead, National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and
  • Mark Shmorhun: Technology Manager, Systems, Development, and Integration, BETO.

Registration is now open.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on November 3, 2022, entitled Renewable Fuel Standard: Actions Needed to Improve Decision-Making in the Small Refinery Exemption Program. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires that gasoline and diesel fuels be blended with a minimum volume of renewable fuel. Small refineries can petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annually for an exemption from their RFS obligations based on disproportionate economic hardship. EPA must evaluate small refinery exemption petitions in consultation with the Department of Energy (DOE). Congressional requesters asked GAO to review issues related to EPA’s and DOE’s implementation of the small refinery exemption program. GAO examined the information, policies, and procedures EPA and DOE use to make decisions about exemptions and the extent to which exemption decisions are timely. GAO analyzed data and documents related to exemptions from 2013 through 2021 and interviewed agency officials and industry stakeholders.
 
According to GAO, EPA does not have assurance that its decisions about small refinery exemptions under the RFS are based on valid information. In addition, EPA and DOE do not have policies and procedures specifying how they are to consult about and make exemption decisions.

  • Information. Small refinery exemption decisions for compliance years 2019 through 2021 were based on an EPA conclusion that small refineries do not experience disproportionate economic hardship from the RFS. GAO states that this conclusion relies on a potentially flawed assumption -- that all parties pay and receive one price for the tradable credits used to demonstrate compliance with the RFS. GAO found that EPA has not analyzed whether this assumption is valid. GAO’s analysis showed that small refineries have paid more on average for compliance credits than have large refineries. Without reassessing its conclusion, EPA does not have assurance that its small refinery exemption decisions are based on valid information.
     
  • Policies and procedures. According to GAO, EPA has generally documented its decisions. EPA has no policies or procedures for how it assesses petitions and makes exemption decisions, however. Similarly, DOE does not have policies or procedures for how it provides consultation to EPA. GAO states that administration of the program has been inconsistent, and the number of exemptions granted and denied has varied from year to year. Consequently, agency decisions appear ad hoc, resulting in market uncertainty. This can harm small refineries and renewable fuel producers by undermining their ability to plan for infrastructure upgrades and renewable fuel demand.

GAO states that EPA has routinely missed the 90-day statutory deadline for issuing exemption decisions and does not have procedures to ensure that it meets these deadlines. In five of the nine years GAO analyzed, EPA took more than 200 days to issue a decision for more than half of the petitions submitted. According to GAO, these late decisions diminish the benefit of exemptions, create market uncertainty, discourage investment, and undermine the design of the RFS more broadly.
 
GAO made seven recommendations, including that EPA reassess its conclusion that all small refineries recover their RFS compliance costs in the price of the gasoline and diesel they sell; that DOE and EPA develop documented policies and procedures for making small refinery exemption decisions; and that EPA develop procedures to ensure that it meets deadlines. DOE agreed with GAO’s recommendations. EPA disagreed with one recommendation and partially agreed with the others. GAO “maintains that the recommendations are valid.”

Tags: RFS, Biofuel, DOE

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the Agile BioFoundry (ABF) will hold a webinar on September 22, 2022, highlighting technologies used by the ABF to accelerate biomanufacturing. According to BETO, the ABF consortium collaborates with industry and academia to develop technologies that enable commercially relevant biomanufacturing of sustainable bioproducts. During the webinar, attendees will hear from ABF scientists on how they use state-of-the-art machine learning, deep learning, testing, and modeling techniques to guide the bioengineering process and speed up bioproduct development.
 
The webinar will feature the following speakers:

  • Nathan Hillson, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the principal investigator of the ABF. Dr. Hillson leads the consortium’s Integrated Design-Build-Test-Learn task;
  • Taraka Dale, scientist and principal investigator at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-lead of ABF’s Host Onboarding and Development task;
  • Hector Garcia Martin, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-lead of ABF’s Learn subtask, and
  • Philip Laible, biophysicist at Argonne National Laboratory and co-lead of ABF’s Learn subtask.

Registration for the webinar is open. 


 

 By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on August 11, 2022, that a research team from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory investigated how potassium in biomass feedstocks poisons a catalyst. The researchers focused their study on potassium, a common alkali metal found in biomass feedstocks, since previous analysis of deactivated catalysts after catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) of woody biomass feedstock revealed potassium accumulation on the catalysts’ surface.
 
The research team simulated catalyst poisoning at different potassium levels to trigger deactivation during industrial operations. They then analyzed the catalysts and conducted kinetic measurements to determine how the catalysts’ ability to catalyze chemical reaction changed with the introduction of potassium. According to BETO, the team found potassium poisoning could be substantially mitigated with a developed regeneration method -- a water washing process -- that can successfully remove most of the loaded potassium, restoring more than 90 percent of the catalytic activities.
 
BETO states that the results of these studies provide new insights for the bioenergy industry that will foster improved catalyst design and regeneration for longer lasting catalysts. The studies also created “a solid knowledge base for developers of biomass conversion technologies to continue to build upon, making new and innovative conversion technologies less risky to research and develop.” According to BETO, the work “also supports accelerated process development that can help industry convert biomass feedstocks commercially, leading to more effective and inexpensive production of biofuels.”


 
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