The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), which closes on April 22, 2014. Through the FOA, the Advanced Manufacturing Office of DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Office seeks to establish a Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Composites Materials and Structures. According to the FOA, "[t]he technical topic area for this Institute is low cost, energy efficient manufacturing of fiber reinforced polymer composites. The Institute will target continuous or discontinuous, primarily carbon and glass fiber systems, with thermoset or thermoplastic resin materials. These types of composites are foundational technologies that are broadly applicable and pervasive in multiple industries and markets with potentially transformational technical and economic impact." A copy of the FOA is available online.
On March 4, 2014, President Obama released his fiscal year (FY) 2015 Budget request, which includes aggressive proposed funding to carry out the Administration's Climate Action Plan designed to reduce harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the impacts of climate change. The President's FY 2015 Budget includes funding for several programs and initiatives to help facilitate the continued development and production of biofuels and biobased products. Consistent with the newly enacted Farm Bill, the Budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes increased funding for biobased product manufacturing. Given political realities and this midterm election year, it is not expected that the President's FY 2015 Budget Request will be enacted as proposed. It represents a starting point in the budget process, however, and indicates the Administration's priorities.
Here are highlights from the FY 2015 Budget proposal:
• U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): While the total budget request for EPA of $7.9 billion represents a decrease of $0.3 billion from last year, the cuts are mostly found within water infrastructure funds, with several programs seeing an increase over last year's levels. EPA's budget summary document notes that the Agency intends on evaluating its workforce and "identifying needed skills for a streamlined EPA." EPA's Appendix notes that under the "TSCA Confidential Business Information [CBI] Fund," the "Budget proposes to expand EPA's existing authority to collect fees to recover a portion of the costs of reviewing and maintaining the CBI."
• U.S. Department Of Energy (DOE): The FY 2015 Budget includes $27.9 billion for DOE, a 2.6 percent increase over FY 2014 enacted levels. This funding includes several programs designed to encourage and facilitate the development and production of advanced biofuels. For instance, the FY 2015 Budget would fund the DOE's:
o Bioenergy Technology Program At $253 Million: A $12 million decrease over FY 2014. This program funds research, development and demonstration (RD&D) projects to advance biofuels technologies and to validate and assist in the commercialization of integrated biorefinery technologies that will help transform the nation's transportation sector.
o Energy Security Trust At $2 Billion Over Ten Years: According to the DOE's FY 2015 Budget Appendix, this trust would be newly created to "support research into a range of technologies -- like advanced vehicles that run on electricity, homegrown biofuels, hydrogen, and domestically produced natural gas -- to allow the Nation to transition from oil towards more secure alternatives. The [t]rust will be funded from existing royalty revenues generated from [f]ederal oil and gas development. Establishing a guaranteed source of funding will allow the Department of Energy to maintain targeted and sustained investments that will directly advance U.S. energy security."
o Energy Efficiency And Renewable Energy At $2.3 Billion: An increase of approximately $0.2 billion over FY 2014. Under this program, DOE invests in the development of renewable generation technologies, sustainable transportation technologies, and advanced manufacturing technologies, as well as in improving energy efficiency in our homes, buildings and industries.
o Advanced Research Projects Agency At $325 Million: An increase of $76 million over FY 2014 levels. This program provides funding for research and development of transformational clean energy technologies.
• USDA: The FY 2015 Budget includes $23.7 billion in discretionary funding for USDA, a decrease of approximately $1 billion from FY 2014. The Budget provides for the USDA launch of three new multidisciplinary agricultural research institutes, one of which would be dedicated to advanced biobased manufacturing. It also includes the mandatory funding provided in the newly enacted Farm Bill for important energy programs designed to help encourage the production of biofuels and biobased chemicals. For instance, the FY 2015 USDA Budget Request provides funding for the:
o Biobased Markets Program At $3 Million In Mandatory Funding, the same level as FY 2014: The Biobased Markets (BioPreferred®) Program creates a procurement preference at federal agencies for biobased products.
o Biobased Research And Development Initiative At $3 Million In Mandatory Funding, a decrease of approximately $2 million from FY 2014: This program provides competitive funding for RD&D of technologies and processes leading to commercial production of biofuels and biobased products.
o Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) At $25 Million In Mandatory Funding: BCAP provides incentives to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to establish, cultivate and harvest eligible biomass for heat, power, biobased products, research, and advanced biofuels. Crop producers and bioenergy facilities can team together to submit proposals to USDA for selection as a BCAP project area.
o Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, And Biobased Manufacturing Assistance Program At $50 Million In Mandatory Funding, a decrease of $80 million from FY 2014: This program provides competitive loan guarantees and grants for the construction or retrofitting of demonstration-scale facilities for the commercial production of biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased products.
The Department of Energy's (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office will host the second of two workshops on algae biofuels strategy on March 26-27, 2014, in Charleston, South Carolina. A copy of the agenda is available online.
The workshop will focus on the research and development still needed to achieve affordable, scalable, and sustainable algae-based biofuels. It will cover topics including barriers to commercialization for algae biofuels and appropriate metrics for success. It comes five years after DOE organized the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap workshop. The workshop is intended to help DOE in its strategic development, evaluating the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap, and planning a breakout session at the Office's annual Bioenergy Conference in 2014.
Participants may register online.
On February 3, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announced that up to $12 million in funding would be made available to advance the production of cost-competitive, high-performance carbon finer material from renewable non-food based feedstocks. Feedstocks could include agriculture residues and woody biomass. This funding supports DOE's Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative. A copy of DOE's press release on this announcement is available online.
On December 23, 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was ending its funding of BlueFire Renewable's cellulosic production facility project in Fulton, Mississippi. DOE took this action because the company reportedly failed to meet deadlines related to financing the project. This news comes as the cellulosic industry continues to be under attack for failing to live up to expectations under the federal RFS.
It has been reported this week that the new Director of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Loan Program Office has stated DOE's intent to restart its renewable energy loan guarantee program in 2014. DOE is expected to issue a new round of $3 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects. Although DOE still has billions in loan guarantee authority for renewable energy, it halted the program a couple of years ago in the wake of heavy criticism following the failure of Solyndra, a solar company that went bankrupt after receiving a DOE loan guarantee.
All sides of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) debate had another chance to air their views on Wednesday at the Senate EPW Committee "Oversight Hearing on Domestic Renewable Fuels." Hearing details are available online.
Witnesses included representatives from EPA, DOE, industry, and major trade associations representing the oil and gas and biofuels industries. Their testimony was consistent with their previous actions and statements. For instance, EPA testified in support of its 2014 proposed RFS rule, which for the first time would reduce volumetric targets for all biofuels, including corn ethanol. The biofuels industry argued that the volumetric reductions in the proposed rule go too far, and that Congress should maintain the current version of the RFS law. In contrast, the oil and gas industry advocated that Congress act to repeal the RFS law.
EPW Committee Members weighed in with their divergent views during their opening remarks and throughout the hearing. For instance, Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stated that she sees no need for Congress to act given the inherent regulatory flexibility contained in the existing law, and since EPA has sought to address industry concerns about the blend wall in the proposed rule. On the other end of the spectrum, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) stated that EPA's action demonstrates that the RFS is not working and that Congress should act to repeal it.
On Thursday, November 7, 2013, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released the Alternative Fueling Station Locator App for iPhone or iPad that provides up-to-date information to potential consumers on the closest fueling stations that offer various alternative fuels, including biodiesel (B20), compressed and liquefied natural gas, and ethanol (E85), among others. More information, including a link to the App, may be found on DOE's website.
This new App is a significant new tool in the effort to increase the amount of renewable fuels developed, distributed, and used in the United States.
RFA sponsored a study released this month by the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The study is available online. In the study, NREL analyzed various studies on the effects of E15 use in Model Year 2001 and newer cars and found no meaningful difference in the use of E10 and E15 in those vehicles. This is a significant finding because many in the oil and gas industries, among others, have warned of potentially harmful effects of using E15 in cars. EPA has approved E15 for use in Model Year 2001 and newer vehicles. Many in the biofuels industry have argued that, if more widely used, E15 could be one potential way to overcome the E10 blend wall, because it would allow for greater blending of ethanol in the U.S. fuel supply.
On Monday, September 30, 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it intends to award $100 million for cutting edge energy research in areas including biofuels as part of its Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC). In 2009, DOE granted five-year awards ranging from $2 million to $5 million per year to each of 46 EFRCs throughout the country. The current Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is available online. Under the FOA, applicants must submit a letter of intent to apply by November 13, 2013, and applications are due by January 9, 2014. Existing and new EFRCs may apply.
The $100 million for this program is part of DOE's Fiscal Year 2014 funding request. Whether DOE is provided the funds is uncertain, especially given the government shutdown and standstill in Congress on passing a Fiscal Year 2014 budget.