By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On July 20, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded 34 grants totaling $15.1 million for research on renewable energy, biobased products, and agroecosystems. The grants, which are funded through the agency’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), are expected to help develop the next generation of renewable energy, bioproducts, and biomaterials; protect the ecosystems that support agriculture; and improve the agricultural systems and processes that help feed the nation.
The following institutions were awarded grants for projects focused on cover crop systems for biofuel production:
- USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) received $494,000 for the development of lupin, cereal rye, and carinata winter cover crops for biomass in the southern coastal plain;
- Purdue University received $498,000 for the development of cover cropping for the development of sustainable co-production of bioenergy, food, feed (BFF) and ecosystem services (ES);
- Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $498,378 for the development of perennial cover crop systems for maize grain and biomass production;
- Louisiana State University Agricultural Center received $387,000 to study the feedstock production potential of energy cane-sweet sorghum rotation with a winter cover crop system; and
- University of Nebraska received $500,000 to assess innovative strategies to maximize cover crop yields for biofuel across a precipitation gradient.
The following institutions were awarded grants for projects focused on the socioeconomic implications and public policy challenges of bioenergy and bioproducts market development and expansion:
- Auburn University received $499,886 to identify the economic barriers to biomass production, to evaluate the effectiveness of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) in stimulating biomass market expansion, and to explore the economic and ecosystem service implications of biomass production;
- Colorado State University received $499,000 to produce a unified atlas of marginal lands in the U.S., and provide insight on the costs, potential environmental benefits, and overall practical likelihood of using those lands for biomass feedstock production;
- Purdue University received $492,099 to develop a dynamic theoretical model on rejuvenating coal-power plants with biomass;
- Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $499,622 to provide an integrated model-based assessment of the socioeconomic, policy, and market implications of sustainable bioenergy derived from cellulosic biomass; and
- University of Missouri received $498,441 to evaluate impacts on forest resources surrounding power plants using woody biomass, assess economic impacts of wood biopower systems, and quantify tradeoffs between cost, carbon reductions, and renewable energy generation obtained by the increased use of wood biopower.
More information on the grants is available at the NIFA website
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On July 20, 2017, USDA released its technology transfer report for fiscal year 2016. The report outlines the public release of information, tools, and solutions and the adoption and enhancement of research outcomes by collaborative partners and formal Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) that occurred in 2016.
The report highlights several research initiatives by ARS scientists focused on supporting the bioeconomy, including:
- Development of a new yeast strain with a unique cellulolytic enzyme that efficiently breaks down biofeedstock, shows resistance to inhibitory compounds, and eliminates the need to add other enzymes to the production process;
- Engineering a yeast strain from a Brazilian ethanol plant to convert plant xylose to ethanol and then identifying a strain with excellent performance;
- dentification of a strain of yeast capable of converting inulin, a major polysaccharide derived from coffee processing waste, into cellulosic ethanol;
- Development of genetic methods to control the conversion of agricultural sugars to compounds called liamocins using yeast; and
- Studying the use of lytic enzymes as an alternative to antibiotics for preventing and controlling bacterial contamination of fuel ethanol fermentations during biorefining.
The full report, titled “Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report on Technology Transfer” is available on USDA’s website
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On June 30, 3017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) released its final version of its report Preparing for Future Products of Biotechnology, which it states “analyzes the future landscape of biotechnology products and seeks to inform forthcoming policy making [and] … identifies potential new risks and frameworks for risk assessment and areas in which the risks or lack of risks relating to the products of biotechnology are well understood.” This report is a collaboration among a committee of experts including the Committee on Future Biotechnology Products and Opportunities to Enhance Capabilities of the Biotechnology Regulatory System (Committee), the Board on Life Sciences, the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology, and the Division on Earth and Life Studies and sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Lynn L. Bergeson was an external contributor to the Committee’s deliberations and presented before the Committee on the subject of the biotechnology regulatory system.
The report includes sections on emerging trends and products of biotechnology; the current biotechnology regulatory system; understanding risks related to future biotechnology products; opportunities to enhance the capabilities of the biotechnology regulatory system; and an index on congressionally defined product categories that FDA regulates; as well as conclusions and recommendations that were included in our blog item on the prepublication version.
More information on the regulatory issues of biotechnology products is available on our biobased products blog under key word biotechnology, as well as the Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) regulatory developments website under key phrase biobased products, biotechnology.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On June 5, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), announced that up to $9 million in funding will be available through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) in fiscal year (FY) 2017. Projects funded by BRDI will focus on developing economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass, increasing the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products, and diversifying the nation’s energy portfolio. DOE and NIFA are soliciting applications from all interested parties, including for-profit entities, universities, nonprofits, and national laboratories, to address any or all of the following legislatively mandated technical areas:
- Feedstocks development;
- Biofuels and biobased products development; and
- Biofuels development analysis.
DOE anticipates funding one to six awards and NIFA anticipates funding three to 14 awards, with awards ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. Concept papers are due by July 7, 2017
, and full applications are due by September 22, 2017
. More information on BRDI is available on DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Exchange website
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On May 23, 2017, President Trump released the Administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2018, which includes significant cuts to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) budgets. According to the proposed budget, funding for DOE would be cut by 5.6 percent to $28 billion, with $636 million allotted for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and $56.6 million for the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). The proposed DOE budget aims to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.
The proposed EPA budget of $5.7 billion would cut funding by 31 percent when compared to estimated 2017 appropriations. Funding for the Clean Power Plan and climate change research and partnership programs, such as the Energy Star program, would be eliminated. Also included in the cuts would be a $17 million reduction in funding for the Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standards and Certifications program, which oversees the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. According to EPA, it will continue to implement, maintain oversight of, and evaluate compliance with the RFS program in 2018.
Under the proposed budget, funding for mandatory USDA programs would decrease from $123 billion in FY 2017 to $116 billion in FY 2018 and funding for discretionary programs would decrease from $26 billion to $21 billion. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Rural Energy for America Program are among the programs targeted for elimination.
More information on the proposed agency budgets is available at the DOE, EPA, and USDA websites.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On May 18, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the dates it would be hosting three public meetings to provide the public with an opportunity to offer comments on the proposed revisions to its regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered (GE) organisms. 82 Fed. Reg. 22802. USDA has stated that it is updating its regulations “in response to advances in genetic engineering and [its] accumulated experience in implementing the current regulations, as well as [to] reduce the burden on regulated entities.” The dates and locations for the public meetings are:
- June 6, 2017, at the APHIS Center for Animal Welfare in Kansas City, Missouri;
- June 13, 2017, at the University of California, Davis Conference Center, Davis, California; and
- June 16, 2017, at the USDA Center at Riverside, Riverdale, Maryland.
APHIS will be accepting comments on the proposed revisions until June 19, 2017, in Docket ID No. APHIS-2015-0057-0001. Registration is available online. The meetings will be webcast for those unable to attend in person.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On April 25, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Business-Cooperative Service published in the Federal Register a notice that it is requesting approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) of a revision to a currently approved information collection for the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which provides funding to eligible advanced biofuel producers to support the production of biofuel products. The Rural Business-Cooperative Service is specifically seeking comments on the following topics:
- Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility;
- The accuracy of the agency's estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used;
- Ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and
- Ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology.
Comments on this notice, which are due by June 26, 2017, will be summarized and included in the request for OMB approval.
On February 17, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it is accepting applications for the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. The Program provides guaranteed loans for projects developing, constructing, or retrofitting commercial scale biorefineries and biobased product manufacturing facilities. The developments must use eligible technology, including new commercial scale processing and manufacturing equipment. Applicants must submit a Letter of Intent by March 6, 2017, that identifies the Borrower, Lender, and Project sponsors, and describes the project, project location, proposed feedstock, primary technologies of the facility, primary products, loan amount, and total project cost estimate. Applications are due on April 3, 2017, at 4:30 pm (EDT).
On February 21, 2017, USDA announced in the Federal Register that the comment period for the Designation of Product Categories for Federal Procurement proposed rule had been extended. The proposed rule aims to amend the Guidelines for Designating Biobased Products for Federal Procurement to add 12 product categories composed of intermediate ingredient and feedstock materials and to propose a minimum biobased content for each category. In addition to the product categories and biobased content, USDA is seeking comments on appropriate performance standards for each product category, the positive environmental and human health attributes of biobased products within the proposed categories, and how small businesses may be affected by the proposed rule. Comments are now due by April 13, 2017.