By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On January 19, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced the availability of up to $6 million in funding to support research in plant feedstock genomics for bioenergy. Support is provided in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) through the Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy program, which aims to improve the use of biomass and plant feedstocks for the production of fuels or renewable chemical feedstocks. Research projects should focus on overcoming biological barriers to the low-cost, high-quality, scalable, and sustainable production of dedicated bioenergy biomass feedstocks using the tools of genetics and genomics. Eligible applicants, including state agricultural experiment stations, colleges and universities, university research foundations, individuals, non-profit organizations, and for-profit organizations, are encouraged to submit proposals. Applications are due April 20, 2018. More information on the funding opportunity is available on the NIFA website.
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 Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On July 17, 2017, the U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that $40 million in Department of Energy (DOE) awards will be used to establish four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRC) to be led by a DOE National Laboratory or top university. Each BRC will focus on laying the scientific groundwork for a new biobased economy by providing scientific breakthroughs for a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy. The following BRCs were selected based on an open competition with external peer review:
- The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University;
- The Center for Bioenergy Innovation, led by DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory;
- The Joint BioEnergy Institute, led by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and
- The Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
While the $40 million in funding will be used to establish the centers in 2018, an additional five years of funding is anticipated. The current funding represents a follow-on phase to the original DOE BRC program, which consisted of three BRCs. The new phase will build and expand on the accomplishments of the original BRC breakthroughs and incorporate an additional BRC.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On March 24, 2017, the California Energy Commission (CEC) published a notice on the proposed recipients of up to $23 million in Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) funding for applied research and development (AR&D) and technology demonstration and development (TD&D) activities focused on advancing bioenergy electricity generation. The funding opportunity is focused on three main bioenergy applications, including:
||Efficient, Sustainable and Lower-Cost Bioenergy: Innovations to Improve Woody Biomass-to-Electricity Systems ($5,000,000);
||Demonstration and Evaluation of Environmentally and Economically Sustainable Woody Biomass-to-Electricity Systems ($10,000,000); and
||Demonstration and Evaluation of Environmentally and Economically Sustainable Food Waste Biomass-to-Electricity Systems ($8,000,000).
Of the 57 abstracts submitted, 28 passed Phase 1 screening. All of the 23 proposals received during Phase 2 passed the administrative screening process. CEC published the recommended funding and score for each of the 23 proposed projects. The funding recommendations will be approved during the Energy Commission Business meeting, at which time the Energy Commission can add, remove, or shift funding to make additional awards and negotiate with applicants to modify the project scope, schedule, or funding level.
On February 14, 2017, the Government of Alberta announced the recipients of C$40 million in grant funding under the Bioenergy Producer Program (BPP). Four biofuel companies, including Permolex Ltd., Archer Daniels Midland Agri-Industries, Invigor Bioenergy, and Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, were among the successful BPP applicants to receive a grant for the first program period. Each grant was awarded based on the amount of bioenergy the company committed to produce between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017. The second program period will grant up to C$20 million to bioenergy producers based on production between April 1, 2017, and September 30, 2017. The goal of BPP is to support bioenergy production capacity in Alberta to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and provide value-added opportunities with economic benefits.
On January 13, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released the 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER), which aims to aid in providing a more complete definition and quantification of energy employment across the economy. The report presents direct employment data for jobs associated with traditional energy companies, with the production of renewable energy, and with energy efficiency, and an analysis of a supplemental survey sent to 30,000 energy sector employers. According to the report, bioenergy electric generation and biofuel sub-technologies employ a total of 112,642 workers, with only 7,980 individuals working exclusively with bioenergy or biomass electric generation technologies. Nearly 64 percent of the bioenergy and biomass generation workers are employed within the construction industry.
Corn ethanol fuels employment accounts for 28,613 jobs, primarily within the agriculture and wholesale trade industry. Ethanol and non-woody biomass fuels employ approximately two percent of the fuels workforce (23,088 jobs). Since non-woody biomass represents a small portion of the overall fuel source, employment is mainly focused on professional and business services such as research and development. Woody biomass and cellulosic biofuels support 30,458 jobs, with nearly 56 percent of the jobs in the agriculture industry. A wide range of other biofuel activity, including early-stage research and development on algal biofuel, syngas, bioheat blends, landfill gas, and advanced biofuels, is captured under the “other biofuels” category. Together, these technologies employ 22,504 workers, primarily within the professional and business services sector.
On January 17, 2017, Neste, a member of BRAG, announced a research and development cooperation with Bioenergy La Tuque to study the potential of using forest residues as a raw material in biofuel production in La Tuque, Canada. The cooperation will expand Neste’s raw material selection, which currently consists of ten raw materials for renewable product production, and will increase the use of waste and residues. The project will assess the biomass availability at a competitive cost, identify technology bottlenecks in process lines, and validate the acceptable level of risk.
On January 10, 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) report, which includes forecasts for 2018. The report outlines expectations for regular gasoline to average a retail price of $2.38 for 2017, with prices for the first quarter of 2017 to average $2.31. The finalized RFS volumes that were announced on November 23, 2016, resulted in EIA forecasting that ethanol consumption will average about 940,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 2017 and 950,000 b/d in 2018. Based on this level of consumption, the ethanol share of total gasoline is expected to average about ten percent in 2017 and 2018. Ethanol production is forecast to average about 1.0 million b/d in 2017 and 2018.