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.
On December 15, 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) of up to $8 million dollars, subject to appropriations, for innovative technologies that assist in the advancement of algae bioenergy and bioproducts. The FOA consists of two topic areas, including strain improvement for the development of enhanced algal strains, and algae cultivation biology improvement for the development of increased areal productivity and biofuel yield. The objective of the FOA titled “Productivity Enhanced Algae and Tool-Kits” is to double the current state of seasonal algal biomass productivities by overcoming species-specific, ecological, and practical challenges and to improve algal productivity and biomass composition using breakthroughs in advanced biology and biology-based tools. Selected projects will include techno-economic and life-cycle analyses of their proposed approaches to aid commercialization, and data sharing with the research and development community to accelerate future innovations. Concept papers are due by January 13, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. (EST) and full applications are due by February 22, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. (EST).
On September 5, 2016, a group of non-profits, including Oxfam International, Fern, and Greenpeace, published a report outlining policy measures that should be taken by the European Commission (EC) to ensure that bioenergy is as low-carbon and resource efficient as possible. The report, "A New EU Sustainable Bioenergy Policy Report," was published after EC stated a willingness to listen to new proposals to improve sustainable bioenergy policies. EC is planning on proposing an updated bioenergy sustainability policy for the use of biomass in heating, electricity, and transport by the end of 2016, as part of the Climate and Energy Package for 2030. To ensure the sustainability of new bioenergy policies, the report discusses the need and practicality of implementing the following safeguards:
- A limit to the use of biomass for energy production to levels that can be sustainably supplied;
- An efficient and optimal use of biomass resources, in line with the principle of cascading use;
- Robust and verifiable emission savings on the basis of correct carbon accounting for bioenergy emissions; and
- A comprehensive, binding set of environmental and social sustainability criteria.
This report proposed sustainability criteria across all energy uses of biomass that has been grown on land, as well as residues, waste, and side-products, but not for biomass from aquaculture and marine areas.
On June 14, 2016, DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), through UT-Battelle, LLC, published a report determining that bioenergy crops do not impact food security. The report, "Reconciling food security and bioenergy: priorities for action," was put together by experts from ten institutions, including ORNL, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the World Bank, and Imperial College London. The report determined that previous studies finding bioenergy crops to blame for food shortages had underlying assumptions that lead to incorrect conclusions. The authors additionally recommended using flex-crop schemes utilizing crops that may be used as either fuel or food depending on economic and environmental changes.