By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On September 19, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced 18 projects from the Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) program will receive $22 million in funding through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The MARINER projects aim to develop tools to address the technological challenges to growing and harvesting macroalgae efficiently and cost-effectively for use as a feedstock for biofuels and other bioproducts. Such tools would support the goal of the United States becoming a leader in the production of macroalgae to improve U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness. According to Eric Rohlfing, the ARPA-E Acting Director, “the United States has offshore resources capable of producing enough seaweed to handle as much as 10 percent of our demand for transportation fuel.”
The cross-disciplinary MARINER projects focus on transformative, systems-level improvements and engineering, including advanced research in farm design and autonomous operation, which draw on fields such as cultivation and harvesting systems, advanced components, computer modeling, aquatic monitoring, and advanced breeding and genetics tools.
The full list of the MARINER projects is available on the ARPA-E website.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On August 2, 2017, DOE published a notice in the Federal Register announcing a public meeting of the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee. The committee is comprised of approximately 30 volunteers from industry, academia, nonprofit organizations, and local government that collaborate to:
- Advise the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Points of Contact concerning:
- The technical focus and direction of requests for proposals issued under the Initiative; and
- Procedures for reviewing and evaluating the proposals;
- Facilitate consultations and partnerships among federal and state agencies, agricultural producers, industry, consumers, the research community, and other interested groups to carry out program activities relating to the Initiative; and
- Evaluate and perform strategic planning on program activities relating to the Initiative.
The purpose of the meeting is to develop advice and guidance that promotes research and development (R&D) leading to the production of biobased fuels and products. The tentative agenda includes updates on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and DOE Biomass R&D activities, as well as presentations on biomass interface with fossil fuel.
The meeting will take place in Los Angeles, California, from 1:00 p.m.–5:30 p.m. on August 15, 2017, and from 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. on August 16, 2017. A summary of the meeting will be available for public review on the committee website.
On May 23, 2017, EERE published in the Federal Register a solicitation for candidates to fill vacancies on the Biomass Research and Development (R&D) Technical Advisory Committee
. The committee meets quarterly to advise DOE and USDA points of contact on the Biomass R&D Initiative and priority technical biomass R&D needs, and to make written recommendations to the Biomass R&D Board, while aiming to not duplicate efforts of other federal advisory committees. Nominations are due to Dr. Mark Elless, the EERE Designated Federal Officer, by June 30, 2017
The next Biomass R&D Technical Advisory Committee meeting, which is open to the public, will take place June 15-16, 2017
) at least five business days prior to the meeting. Meeting minutes will be available for public review on the Biomass R&D website following the meeting. More information on the meeting is available in the Federal Register notice
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On May 1, 2017, the University of Maine (UMaine) began a continuous 100-hour demonstration of a biomass to bioproducts pilot plant at its Technology Research Center (TRC). The plant, which is the result of a partnership between UMaine and Biofine Technology, is capable of processing up to one ton of woody biomass per day into chemicals for the manufacturing of biofuels, biochemical, and advanced materials. UMaine will use the plant to scale up the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute’s (FBRI) patented conversion technology to produce jet fuel from woody biomass. Data from the 100-hour demonstration will assist in the commercialization of the operation. FBRI researchers aim to add another pilot plant that would manufacture larger quantities of biofuel from the platform chemicals as a prototype for commercialization.
On February 21, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced the launch of its Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy Consortium (ChemCatBio), a research and development consortium focused on overcoming catalysis challenges for biomass conversion processes
. The consortium, which consists of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and five other DOE national laboratories, aims to accelerate the development of catalysts and related technologies to bring new catalytic materials to commercial bioenergy applications at least two times faster and at half the cost. The unique properties of biomass, such as high oxygen content, high moisture content, and high acidity, make developing catalysts for bioenergy applications a challenge. Through computational modeling, and materials synthesis and characterization capabilities, researchers involved with the consortium have already designed new multi-functional catalysts that enable carbon-efficient conversion and reduce costs by more than $0.5/gallon.
On February 9, 2017, Avantium announced a partnership with AkzoNobel (a member of the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®)), Chemport Europe, RWE Generation, and Staatsbosbeheer to develop a reference plant at the Chemie Park Delfzijl in the Netherlands. The plant will use a new technology, referred to as the Zambezi process, for the cost-effective production of high-purity glucose from non-food biomass, including forestry residue, pulp, and agricultural byproducts. Once the woody biomass is converted into sugars and lignin, it can be used to produce a wide range of biobased chemicals and materials. The design of the plant includes an expansion-ready footprint to enable a rapid increase in capacity following the demonstration phase.
Each partner will contribute a unique strength to the overall project. The infrastructure, utilities, and expertise of the reference plant will be based on the AkzoNobel site in Delfzijl. The forestry residue feedstock will be sourced by Staatsbosbeheer. RWE Generation will generate renewable energy from the bio-lignin residue of the Zambezi process, and Chemport Europe will provide strategic support to the project through a range of initiatives.
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.