By Kathleen M. Roberts
On September 8, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selected an additional four Productivity Enhanced Algae and Toolkits (PEAK) projects to receive up to $8.8 million. The projects aim to develop high-impact tools and techniques that will increase the productivity of algae organisms to reduce the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts. In total, DOE has awarded over $16 million in funding to the initiative.
The project winners include:
- Colorado School of Mines, in partnership with Global Algae Innovations, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Colorado State University, which will use advanced directed evolution approaches in combination with high-performance, custom-built, solar simulation bioreactors to improve the productivity of robust wild algal strains;
- University of California, San Diego, which will work with Triton Health and Nutrition, Algenesis Materials, and Global Algae Innovations on the development of genetic tools, high-throughput screening methods, and breeding strategies for green algae and cyanobacteria, targeting robust production strains;
- University of Toledo, in partnership with Montana State University and the University of North Carolina, which will cultivate microalgae in high-salinity and high-alkalinity media to achieve productivities without needing to add concentrated carbon dioxide, and deliver molecular toolkits, including metabolic modeling combined with targeted genome editing; and
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which will ecologically engineer algae to encourage growth of bacteria that efficiently remineralize dissolved organic matter to improve carbon dioxide uptake and simultaneously remove excess oxygen.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On August 2, 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that a fourth project under the MEGA-BIO: Bioproducts to Enable Biofuels Funding Opportunity would be awarded up to $1.8 million. Michigan State University was selected to manage the fourth project, which will work in partnership with the University of Wisconsin–Madison and MBI International to optimize a two-stage process for deconstruction of biomass into two clean intermediate streams, specifically sugars for the production of hydrocarbon fuels and lignins for the production of multiple value-added chemicals.
In August 2016, DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) selected three projects for an initial round of funding; the total funding for the four awards is $13.1 million. All four projects support the development of biomass-to-hydrocarbon biofuels conversion pathways that can produce variable amounts of fuels and/or products based on external factors allowing for the conversion of biomass where it is most impactful and a positive return on investment.
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 11, 2017, DOE announced the selection of three projects focused on reducing the costs of producing algal biofuels and bioproducts that will receive up to $8 million in funding. The projects aim to generate high-impact tools and techniques for increasing the productivity of algae organisms and cultures and biology-focused breakthroughs. The project winners include:
- Lumen Bioscience, which will work with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the agricultural production of algae on otherwise non-productive land in rural eastern Washington State by rapidly engineering strains that grow robustly in seawater, resist contamination and predation, and accumulate substantial amounts of energy-rich components;
- Global Algae Innovations, which will work in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, University of California at San Diego – Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the J. Craig Venter Institute to deliver a tool for low cost, rapid analysis of pond microbiota, gather data on the impacts of pond ecology, and develop new cultivation methods that utilize this information to achieve greater algal productivity; and
- Los Alamos National Laboratory, which will work with Sapphire Energy to help the algal research and development community better understand these metrics at commercial scales by evaluating rationally designed pond cultures containing multiple species of algae, as well as beneficial bacteria, to achieve consistent biomass composition and high productivity.
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.
On December 28, 2016, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that six projects had been selected for a funding opportunity of up to $12.9 million titled “Project Definition for Pilot- and Demonstration-Scale Manufacturing of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biopower.” The projects, which revolve around technology development plans for the manufacture of advanced or cellulosic biofuels, bioproducts, refinery-compatible intermediates, and biopower in a pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefinery, will be evaluated in two phases.
DOE will evaluate Phase I projects at the end of two years. Phase I project evaluations will be based on the design and plan of the facilities, as well as the recipient’s ability to fund the required 50 percent cost share for Phase II. In 2018, DOE is expected to announce the recipients of up to $15 million and $45 million in Phase II funding for the construction and operation of a pilot- or demonstration-scale facility, respectively.
Projects focused on demonstration-scale integrated biorefineries include:
|The development of an integrated process for the production of jet fuel from woody biomass by combining AVAPCO’s biomass-to-ethanol process with Byogy’s alcohol-to-jet process; and
|The design and operation of an integrated demonstration-scale biorefinery for the production of low-carbon jet and diesel fuels from industrial waste gases.
Projects focused on pilot-scale integrated biorefineries include:
|The design of a pilot-scale algae biofuel facility that utilizes novel technologies to improve productivity of open pond cultivation and generate more energy-efficient algae harvest; and
|The design of a smaller, more cost-effective integrated biorefinery for the production of transportation fuels from woody waste and agricultural feedstocks.
Projects focused on pilot-scale waste-to-energy include:
|The design of an advanced pyrolysis integrated biorefinery capable of converting 300 tons per day of biomass from food waste and biosolids into fertilizer and carbon-negative, renewable biopower; and
|The design of a pilot-scale integrated biorefinery that converts waste treatment and biosolids into biocrude oil, biogas, and fertilizer.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
On January 4, 2017, the White House announced the release of the 2017 Update to the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology (2017 Update). The Update to the Coordinated Framework provides a comprehensive summary of the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with respect to regulating biotechnology products. Together with the National Strategy for Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products, published in September 2016, the Update to the Coordinated Framework offers a “complete picture of a robust and flexible regulatory structure that provides appropriate oversight for all products of modern biotechnology.” Within that regulatory structure, the federal agencies “maintain high standards that, based on the best available science, protect health and the environment, while also establishing transparent, coordinated, predictable and efficient regulatory practices.” To help product developers and the public understand what the regulatory pathway for products might look like, the 2017 Update presents information about agency roles and responsibilities in several forms, including:
- Graphics that illustrate agency-specific overviews of regulatory roles;
- Case studies that demonstrate how a product developer might navigate the regulatory framework; and
- A comprehensive table that summarizes the current responsibilities and the relevant coordination across EPA, FDA, and USDA for the regulatory oversight of an array of biotechnology product areas.
In its blog item, “Increasing the Transparency, Coordination, and Predictability of the Biotechnology Regulatory System,” the Obama Administration acknowledges that while the 2017 Update represents “remarkable progress by the EPA, FDA, and USDA to modernize the regulatory system for biotechnology products, much work remains.” EPA, FDA, and USDA will consider the comments submitted in response to the proposed 2017 Update and information gathered during the three public engagement sessions hosted by EPA, FDA, and USDA to inform ongoing and future agency activities. In addition, the agencies commissioned an independent study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on future biotechnology products. When completed, the agencies will consider the study’s findings, as well as the comments. More information on the Update to the Coordinated Framework will be available in our forthcoming memorandum, which will be available on our website under the key phrase biobased products, biotechnology.
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).