On June 18, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced its second round of funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) designed to promote scientific breakthroughs in energy. Under this round of funding, DOE is providing $100 million to support 32 EFRC projects throughout the country. According to DOE's press release on the announcement, the selected EFRCs "will help lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, electrical energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration, materials and chemistry by design, biosciences, and extreme environments." A copy of the press release is available online. A full list of EFRC awardees, including brief project descriptions, is available online.
On May 19, 2014, two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) notices were published in the Federal Register. The first is a notice of an open meeting of the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee (Committee). The Committee advises DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) and priority technical biomass research and development (R&D) needs, and makes recommendations to the Biomass Research and Development Board. The meeting is scheduled to take place on June 5, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., and June 6, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Omni Shoreham, 2500 Calvert Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008. A copy of the notice is available online.
The purpose of the meeting is to provide advice and guidance that promotes R&D leading to the production of biobased fuels and biobased products. The agenda is expected to include the following:
* Update on USDA Biomass R&D Activities;
* Update on DOE Biomass R&D Activities;
* Update on the BRDI;
* Update on the DOE Loan Program Solicitations;
* Update on the BioEconomy Initiative;
* Overview of the BioEconomy Initiative Analysis;
* Feedstocks panel on fuels from corn stover; and
* An overview and application of the USDA Feedstock Readiness Level Tool.
The second notice is a solicitation for nominations for candidates to fill vacancies on the Committee. Nominations must be submitted by June 9, 2014. A detailed description of the Committee and the nomination process is provided in the notice, which is available online.
By law, the Committee must include, among others, an individual affiliated with the biofuels industry and an individual affiliated with the biobased industrial and commercial products industry. According to the notice, while nominations will be accepted for other categories, nominations this year are needed for the following categories in order to address the Committee's needs: (E) an individual affiliated with a commodity trade association; (F) individuals affiliated with environmental or conservation organizations; (J) an individual with expertise in agricultural economics; (K) an individual with expertise in plant biology and biomass feedstock development; and (M) at the option of the points of contact, other members.
EPA is vigorously questioning results of a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-funded study that concludes ethanol produced from crop residues such as corn stover can have higher lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional gasoline, arguing that the findings are based on an "extremely unlikely scenario" of unsubstantiated agricultural practices. RFA is also highly critical of the new study, claiming its "methodology is fundamentally flawed and its conclusions are highly suspect." RFA made available a useful fact sheet that is available online.
The DOE-funded study was published on April 20, 2014, in Nature Climate Change. The study claims to demonstrate that ethanol produced from corn stover and other crop residues does not meet EPA's criteria for achieving a 60 percent GHG emission reduction compared to gasoline in order for the fuels to qualify under the RFS. The study could raise questions over EPA's ability to raise the cellulosic target in the final version of the 2014 RFS, especially if the fuel's GHGs disqualify them under the program.
EPA is also refuting the study as hypothetical, and lacking a firm basis in current agriculture practices. An EPA spokeswoman reportedly stated the "paper is based on a hypothetical assumption that 100 percent of corn stover in a field is harvested; an extremely unlikely scenario that is inconsistent with recommended agricultural practices." More information is available online.
On April 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it would provide up to $10 million to promote the production of "advanced biofuels, substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks, and bioproducts made from renewable, non-food-based biomass, such as agricultural residues and woody biomass." For more information, and to apply for this opportunity, please visit DOE's Funding Opportunity Exchange website. A copy of the press release is available online.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), which closes on April 22, 2014. Through the FOA, the Advanced Manufacturing Office of DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Office seeks to establish a Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Composites Materials and Structures. According to the FOA, "[t]he technical topic area for this Institute is low cost, energy efficient manufacturing of fiber reinforced polymer composites. The Institute will target continuous or discontinuous, primarily carbon and glass fiber systems, with thermoset or thermoplastic resin materials. These types of composites are foundational technologies that are broadly applicable and pervasive in multiple industries and markets with potentially transformational technical and economic impact." A copy of the FOA is available online.
On February 3, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announced that up to $12 million in funding would be made available to advance the production of cost-competitive, high-performance carbon finer material from renewable non-food based feedstocks. Feedstocks could include agriculture residues and woody biomass. This funding supports DOE's Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative. A copy of DOE's press release on this announcement is available online.
On December 23, 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was ending its funding of BlueFire Renewable's cellulosic production facility project in Fulton, Mississippi. DOE took this action because the company reportedly failed to meet deadlines related to financing the project. This news comes as the cellulosic industry continues to be under attack for failing to live up to expectations under the federal RFS.
It has been reported this week that the new Director of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Loan Program Office has stated DOE's intent to restart its renewable energy loan guarantee program in 2014. DOE is expected to issue a new round of $3 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects. Although DOE still has billions in loan guarantee authority for renewable energy, it halted the program a couple of years ago in the wake of heavy criticism following the failure of Solyndra, a solar company that went bankrupt after receiving a DOE loan guarantee.
All sides of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) debate had another chance to air their views on Wednesday at the Senate EPW Committee "Oversight Hearing on Domestic Renewable Fuels." Hearing details are available online.
Witnesses included representatives from EPA, DOE, industry, and major trade associations representing the oil and gas and biofuels industries. Their testimony was consistent with their previous actions and statements. For instance, EPA testified in support of its 2014 proposed RFS rule, which for the first time would reduce volumetric targets for all biofuels, including corn ethanol. The biofuels industry argued that the volumetric reductions in the proposed rule go too far, and that Congress should maintain the current version of the RFS law. In contrast, the oil and gas industry advocated that Congress act to repeal the RFS law.
EPW Committee Members weighed in with their divergent views during their opening remarks and throughout the hearing. For instance, Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stated that she sees no need for Congress to act given the inherent regulatory flexibility contained in the existing law, and since EPA has sought to address industry concerns about the blend wall in the proposed rule. On the other end of the spectrum, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) stated that EPA's action demonstrates that the RFS is not working and that Congress should act to repeal it.
On December 11, 2013, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Navy announced that as part of their joint "Farm-to-Fleet" initiative, the acquisition of biofuel blends will be included into regular Department of Defense domestic solicitations for jet engine and marine diesel fuels. The Navy will seek to purchase JP-5 and F-76 advanced drop-in biofuels blended from 10 to 50 percent with conventional fuels. Funds from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation will assist the effort.
The Navy and USDA plan to hold an "Industry Day" to explain the effort on January 30, 2014. A copy of the USDA press release on the announcement is available online.
In 2011, DOE, USDA, and the Navy announced a joint $510 million effort to help promote the commercialization of domestic advanced drop-in biofuels for military and commercial use. The Navy and DOE have been challenged with securing their portion of the funding through the appropriations process. Several in Congress have criticized the cost of the biofuels compared to traditional sources of energy. Under the initiative announced this week, the Navy will expect that drop-in biofuels will be available for less than $4 per gallon by 2016, making them competitive with traditional sources of fuel.