The Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG) helps members develop and bring to market their innovative biobased and renewable chemical products through insightful policy and regulatory advocacy. BRAG is managed by B&C® Consortia Management, L.L.C., an affiliate of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

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 Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On September 20, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that DOE selected eight projects related to the optimization of integrated biorefineries (IBR) to negotiate for up to $15 million in DOE funding.  The projects aim to solve critical research and developmental challenges encountered for the successful scale-up and reliable operations of IBRs, to decrease capital and operating expenses, and to focus on the manufacture of advanced or cellulosic biofuels and higher-value bioproducts. 
           
The eight projects focus on one or more of the following topic areas:

  • Robust, continuous handling of solid materials (dry and wet feedstocks, biosolids, and/or residual solids remaining in the process) and feeding systems to reactors under various operating conditions;
  • High-value products from waste and/or other undervalued streams in an integrated biorefinery;
  • Industrial separations within an integrated biorefinery (no projects have been selected from this topic area); and
  • Analytical modeling of solid materials (dry and wet feedstocks and/or residual solids remaining in the process) and reactor feeding systems.

The project winners include: 

  • Thermochemical Recovery International Inc., which will study and improve feedstock and residual solids handling systems targeted to commercial pyrolysis and gasification reactors;
  • Texas A&M Agrilife Research, which will work on achieving a multi-stream integrated biorefinery (MIBR), where lignin-containing IBR waste will be fractionated to produce lipid for biodiesel, asphalt binder modifier, and quality carbon fiber;
  • White Dog Labs, which will use the residual cellulosic sugars in cellulosic stillage syrup to produce single-cell protein (SCP) for aquaculture feed;
  • South Dakota School of Mines, which will demonstrate the cost-effective production of biocarbon, carbon nanofibers, polylactic acid, and phenol from the waste streams generated from the biochemical platform technology;
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which will leverage and extend state-of-the-art modeling and simulation tools to develop integrated simulations for feed handling and reactor feeding systems;
  • Clemson University, which will develop analytical tools to identify an optimal IBR process design for the reliable, cost-effective, sustainable, and continuous feeding of biomass feedstocks into a reactor;
  • Purdue University, which aims to develop strong, innovative computational and empirical models that rigorously detail the multiphase flow of biomass materials; and
  • Forest Concepts, which proposes to develop robust feedstock handling modeling and simulation tools based on systematic analysis.

According to Secretary Perry, “[t]hese projects have the potential to increase the efficiency of producing biofuels and bioproducts, enabling the United States to better utilize its abundant biomass resources, boost economic development, and advance U.S. competitiveness in the global energy market.”  The funding opportunity is supported jointly by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).


 

By Kathleen M. Roberts

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have linked changes in rainfall and other environmental stressors during crop growth to potential deleterious effects on biofuel production.  The study demonstrates that the effect of weather conditions on crop yields can significantly impact the downstream processing of those crops for biofuel production.  Researchers compared the production of biofuel from switchgrass harvested after a major drought to switchgrass harvested after normal precipitation.  The switchgrass crop that experienced major drought conditions contained significantly higher levels of soluble sugar.  During the pre-treatment process, however, the sugar was chemically altered to form imidazoles and pyrazines, which inhibited fermentation of the sugar into biofuel.  The researchers proposed potential solutions to overcoming the issue, such as removing the soluble sugars before pretreatment or using microbial strains resistant to the toxic effects of imidazoles and pyrazines for fermentation.  Overall the research highlights the need to develop sustainable biofuel production systems capable of mitigating the deleterious effect of stress, such as fluctuations in precipitation.


 

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 31, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that requirements for reformulated gasoline and low volatility gasoline would be waived through September 15, 2017, for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia.  EPA exercised its emergency fuel waiver authority to help ensure an adequate supply of fuel throughout the South, Southeast, and the Mid-Atlantic in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.  As required by law, EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) evaluated the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on refineries in the Gulf Coast based on strict criteria provided in the Clean Air Act (CAA) and determined that granting a short-term waiver was consistent with the public interest.  The CAA requires that waivers be limited as much as possible in terms of their geographic scope and duration.  EPA and DOE continue to monitor the fuel supply situation and will act if it is determined that extreme and unusual supply circumstances exist in other areas.


 

 

By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) is investigating whether algae can be used to transform the Salton Sea, one of California’s largest and most polluted lakes, into a productive and profitable resource.  The Salton Sea Biomass Remediation project (SABRE), which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), aims to use algae to rid the lake of pollutants while creating a renewable, domestic source of fuel and other chemicals.   Algae are known to thrive in environments like the Salton Sea, which contains elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus due to agricultural runoff. 
 
In the first phase of the project, Sandia partnered with Texas A&M AgriLife Research to investigate the efficacy of a new algal farming method, known as the “Algal Turf Scrubber” floway system.  The algae consume the nitrogen and phosphorus from the polluted water that is pumped into the system using solar-powered pumps.  Clean water is then deposited back into the lake.  
 
The second phase began in May and the initial results indicate that the system can produce a quantity of algae comparable to raceways, the traditional algal farming method.  The algae being grown are native to the area which makes it more resistant to attacks from local pathogens and predators.  By helping to clean polluted water, Sandia researchers have overcome a major criticism of algae as a biofuel source, specifically that farming algae requires too much water.  Additionally, the removal of pollutants, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and other fertilizer components, is expected to provide a model of remediation for algae blooms.


 

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 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.


 
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