On September 30, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a workshop on genetically engineered (GE) algae to give stakeholders an opportunity to hear about EPA's plans for improving its risk assessments of GE algae under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Dr. Jeff Morris, Deputy Director of Programs for the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), welcomed participants and laid out the scope of the meeting: to assist EPA in understanding the questions it needs to ask and answer when it receives a Microbial Commercial Activity Notice (MCAN) for GE algae. Dr. Morris discussed how this workshop will contribute to EPA's broader effort to update the Points to Consider in the Preparation of TSCA Biotechnology Submissions for Microorganisms document that relates to other GE microorganisms, as well as the update to the federal Coordinated Framework on the Regulation of Products of Biotechnology. While updating the framework will assist EPA in handling risk assessments for GE algae, regulation will continue to be risk-based and determined on a case-by-case basis.
Members of EPA's biotech review team discussed aspects of MCAN review and pointed out particular areas where EPA seeks input, in particular:
- Taxonomy of algae;
- Propensity to transfer genetic material to other species;
- Ability to produce toxins or allergenic effects;
- How the growth rate and forms (unicellular or filamentous) might relate to exposure;
- Survivability of GE algae in the wild; and
- Propensity to out-compete wild populations of algae, and organismal control mechanisms.
The panel, as well as stakeholders, commented on how algae are different than traditional industrial microbes in some significant ways:
- The organisms are not as well studied, largely because, unlike bacteria and fungi, they have only recently been used for industrial production.
- Inactivation methods are quite different because of the protective cell walls that algae have, that most microbes lack.
Dr. Morris also made it clear that this meeting is just the beginning of the conversation. EPA continues to seek input from stakeholders on algae, in particular, and other GE organisms as part of EPA's effort to update the regulatory framework for GE organisms. Draft Charge questions are available on the workshop website, speaker presentations can be accessed through the meeting agenda webpage, and the deadline for written comments is October 31, 2015. More information on EPA's development and use of biotechnology is available in B&C's memorandum EPA Posts Information on Biotechnology Algae Project.
On August 14, 2015, the Department of Energy's (DOE) BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) announced the creation of a microbe that increases isobutanol yields by a factor of ten. The study, published in Metabolic Engineering, expanded upon a 2011 study where researchers were able to engineer genetically a microbe to produce isobutanol directly from cellulose. The new study used a higher yielding microbe with similar engineered traits, resulting in consolidated bioprocessing efficiency. This progress towards the commercialization of biobased isobutanol is important because its energy density and octane values are close to those of gasoline, allowing it to be used as either a direct replacement for gasoline or a chemical feedstock for a wide range of products.
On November 7, 2014, R&D Magazine announced its 52nd R&D 100 Awards, which are widely recognized as the "Oscars of Invention." Major technological breakthroughs made over the past year were honored and included work from industry, academia, and governmental research. This year, six awards went to projects that were funded by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The EERE-funded projects that won R&D 100 Awards are from the Bioenergy Technologies Office, Fuel Cells and Solar Technologies Offices, and Vehicles Technologies Office.
DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) recently announced three new subtopics related to bioenergy under its SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs:
* Design and Fabrication of Solids Handling for Biomass Conversion Systems -- Grant applications are sought for designs, prototype equipment, and procedures that enable continuous biomass solids handling at a cost ten percent lower than currently available.
* Low-Cost Coatings for Advanced Thermal Processes in Metal Combustors -- Grant applications are sought for the development of low-cost protective coatings for metal combustors. Coating approaches potentially of interest may include, but are not limited to the following: ceramic coatings, alloy coatings, aluminizing treatments, surface modifications/reactive surface treatments, thermal spray, wash coats, vapor deposition or sputtering (if sufficiently low cost), plating, and porcelains/enamels.
* Solid-Liquid Separations for Algal Systems -- Grant applications are sought for the integration of multiple separation technologies for the solid-liquid separation of algae. The applicant should consider as a minimum the following technology options for integration: vacuum filters, pressure filters, hydroclones, screens and/or sieving, and gravity tables.
The projects will help small businesses develop and deliver market-driven clean energy technologies. Small businesses that are selected for any EERE SBIR/STTR funding keep the rights to new technologies they develop and are encouraged to transfer these technologies to the marketplace. More details can be found on the EERE website, including a full list of topics and application instructions. Interested applicants can register for the EERE Cleantech SBIR Webinar on December 8, 2014, from 11:30 a.m. (EST) to 1:00 p.m. (EST).
This week, DOE hosted its seventh annual biomass conference. This year's conference focused on "Growing the Future Bioeconomy." Over 500 attendees from throughout the country and around the world gathered in Washington, D.C. to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the industry. Keynote speakers included U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy from DOE, and Kate Brandt from the Federal Environmental Executive, Council on Environmental Quality. Policy and technology innovations were discussed in breakout sessions with a focus on how to best position the bioeconomy for future growth. While biofuels were a focus of this conference, there was also interest in other bioproducts that can further grow the bioeconomy. This was explored in a breakout session titled "Integration of Supply Chains II: Bioproducts -- Enabling Biofuels and Growing the Bioeconomy," where industry professionals and researchers discussed how increasing production and commercialization of bioproducts can bring in more revenue while also spurring the production of biofuels. Photos, quotes, and insights shared by a variety of sources can be found on Twitter by searching #biomass2014. A copy of the conference agenda is available online. Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) and the Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) were proud sponsors of Biomass 2014.
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.