By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On May 2, 2017, the Maine Senate approved a bill to support Maine’s emerging biobased products industry. An Act to Improve the Ability of Maine Companies to Manufacture and Market Bioplastics (LD 656) would provide the Maine Technology Institute with a $1.5 million grant to provide competitive grants for the development, production, and marketing of bioplastics. The bill was introduced by Senator Jim Dill (D-Old Town) and endorsed by Senator Dana Dow (R-Waldoboro), Senator Tom Saviello (R-Wilton), and 17 Democratic Senators. Following approval by the Senate, the bill will be introduced to the Maine House of Representatives for an initial vote.
On September 22, 2015, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Democratic Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) released The American Energy Innovation Act of 2015, a bill designed to improve economic growth in the energy sector, invest in clean energy, and support research and development while cutting carbon pollution. Senator Wyden stated the proposed legislation "... is built around the proposition that the law ought to reward clean energy with incentives that spark innovation in the private economy. Our proposal makes it possible to get more clean, renewable energy for less money and I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues to get it through the Senate." A wide range of programs are outlined in the bill, including a plan to replace the expired Clean Fuel Production Credit with a technology-neutral incentive for domestic renewable fuels based on lifecycle carbon emissions. The bill also discusses the establishment of a grant program to research distributed energy systems with a focus on renewable energy, authorization for the federal government to enter into up to 30-year contracts for the acquisition of renewable energy, and allowing states to obtain loan guarantees through the Department of Energy (DOE) loan programs for renewable projects.
On September 10, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the 21 state finalists for Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) grants to add infrastructure to supply more renewable fuel to drivers. The program was announced in May 2015, to increase the number of gas pumps dedicated to higher ethanol blends, including E15 and E85. While $100 million was made available by the USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), applications totaled over $130 million. The grants given out by the USDA BIP will be matched with private and state resources, allowing the program to more than double the amount of infrastructure that will be added. USDA announced that these competitive grants are expected to result in 4,880 pumps being installed at over 1,400 fueling stations throughout the United States.
On August 19, 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced the start of enrollment for financial assistance through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) to assist in growing new sources of biomass. The enrollment is open for farmers and forest landowners who will be growing biomass for energy or designated biobased products. USDA is allocating $7.7 million for four existing BCAP project areas in New York, North Carolina, Ohio/Pennsylvania, and Kansas/Oklahoma. Biomass energy facilities or groups of producers can propose new BCAP project areas through November 6, 2015, at www.grants.gov.
On August 7, 2015, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $63 million in loans and grants to be distributed through its Rural Energy for American Program (REAP). The $63 million is divided among 264 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects throughout the nation, in primarily rural communities. In addition to creating jobs and improving local economies, the newly announced REAP projects are expected to either save or generate 207.8 million kilowatt hours (KWh) of energy. REAP funds may be used by agricultural producers and rural small businesses to improve energy efficiency or install renewable energy, including solar, wind, renewable biomass, hydroelectric, ocean energy, hydrogen, and geothermal. Applications for the next round of REAP grants are due by November 2, 2015.
On June 12, 2015, the USDA began accepting applications for grants under the Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership (BIP). Through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), BIP will provide up to $100 million in grants to support infrastructure development to make renewable fuel options, including E15 and E85, an option for more American consumers. CCC funds will pay a portion of the costs associated with the installation infrastructure and fuel pumps used to distribute higher ethanol blends to consumers. States are required to match CCC funding with the state funds going towards infrastructure improvements or other program costs, including marketing, education, and administrative costs. States can apply for competitive grants to expand the infrastructure for distribution of higher blends of renewable fuel by July 15, 2015, on www.grants.gov by searching the funding opportunity number "USDA-FSA-2015-22."
On April 22, 2015, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack celebrated Earth Day by announcing that USDA "is providing more than $112 million in loans and grants to help rural communities build and upgrade their water and energy infrastructure systems." The funding for the energy infrastructure programs is provided through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and funds a total of 25 renewable energy projects. The grants support government bodies, utilities, and institutions of higher education that help agricultural producers and rural small businesses evaluate energy efficiency systems in order to incorporate renewable energy technology into their operations.
On December 29, 2014, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the final rule for the Rural Energy
for America Program (REAP). REAP is intended to help mainly
businesses, as well as some state, local, and tribal governments develop solar,
wind, and biomass projects. This new rule will change the requirements for
those applying for funding from the grant and loan guarantees for renewable
energy and energy efficiency improvements in rural areas. There is now a
three-tiered application process based on the total project cost for funding
that reduces the technical reporting requirements of the previous system. The
final rule also modifies scoring criteria for renewable energy and energy
efficiency improvement projects, and creates deadline dates for grant and
guaranteed loan applications. USDA estimates that this rule will have net cost
savings of approximately ten million dollars as a result of decreased costs in
program implementation. This final rule becomes effective on February 12, 2015.
On November 12, 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy held a press conference to announce the recipients of the Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards. In her comments, Administrator McCarthy stated that "a strong, world-leading economy requires a clean environment," and noted that under the Obama Administration the production of wind energy has tripled, and solar energy has increased ten-fold. Joining Ms. McCarthy at the press conference were representatives from two of the nine companies receiving funding awards, Thomas Brooks of National Recovery Technologies, LLC (Nashville, TN), which is developing a technology that allows for the automated identification and sorting of rare earth elements in electronic waste (e-waste) recycling streams; Carol Ann Wedding of Imaging Systems Technology (Toledo, OH), which is developing Ultraviolet (UV) Plasma-shells with Titanium (IV) Dioxide (TiO2) to produce a low cost, rugged, lightweight, and highly efficient water purification system; and David Levine of the American Sustainable Business Council. In his comments, Mr. Levine noted that these grants from EPA catalyze new technologies, new applications, and new jobs, helping to scale innovation effectively and reduce the costs of technology.
Ms. McCarthy fielded several questions from reporters regarding the U.S. climate accord with China announced November 12, 2014. She stated "I think the targets are ambitious but achievable," and used the opportunity to re-iterate the goals and achievements of the Obama Administration's Climate Action Plan. When asked whether President Obama would veto any legislation coming from the newly Republican-controlled congress targeting the Clean Air or Clean Water Acts, Ms. MacCarthy stated she was confident of the President's support and that EPA would be able to explain to legislators and the public that "a healthy environment is not just good for our kids but for our businesses."
The SBIR program is a highly competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) that has the potential for commercialization. Grants are made via 11 federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and EPA. SBIR funding award solicitations are ongoing and small biobased companies are urged to apply. See the story below under the DOE heading for one current solicitation.