By Kathleen M. Roberts
On October 17, 2017, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced the recipients of 17 grants totaling $7.3 million for projects focused on the development of next generation agricultural technologies and systems to meet the growing demand for food, fuel, and fiber. Funding is provided by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), as authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Recipients include:
- Auburn University, which received $481,539 to develop and optimize the hydrothermal liquefaction of lignin (HTL) chemical stream and to determine the best way to modify epoxy-based resins with the lignin derived material;
- University of Georgia, which received $472,965 to develop new markets, products, and processes using activated carbon monolith catalysts produced from wood and to generate value added products from platform chemicals derived from agricultural and forest resources;
- Iowa State University, which received $482,905 to further develop the engineering of the membrane of microbial cell factories to improve production of biobased fuels and chemicals;
- Ohio State University, which received $482,448 to improve the efficiency, costs, and emissions of the feedstock supply system for cellulosic biorefineries by conjointly supplying corn grain and stover; and
- University of North Texas, which received $482,905 to improve the efficiency of the pyrolysis production of biomass and product quality for biofuel and activated carbon from self-activation process.
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 Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
In a paper forthcoming in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Iowa State researchers demonstrate that their tractable multi-market equilibrium model designed to evaluate alternative biofuel policies confirms that the current RFS program benefits the agriculture sector, and leads to overall welfare gains for the U.S. The model considers biodiesel and ethanol markets and is simulated to analyze alternative scenarios, including the repeal of all RFS mandates, the 2015 level of mandates, and the projected 2022 RFS mandates. The analysis shows that the U.S. benefited from lower gasoline, crude oil, and crude oil import prices. Researchers estimated a welfare gain of $2.6 billion to the U.S. from the RFS program, primarily due to the impact of the policies on trade.
Additionally, the analysis predicts that full implementation of the 2022 statutory mandates will be costly and produce limited welfare gains, stating that the agricultural terms of trade are a significant contribution to the RFS generating a positive impact. To compensate for this, researchers recommend the mandate for corn-based ethanol production expand beyond the 15 billion gallon cap envisioned by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). The report also recommends a reduction of biodiesel production from current levels, and no cellulosic biofuel production.
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.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On July 26, 2017, the European Commission announced the launch of the Bioeconomy Knowledge Centre, which was created by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Directorate General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) to better support policy makers with science-based evidence in the bioeconomy field. Rather than generate information, the objective is to build on JRC’s expertise in knowledge management. The online platform will collect, structure, and provide access to knowledge from a wide range of scientific sources on the bioeconomy, the sustainable production of renewable biological resources, and their conversion into valuable products. The platform will also support the European Commission in the review of the 2012 Bioeconomy Strategy, taking into account new political and policy developments, such as the Paris agreement, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, and the Circular Economy Package.