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 Lynn L. Bergeson

In early September, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs Office announced that from December 14 to 17, 2020, the Brookhaven National Laboratory will host a virtual workshop for industry researchers to showcase the capabilities and expertise available at DOE’s Office of Science User Facilities. Designed to benefit researchers who have either previously used the Brookhaven facilities and researchers with an interest in learning about accessing the Brookhaven facilities, the workshop program will focus on researchers working in all major industry sectors. Some of these industry sectors include petrochemicals, energy storage, advanced materials, pharmaceuticals, microelectronics, and advanced manufacturing, and DOE believes that companies will benefit from learning how Brookhaven facilities can impact their research and development (R&D) mission.

The workshop will be formatted so that attendees can spend time remotely observing the labs and Brookhaven’s capabilities in action, while engaging in technical discussions with the lab experts. As a virtual “facilities open house,” the workshop will also allow attendees to measure remotely their own samples and collect data. In addition, presentations from industry users of Brookhaven facilities, question and answer sessions, and opportunities to engage directly with DOE program managers will be featured. The workshop is open to the public, and interested parties may register here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

DOE has announced that the Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee (BERAC) will host digital public meetings on October 22 and 23, 2020, from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. (EDT). BERAC provides advice to DOE’s Director of the Office of Science on scientific and technical issues that arise in the development and implementation of the Biological and Environmental Research Program. Tentative agenda topics published in the Federal Register notice include:

  • BERAC business and discussion;
  • News from the Office of Biological and Environmental Research;
  • Report briefs; and
  • News from the Biological Systems Science and Earth and Environmental Systems Science Divisions.

Oral comments will be permitted during the meetings, and written statements can be submitted prior to or after the meetings. Those interested in making oral statements regarding any agenda items must request so via e-mail at least five business days prior to the meeting.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On August 17, 2020, DOE’s Reducing EMbodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Manufacturing Institute announced the availability of approximately $35 million in support of research and development (R&D) that will enable U.S. manufacturers to increase the recovery, recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing of plastics, metals, electronic waste, and fibers. This funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is part of DOE’s Plastics Innovation Challenge, a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations in energy-efficient plastics recycling technologies by supporting high-impact R&D for plastics.

DOE issued a request for proposal (RFP) under this FOA for projects in two areas: transformational R&D and traditional R&D. The full RFP can be accessed here. Letters of intent and project abstracts are due September 14, 2020.

The Deputy Secretary of Energy, Mark W. Menezes, commented on the FOA, stating: “The Trump Administration is committed to advancing innovative reuse and remanufacturing technologies, including advanced plastic recycling technologies, and the development of new plastics that are recyclable by design. Through the Plastics Innovation Challenge, and in partnership with REMADE, DOE is proud to take part in the development of new technologies that strengthen the U.S. manufacturing ecosystem.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

The University of Minnesota Extension (UME) recently published a report titled “Economic Contribution of the Biobased Industrial Products Industry in Minnesota: 2019.” The report accounts for the economic impacts from the Minnesota Bioincentive Program enacted in 2015. Some of the key findings outlined by UME include but are not limited to the ones outlined below:

  • In 2019, companies claiming the Minnesota Bioincentive received $1.5 million in incentives. For every tax dollar invested in incentives, $407.10 is generated in the economy. In addition, for every dollar of incentive, approximately $8.90 is collected in taxes.
  • Construction activities of Minnesota biobased industrial product companies generated an estimated $1.2 billion of economic activity in the state, including $540.6 million in labor income. These activities also supported employment for more than 8,000 workers and generated approximately $46.5 million in tax collections.
  • Operations of Minnesota’s biobased industrial product companies generated an estimated $610.7 million of economic activity resulting from their operations, including $127 million in labor income. It also supported employment for more than 2,000 workers in the state and generated an estimated $13.3 million in tax collections.

According to the report, these impacts are annual and will continue to grow as long as companies do. A full copy of the report is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On July 14, 2020, DOE EERE announced that it will fund approximately $53 million to 49 new SBIR and STTR R&D projects. The selected projects will receive Phase II Release 2 grants for principal R&D efforts based on the technical feasibility demonstrated in Phase I projects. Phase II awards range up to $1,500,000 for two years. Further information about the awardees can be found here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On February 17, 2020, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) announced that one of its laboratories has developed a device using a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air. Electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley have created what they call “Air-Gen,” which consists of an air-powered generator with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere. According to Yao, the device generates clean energy 24/7. What Yao and Lovley describe as a low cost, non-polluting, and renewable device, can generate energy even in areas with extremely low humidity, such as the Sahara Desert. Although the current generation of Air-gen devices are only able to power small electronics, both scientists state that the ultimate goal is to develop large-scale systems that will highly contribute to sustainable energy production.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On January 23, 2020, DOE announced that up to $133 million will be available for new and innovative advanced vehicle technologies research designed to increase affordable, efficient, and secure transportation energy. This Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 opportunity will be funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and supports priorities in: (1) advanced engine and fuel technologies; (2) lightweight materials; (3) new energy efficient mobility systems; and (4) alternative fuels technology demonstrations. Topic areas and funding amounts include:

  • Up to $40 million for batteries and electrification;
     
  • Up to $27.5 million for advanced combustion engines and fuels;
     
  • Up to $15 million for materials technology;
     
  • Up to $13.5 million for energy efficient mobility systems;
     
  • Up to $36 million for technology integration; and
     
  • Up to $1.2 million for transportation and energy analysis.
     

Concept papers for this funding opportunity are due on February 21, 2020, and full applications are due on April 14, 2020.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

In late December 2019, CRDF Global, an independent non-profit focused on the global scientific community and alternatives to weapons research, announced a partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine (MES) in launching the 2020 U.S.-Ukraine Alternative Energy Research Competition. Currently accepting proposals from joint teams of U.S. and Ukrainian researchers, the competition will focus on the advancement of alternative energy sources. Intended to work toward a future of affordable solutions to address the rapid increase of the global population and, consequently, energy consumption increase, the competition is accepting proposals that directly apply to photovoltaic or biofuel technology. These include proposals on engineering, nanotechnology, biochemistry, microbiology, and plant study research. Awards of up to $72,000 will be provided for 12 months. Proposals are due no later than February 28, 2020.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On October 25, 2019, Iowa State University’s (ISU) Vice President for Research, Dan Kirkpatrick, announced that Sundeep Vani, Ph.D., has joined the team as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Biobased Products, a newly created role. Announced in an ISU press release, Dr. Vani’s role will be to serve as a conduit between research and industry. Dr. Vani will work closely with the Biobased Product platform leader, Brent Shanks, his team, and the Iowa Innovation Corporation (IIC) CEO. Identifying promising emerging technologies and facilitating their development into market scale will also be at the top of Dr. Vani’s list of priorities. Dr. Vani stated that he is “excited to join Iowa State in this mission to grow Iowa’s economy through the state’s overall Biosciences initiative.” His addition to the team is partially attributed to Iowa’s legislature in July 2019 granting the university $825,000 in fiscal year 2020.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On October 16, 2019, the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, announced that its researchers have partnered with colleagues from France, Germany, and Spain to start working on a new technique to tackle plastic waste. According to the university’s article, this novel technique may revolutionize the recycling industry. The plan is to create engineered microbial communities that will digest two types of plastic polymers -- polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyurethane (PU) -- and transform them into molecules that can be used to develop a more environmentally friendly material called Bio-PU. This more environmentally friendly material is often used as a construction and insulation material.

According to the University of Surrey, current physical or chemical methods to degrade PET and PU are inefficient. Impurities in PET polymers and high energy costs associated with the high temperatures required to break down the material make its degradation very difficult. Similarly, degradation of PU is limited due to the difficulty in breaking down urethane bonds in the material. Given these challenges, University of Surrey Senior Lecturer in synthetic biology Dr. Jose Jimenez highlights that “[m]oving away from the reliance on single use plastics is a positive step; however, the problem of how we deal with current plastic waste still needs to be addressed.” Hence, the project will investigate the ability of microorganisms to digest plastic waste and turn it into a more environmentally friendly material that can be recycled.


 
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