By Kathleen M. Roberts
On December 14, 2017, General Automation Lab Technologies (GALT) announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) a three year $3.5 million grant to improve the growth and efficiency of biofuel-producing algae. LLNL and GALT will collaborate on the project, which also aims to reduce wasted byproducts of photosynthesis by targeting microbiomes that can more efficiently recycle it back to carbon dioxide for the algae to grow better. GALT’s novel high-throughput microbiome research technology will be used to screen tens of thousands of microbiome combinations. Researchers aim to target bacteria that are able to increase biomass yield under the high light and temperature stress conditions that are found in desert environments such as Arizona, where plenty of sunlight and useable land exist and could potentially support future algal biofuel production facilities.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On December 11, 2017, the Feedstock-Conversion Interface Consortium (FCIC) announced its intent to issue a Directed Funding Opportunity (DFO) aimed at accelerating innovation and adoption of new practices and technologies to determine the root cause of biomass handling failures and designing solutions. FCIC is a collaborative network of eight DOE national laboratories dedicated to understanding and addressing technical risks in developing and scaling up biomass harvest, storage, preprocessing, and conversion technologies.
The DFO is open to industrial and academic partners interested in collaborating with research experts and leveraging unique technology capabilities at the DOE national laboratories to address the most pressing industrial feedstock handling, preprocessing, and conversion challenges related to feedstock chemical, physical, and mechanical variability. FCIC anticipates awarding between $500,000 and $2,000,000 for a project duration of 12 to 18 months.
FCIC plans to issue the DFO through its website.
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.