By Richard E. Engler, Ph.D.
On April 5, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Industrial Microbes, Inc. (Industrial Microbes) has been awarded $300,000 in funding through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program to develop a green fermentation platform to replace carbon-emitting petrochemical production with newer methods that use methane and carbon dioxide to produce chemicals. The project aims to improve the efficiency of chemical manufacturing while limiting pollution using a fermentation process based on engineered enzyme pathways within living cells, similar to the chemical conversion process used to brew beer. Well-to-gate life cycle analysis of the process demonstrated that carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by six-fold compared to the current production process, due to carbon dioxide fixation and more efficient unit operations. Industrial Microbes is one of nine small businesses that received a total of nearly $2.7 million in funding through the SBIR Program to develop and commercialize new environmental technologies.
On December 6, 2016, EPA announced its funding of $1.3 million in investments to 13 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects. All 13 projects are focused on producing innovative and creative solutions to the country’s current environmental issues. Each company will receive a SBIR Phase I contract for up to $100,000 to develop their green technology. Companies that successfully complete Phase I can apply for a Phase II contract of up to $300,000 to commercialize their technology for the marketplace. Two of the 13 projects involve repurposing waste to generate new commercial products.
Professional Analytical & Consulting Services, Inc. is producing electrically conductive plastic pellets from scrap automotive tires and waste plastic. Phase I of the project will focus on evaluating the electrical conductivity of different blends of plastics and tire waste. A continuation of the project into Phase II would involve the construction of a pilot plant and the initiation of 3D manufacturing of plastic parts.
Revolution Research, Inc. is designing a manufacturing process for bio-based ceiling tiles using nanocellulose, a byproduct of the forest industry. The objective is to manufacture ceiling tiles that are durable, non-hazardous, and compostable, and possess higher insulation properties than currently-available products. Revolution Research will also develop a process to treat the ceiling tiles using non-hazardous enhancements.
On July 27, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator signed the final rule Formaldehyde Emission Standards for Composite Wood Products, setting formaldehyde emission standards for hardwood plywood, medium-density fiberboard, and particleboard, as well as for finished products containing these products. This final rule discusses alternatives to regulated composite wood products, specifically mentioning Ecovative Design, LLC's packaging, building materials, and automotive products that are grown from agricultural byproducts and mycelium. The mycelium binds the wood together, completely eliminating the need for resins containing formaldehyde. The products created through this biofabrication process are not considered to be hardwood plywood, particleboard, or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and, thus, are not subject to these new regulations. Ecovative Design, LLC was the recipient of a 2014 EPA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award to help develop new alternatives to regulated composite wood products. EPA states that it encourages other companies to explore all aspects of their production process to lower formaldehyde emissions from their products.
On June 21, 2016, DOE announced the 23 projects that were selected for Phase II funding through the Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) program. Each SBIR award is for $1 million over the next two years, and helps small businesses advance concepts that improve manufacturing processes, boost efficiency of buildings, increase transportation sustainability, and generate renewable electricity. Phase II winners include:
- Forest Concepts, LLC, for a low energy rotary shear for sub-millimeter particle production that will improve energy balance for advanced biofuels.
- Manta Biofuel, LLC, for development of a high throughput algal dewatering system using magnetic particles.
- MicroBio Engineering, for algal bioflocculation for solid-liquid separation to improve algae harvesting.
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.
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).