By Lynn L. Bergeson
The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Grow Bioplastics, a University of Tennessee student start-up, a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. The funding will support research and development on new biodegradable plastics from lignin. The biobased plastic will be used for agricultural applications, such as plastic mulch. Grow Bioplastics’ biodegradable film can be plowed into the soil after each use, offering a solution to the additional labor costs and environmental impact of current nondegradable films. According to Tony Bova, Grow Bioplastics co-founder and CEO, the “funding will help [Grow Bioplastics] validate the fundamental science behind our lignin-based plastic technology, allow us to hire our first employees here in East Tennessee, and bring us one step closer to realizing our vision for a socially and environmentally driven business model to support a circular economy.”
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On December 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced the release of a request for applications (RFA) for Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) projects. The SBIR program is comprised of three phases. During Phase I, applicants determine the scientific or technical feasibility of their proposed ideas. Phase II requires a more comprehensive application, outlining the proposed effort in further detail. The purpose of Phase III is to stimulate technological innovation and return on investment from research carried out in the prior two phases. Applicants must have successfully completed a USDA Phase I project before applying for a Phase II grant.
NIFA is soliciting applications under 13 topic areas, including Biofuels and Biobased Products. Projects dealing with agriculturally-related manufacturing and alternative and renewable energy technologies are encouraged across all 2018 SBIR topic areas.
Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. (EST) on March 8, 2018. More information on the RFA is available on the NIFA website.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On November 27, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued an announcement for its second funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs for fiscal year (FY) 2018. The Phase I Release 2 FOA will provide funding for innovations that address multiple research and development programs throughout DOE, including the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Phase I grants are six to 12 months in duration with maximum award amounts of $150,000 or $225,000, depending on the research topic. Successful Phase I projects will compete for Phase II funding in FY 2019 to carry out prototype or processes research and development. More information on the FOA is available here.
By Kathleen M. Roberts
On May 24, 2017, DOE announced that 68 small businesses across 24 states will receive a total of $72 million in grants to support innovative R&D. The funding was provided by DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The 68 small businesses received Phase II R&D awards after demonstrating technical feasibility for innovations during their Phase I grants and competed for funding for prototype or process development during Phase II. Two of the 73 proposed projects involve the production of biobased products, specifically:
- Visolis, Inc received $1,010,000 to produce C5 hydrocarbons from organic waste biomass; and
- Trash2Cash-Energy LLC received $999,909 to convert landfill gas to drop-in renewable fuel.
Additional awards may be announced as additional appropriated funds become available to the DOE SBIR and STTR programs. More information on the recipients is available at the DOE Office of Science website.
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.