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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on January 20, 2023, that a collaborative team of BETO-funded scientists from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are searching for carbon utilization technologies that can make better use of the carbon dioxide generated by industry, transportation, and agriculture by transforming it into sustainable aviation fuel and other useful products. According to BETO, the goal is to identify catalysts that can make beneficial products, such as sustainable aviation fuel, efficiently and selectively. BETO states that methanol has “rich potential for uses that contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions and help in the fight against climate change.” It can generate electricity when used for fuel cells, serve as a heating fuel for boilers, or be used as a sustainable or blended fuel for road, marine, or (potentially) aviation. Additionally, methanol is used as a chemical industry feedstock for the synthesis of formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other health and life sciences products. BETO notes that the long-term challenge of the research will be scaling up scientific findings into commercial applications. With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on the rise, “innovative research that finds ways to transform CO2 in the atmosphere into something positive is more important than ever.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on December 15, 2022, that it intends to issue two funding opportunity announcements (FOA) in early 2023. According to BETO, these potential FOAs, “Reducing Agricultural Carbon Intensity and Protecting Algal Crops” (RACIPAC) and the “2023 Conversion R&D,” will enable the sustainable use of domestic biomass and waste resources to produce biofuels and bioproducts, and to advance the Biden Administration’s goal of delivering an equitable, clean energy future that puts the United States on a path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, no later than 2050. The prospective RACIPAC FOA would support high-impact research and development (R&D), focusing on reducing the carbon intensity of agricultural feedstocks, improving soil carbon levels, and protecting cultivated algae from pests under two areas of interest:

  • Climate-smart agricultural practices for low carbon intensity feedstocks; and
  • Algae crop protection.

The prospective 2023 Conversion R&D FOA would support the development of technologies that convert domestic lignocellulosic biomass and waste resources, including industrial syngas, into affordable biofuels and bioproducts that significantly reduce carbon emissions under two main areas of interest:

  • Overcoming barriers to syngas conversion; and
  • Strategic opportunities for decarbonization of the chemicals industry through biocatalysts.

According to BETO, both potential FOAs will help to meet the goals of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge, which are to reduce aviation emissions by 20 percent by 2030 and produce sufficient sustainable aviation fuel to meet 100 percent of domestic aviation demand by 2050.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the Agile BioFoundry (ABF) will hold a webinar on September 22, 2022, highlighting technologies used by the ABF to accelerate biomanufacturing. According to BETO, the ABF consortium collaborates with industry and academia to develop technologies that enable commercially relevant biomanufacturing of sustainable bioproducts. During the webinar, attendees will hear from ABF scientists on how they use state-of-the-art machine learning, deep learning, testing, and modeling techniques to guide the bioengineering process and speed up bioproduct development.
 
The webinar will feature the following speakers:

  • Nathan Hillson, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the principal investigator of the ABF. Dr. Hillson leads the consortium’s Integrated Design-Build-Test-Learn task;
  • Taraka Dale, scientist and principal investigator at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-lead of ABF’s Host Onboarding and Development task;
  • Hector Garcia Martin, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-lead of ABF’s Learn subtask, and
  • Philip Laible, biophysicist at Argonne National Laboratory and co-lead of ABF’s Learn subtask.

Registration for the webinar is open. 


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced recently a new program that directs USDA to partner with at least one qualified institution to support the scale-up of sustainable bioproduct manufacturing. Up to $5 million is available for each of the fiscal years (FY) 2022 and 2023. NIFA will work in collaboration with USDA Rural Development’s BioPreferred program to seek research proposals that explore the benefits of bioproducts in relation to:

  • “Cost savings relative to other commonly used alternative materials;
  • Greenhouse gas emission reductions and other environmental benefits relative to their commonly used alternative materials;
  • Lifecycle and longevity-extending characteristics relative to other commonly used alternative materials;
  • Lifecycle and longevity-reducing characteristics relative to other commonly used alternative materials;
  • Landfill quantity and waste management cost reductions;
  • Product development and production scale-up; and
  • Any other benefits that the Secretary determines to be appropriate.”

Information on how to apply for the Bioproduct Pilot Program is available here, and NIFA will hold a webinar on July 14, 2022, at 3:00 p.m. (EDT) to discuss the program and answer questions. Registration for the webinar is required.


 

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

On June 1, 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) titled “Scale-Up of Integrated Biorefineries.” The FOA states that $59 million is available to expand the production of biofuels and bioproducts. In alignment with a broader DOE strategy to support biorefinery projects for the transportation sector, the FOA aims to reduce emissions in hard-to-decarbonize sectors and create jobs in rural areas of the United States. DOE is focused on applied research, development, and deployment of such products to improve the performance and cost of biofuel production technologies and scale-up production systems in partnership with industry.

U.S. Secretary of Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm, stated, “[e]nergy harnessed from plants and waste presents a huge opportunity to reduce emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as aviation, rail, and shipping, while supporting high-quality jobs across rural America. DOE’s investment in biofuels is a key component of the Biden Administration’s effort to support clean energy technologies that increase our energy independence and move us closer to a net-zero carbon economy.”

To be eligible for funding, applicants must submit a concept paper to DOE by 5:00 p.m. (EDT), July 8, 2022. Concept papers and applications must be submitted through DOE’s online application portal.


 

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

On April 9, 2022, researchers from the University of Groningen’s Stratingh Institute for Chemistry and the Department of Chemistry, Organic and Bioorganic Chemistry at the University of Graz, published a study in the journal Green Chemistry titled “A molecular motor from lignocellulose.” The study explores lignin’s use as the largest natural source of functionalized aromatics on the planet and its inherent structural features. The authors showcase the synthesis of a novel light-driven unidirectional motor from a specific aromatic platform chemical that can be obtained through a reductive catalytic fractionation strategy of lignocellulose. Taking into account the principles of green chemistry, the synthetic path used in the study aims to maintain the intrinsic functionality of the lignin-derived platform molecule. The molecular motor is synthesized for the first time from exclusively renewable building blocks sourced from renewable feedstock. According to the study, this concept can be applied as a general strategy that opens paths for future machines, motors, and nanoscience made from sustainable sources. This strategy would benefit the environment and decrease expenses related to hazardous waste management.


 

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

On March 22, 2022, DOE announced a $34.5 million funding opportunity to improve the science and infrastructure for converting waste streams into bioproducts and biofuels that can benefit the local energy economy. DOE Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Kelly Speakes-Backman, stated that “through this investment, we see an opportunity to support the bioeconomy and the equitable transition to a clean energy economy.” The FY22 Waste Feedstock and Conversion R&D Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) encourages the development of improved organisms and inorganic catalysts to support the next generation of low-carbon biofuels and bioproducts. This FOA has four topic areas:

  • Community Scale Resource and Energy Recovery from Organic Wastes;
  • Municipal Solid Waste Feedstock Technologies;
  • Robust Catalytic Processes; and
  • Robust Microbial Cells.

DOE will accept concept papers for this FOA until 5:00 p.m. (EDT) on April 18, 2022. Applications are due by 5:00 p.m. (EDT) on June 7, 2022. Additional information on this FOA is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On March 11, 2019, scientists at the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) published a study on nature microbiology on the gut anatomical properties of the passalid beetle that helps it transform decaying wood into energy-rich materials.  Passalid beetles’ digestive tracts contain microbes that provide a roadmap for the production of affordable, nature-derived bioproducts and biofuels.  The structure of these beetles’ guts allows for different microbial communities to coexist and perform unique biochemical metabolic processes in energy extraction.  The published article can be accessed here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On February 28, 2019, DOE announced that scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have been working on molecular tools that reside naturally within microbial cells.  Microbes typically use these tools to carry out their metabolism and other life-sustaining processes; LANL researchers, however, have been using the tools to produce fuel precursors and bioproduct building blocks.  With the addition of a biosensor in the microbes, light allows the scientists to learn how efficiently the product is being made and thus enabling more efficient quality control to increase overall yield.  This technology is called LANL’s Smart Microbial Cell Technology and consists of a high throughput screening for enzyme discovery, design, and evolution.  It allows LANL to engineer custom biosensors that detect intracellular concentrations of a specific precursor.  This biosensor technology can, thus, be adapted to a single enzyme, pathway, or even global optimization of an industrial strain.  The work is being led by Taraka Dale, Remash Jha, and, Niju Narayanan at LANL, under the Agile BioFoundry multinational laboratory effort to expedite biomanufacturing processes.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On February 4, 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced a revised agenda for the 2019 Project Peer Review that will take place in Denver, Colorado, on March 4-8, 2019.  An annual event hosted by BETO, this is an opportunity for BETO to present early-stage development projects across its technology areas and have the projects reviewed by experts from industry, academia, and other federal agencies.  The updated agenda includes sessions on Catalytic Upgrading, Performance-Advantaged Bioproducts and Separations, Advanced Algal Systems, Feedstock Supply and Logistics, and Lignin Utilization, among others.  The event is open to the public, and includes presentations from over 300 researchers.


 
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