By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On June 21, 2017, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that 32 small businesses across 18 states will receive a total of $32 million in grants to develop clean energy technologies that have a strong potential for commercialization and job creation. The funding was provided by DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The 32 projects were selected based on scientific and technical merit, as well as the commercial potential of the project. Seven of the 32 proposed projects involve technology for bioenergy and biobased production, specifically:
- Shockkwave, LLC received $1,000,000 to increase production of domestic, low greenhouse gas biofuel by harvesting corn fiber from corn grain to produce cellulosic biofuels;
- Mainstream Engineering Corporation received $999,993 to improve the oil yield and reduce aqueous byproducts during hydrothermal liquefaction of wet wastes;
- BioHybrid Solutions LLC received $995,569 to make biodiesel a cost-effective, sustainable fuel by using new polymer-modified enzyme to convert efficiently cheap and renewable feedstocks into an inexpensive, high-quality biodiesel;
- CF Technologies, Inc. received $999,997 to convert rancid, no-value, environmentally adverse brown grease into a high quality, valued biodiesel fuel;
- Sironix Renewables received $1,000,000 to implement a new catalyst technology that produces a new class of detergent molecules from renewable sources that are superior and cheaper than current detergents, enabling detergent formulations with higher concentrations, which reduces chemical environmental impact and manufacturing and transportation energy consumption;
- MOgene Green Chemicals received $1,000,000 to develop a sustainable, biobased biocatalyst to capture methane, carbon dioxide, and other trace gases present in biogas or natural gas sources and convert them into high value products; and
- NexTech Materials, Ltd. received $1,000,000 to create new catalysts that will allow more efficient generation of fuels from biogas.
More information on the recipients is available at the DOE Office of Science website.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On May 5, 2017, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced to the Senate Finance Committee legislation focused on reducing carbon pollution over the next decade by incentivizing clean energy and promoting new technologies in the private sector. The Clean Energy for America Act, which was co-sponsored by 21 Democratic Senators, provides a simplified set of long-term, performance-based energy tax incentives to promote clean energy production and storage. The legislation would create a technology-neutral incentive for the domestic production of renewable transportation fuels based on the lifecycle carbon emissions of the fuel. The lifecycle emissions would need to be 25 percent less than the U.S. nationwide average for the fuel to be eligible for a tax credit. Zero and net-negative emission fuels would be eligible for the maximum incentive of $1 per gallon. To assist in the transition, the proposed legislation would extend the current expiring clean energy provisions through December 31, 2018.
On October 7, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 350, The Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015 (the Act). The law will require the percent of electricity produced from renewable sources to increase over stages until 2030 when 50 percent of electricity used in California will be produced using renewable sources. While the majority of renewable electricity is expected to come from solar and wind power, the Act encourages use of diverse energy sources, including biomass, geothermal, and transportation electrification. The original draft of the Act included a requirement to reduce the use of petroleum in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent through the use of non-petroleum, low-carbon fuels and increased fuel efficiency, but was cut before the final legislation was passed.
On September 22, 2015, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Democratic Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) released The American Energy Innovation Act of 2015, a bill designed to improve economic growth in the energy sector, invest in clean energy, and support research and development while cutting carbon pollution. Senator Wyden stated the proposed legislation "... is built around the proposition that the law ought to reward clean energy with incentives that spark innovation in the private economy. Our proposal makes it possible to get more clean, renewable energy for less money and I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues to get it through the Senate." A wide range of programs are outlined in the bill, including a plan to replace the expired Clean Fuel Production Credit with a technology-neutral incentive for domestic renewable fuels based on lifecycle carbon emissions. The bill also discusses the establishment of a grant program to research distributed energy systems with a focus on renewable energy, authorization for the federal government to enter into up to 30-year contracts for the acquisition of renewable energy, and allowing states to obtain loan guarantees through the Department of Energy (DOE) loan programs for renewable projects.
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).
DOE has developed a small business "All-in-one Application Tool" for small businesses looking for funds to advance clean energy technologies. The online tool provides a guide for potential applicants for the topics under the DOE Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Among the nine topics identified by SBIR is bioenergy, with particular focus on biomass conversion systems, coatings for metal combustors, and solid-liquid separations for algal systems.
On September 19, 2014, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA) introduced the Bridge to a Clean Energy Future Act of 2014 (H.R. 5559), which was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. The bill would extend clean energy tax incentives, including those benefiting the biofuel and bioenergy industries. Among the tax credits being extended are the second generation biofuel producer credit, the $1.00 per gallon tax credit for biodiesel and renewable diesel, and the Section 45 renewable energy production tax credit. More information is available online.
On February 3, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announced that up to $12 million in funding would be made available to advance the production of cost-competitive, high-performance carbon finer material from renewable non-food based feedstocks. Feedstocks could include agriculture residues and woody biomass. This funding supports DOE's Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative. A copy of DOE's press release on this announcement is available online.
On December 12, 2013, Representative Scott Peters (D-CA), Chair of the House Algae Caucus, introduced H.R. 3758, a bill to extend the $1.01/gallon second generation biofuel producer credit and the special allowance for second generation biofuel plant property. These incentives are among several currently set to expire at the end of the year.
Members of the House and Senate have sent letters to the Chairs and Ranking Members of their respective tax writing Committees -- the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee -- urging the extension of ten clean energy incentives as soon as possible. Biofuels and biodiesel incentives are among those identified in the letter as important to extend until any broader tax reform legislation is passed.
The House is currently out on its winter break and will not return until January. There are promising signs that the House and Senate will work to pass retroactive extensions of incentives for the biofuels industry when they resume legislative business early next year.