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

As part of a White House roundtable to launch the Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) Grand Challenge to decarbonize the aviation sector by 2050, on September 9, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the availability of $64.7 million in funding for projects focused on the production of cost-effective and low-carbon biofuels. DOE aims to advance technologies to replace petroleum fuels used in heavy-duty forms of transportation, such as airplanes and ships.
 
DOE Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm stated that, although heavy-duty vehicles in the transportation sector such as planes and ships are difficult to electrify, decarbonizing transportation is a critical part of the path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Also as part of the SAF Grand Challenge, DOE signed on September 8, 2021, a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The memorandum formalizes the DOE, DOT, and USDA’s collaborative efforts on the required research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to reach the goals of supplying at least three billion gallons of SAF per year by 2030 and sufficient SAF to meet 100 percent of aviation fuel demand by 2050.
 
DOE selected 22 projects to receive the available funds administered by its Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). The projects target high-impact bioenergy technology RD&D to increase foundational knowledge and scale up systems to produce low-carbon biofuels at lower costs, covering five topic areas:

  • Scale-Up of Biotechnologies;
  • Affordable, Clean Cellulosic Sugars for High Yield Conversion;
  • Separations to Enable Biomass Conversion;
  • Residential Wood Heaters; and
  • Renewable Natural Gas.

Additional information about the selected projects is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On July 2, 2021, U.S. Representatives Angie Craig (D-MN) and Randy Feenstra (R-IA) introduced a bill called the Small Refinery Exemption Clarification Act of 2021. The bill clarifies that only oil refineries that have been continuously receiving small refinery exemptions (SRE) since 2011 should be eligible to petition for extensions of renewable fuel blending requirement exemptions. The SRE Clarification Act follows the Supreme Court’s decision in late June 2021 that, according to Representatives Craig and Feenstra, could negatively influence the biofuels industry by making it easier for oil refineries to avoid Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) blending requirements. Representative Craig stated that “[‌i]t is vital that we continue to support the clean biofuels industry as we reduce the carbon intensity of our transportation sector and make important investments across rural America.” Representative Feenstra emphasized that “we must erase ambiguities and ensure oil refineries are not able to take shortcuts when it comes to blending biofuels.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
 
On July 6, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced Phase I selections for the Waste-to-Energy Technical Assistance for Local Governments Program. Designed by NREL to provide assistance in the development of waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies on behalf of BETO, the goal of this program is to identify gaps and gather data and information on organic waste streams. The information gathered is used to:

  • Provide data to local decisionmakers;
  • Deploy the analyses that have been developed for various energy/resource recovery strategies; and
  • Locally foster public-private partnerships.

BETO aims to enable organic waste energy and/or resource recovery at the municipal level by leveraging technical expertise and data to address specific issues each municipality may encounter with their waste streams. Phase I of the program funds collaborations between NREL and 16 local government bodies to provide strategic planning support, quantification of local organic waste resources, and mitigation approaches for localized environmental impacts. A full list of Phase I selectees can be accessed here. Phase II funding will depend on BETO’s funding availability later in 2021.

Tags: DOE, BETO, NREL, Biofuel

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson
 
On June 2, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) announced that the United States, Denmark, and Norway joined forces with the Global Maritime Forum and the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping to lead a new Zero-Emission Shipping Mission. This effort is part of Mission Innovation, “a global initiative to catalyze action and investment in research, development and demonstration to make clean energy affordable, attractive and accessible to all this decade.” Supported by the governments of India, Morocco, the United Kingdom, Singapore, France, Ghana, and South Korea, Mission Innovation aims to accelerate the Paris Agreement progress toward net zero emissions. According to DOE’s EERE, international maritime shipping represents approximately two to three percent of the world’s total annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Without addressing these emissions from maritime shipping, emissions could increase anywhere between 50 and 250 percent by 2050. Therefore, the Zero-Emissions Shipping Mission aims to:

  • Develop, demonstrate, and deploy zero-emissions fuels, ships, and fuel infrastructure across the value chain;
  • Ensure that by 2030, ships capable of running on hydrogen-based zero-emission fuels, such as green hydrogen, green ammonia, green methanol, and biofuels, make up at least five percent of the global deep-sea fleet measured by fuel consumption; and
  • Ensure that by 2030, at least 200 of these zero-emission fueled ships are in service and using these fuels across their main deep-sea shipping routes.

 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
 
On May 4, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory published an article titled “Retrospective Analysis of the U.S. Corn Ethanol Industry for 2005-2019: Implications for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions.” Using a life-cycle analysis (LCA), researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory quantified the life cycle of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of fuels to compare relative GHG impacts among different fuel production pathways. According to the retrospective analysis conducted, since 2000, corn ethanol production in the United States quadrupled due to supportive biofuels policies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Consequently, carbon intensity (CI) over the past 15 years has significantly decreased by 23 percent. Since 2000, the corn ethanol production pathway, including corn farming and biorefineries, has substantially evolved. Researchers state in the article that this shift into more efficient farming and biorefinery practices increases revenue while also potentially reducing the emission burdens of ethanol production. DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory researchers conclude that biofuels, including corn ethanol, can and likely will play a key role in decarbonizing the U.S. economy.
 
The article’s findings will also be used by DOE to update key corn ethanol parameters in the Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) Model 2021, which will be released in October 2021.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson 
 
On May 25, 2021, U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced the bipartisan Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Integrity Act of 2021. Aiming to provide more certainty to rural America, this legislation would require that small refineries petition for RFS hardship exemptions by June 1 of each year. According to Senator Fischer, the RFS Integrity Act of 2021 would ensure that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) properly accounts for exempted gallons in the annual Renewable Fuel Obligations (RVO) it sets every November. The legislation would also require that EPA publish the name of the refinery and volume that is exempted at the same time that the refiner receives the exemption.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
 
On May 25, 2021, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Representatives Randy Feenstra (R-IA), Ashley Hinson (R-IA), and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) joined forces in a letter to urge President Biden to uphold his promise to support biofuels in the next four years. Criticizing President Biden’s efforts under the American Jobs Plan for failing to include investments in biofuels, the letter states that “advancements in biofuels can drive biofuels towards being carbon neutral or even carbon negative – something electric vehicles cannot achieve.” According to the representatives, President Biden’s American Jobs Plan focuses on investments in electric vehicles rather than supporting biofuels as a solution to reduce carbon emissions. The letter also urges President Biden to support the biofuels industry through strong Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) for 2021, 2022, and beyond under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The letter concludes with the following statement: “Biofuels should not be treated as a transition fuel, but prioritized as a fuel of the future.”


 

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

On May 18, 2021, the European Parliament (EP) issued a press release announcing the Just Transition Fund (JTF) to assist European Union (EU) countries to address climate neutrality goals. The Just Transition Fund is composed of €7.5 billion from the European Commission’s (EC) long-term EU budget under the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and €10 billion from the EU recovery plan, NextGenerationEU. According to the press release, eligible projects must focus on economic diversification, reconversion, or job creation, or they must contribute to the transition into a sustainable and circular European economy. JTF will finance:

  • Job seeking assistance, upskilling, and reskilling to help workers as Europe shifts to a climate-neutral economy;
  • Micro-enterprises;
  • Business incubators;
  • Universities;
  • Public research institutions; and
  • Investments in new energy technologies, energy efficiency, and sustainable local mobility.

A “Green Rewarding Mechanism” could be introduced to the JTF for distribution of additional funding to member states if the EP decides to increase the fund’s resources after December 31, 2024. The goal is for the €7.5 billion JTF funds to generate between €30 and €50 billion from investments. Member states that succeed in reducing industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will receive additional funding.
 
Access to JTF for member states is conditional upon adoption of national-level commitments to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Before adoption of such commitments, member states will be entitled to only 50 percent of their national allocations. The portion of the investments provided by EC is set at a maximum of 85 percent for less developed regions, 70 percent for transitional regions, and 50 percent for more developed regions.
 
JTF is part of the European Green Deal Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) initiative, which provides targeted support to regions and sectors in the EU that are most affected by the transition into a green economy. JTM aims to help EU member countries by also:

  • Supporting the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient activities;
  • Creating new jobs in the green economy;
  • Investing in public and sustainable transport;
  • Providing technical assistance;
  • Investing in renewable energy sources;
  • Improving digital connectivity;
  • Providing affordable loans to local public authorities; and
  • Improving energy infrastructure, district heating, and transportation networks.

In support of JTM, Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of EC stated that “[w]e must show solidarity with the most affected regions in Europe, such as the coal mining regions and others, to make sure the [European] Green Deal gets everyone’s full support and has a chance to become a reality.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson
 
On May 14, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $35 million in funding for 15 research projects focused on reducing the carbon footprint of biofuel production. Housed at colleges, laboratories, and universities in nine states, these projects aim to advance new technologies to decarbonize biorefining processes in the agriculture, energy, and transportation sectors. Funding awards are supported by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) through its “Energy and Carbon Optimized Synthesis for the Bioeconomy” (ECOSynBio) program. The 15 selected teams will research five methods to optimize biofuel production:

  • Carbon-optimized fermentation strains that avoid carbon dioxide (CO2) waste;
  • Engineered organisms that can use a mix of different sources of energy and carbon and avoid evolving CO2;
  • Biomass-derived sugar or carbon oxide gas fermentation with internal CO2 recycling;
  • Cell-free carbon-optimized biocatalytic biomass conversion and/or CO2 use; and
  • Cross-cutting carbon-optimized bioconversion methods that have the potential for high-impact emission reductions.

Additional information about the winning projects is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On May 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selected four research and development (R&D) projects focused on the interaction between promising biofuels and combustion engines. As part of the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office’s Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines (Co-Optima) initiative, the four projects will leverage National Laboratory capabilities that can bring biofuel-engine combinations closer to commercial adoption. Each project awardee will receive up to $250,000 in National Laboratory assistance for experimental or computational projects that can leverage innovative capabilities in bioblendstock fuel property, production, and combustion performance research. Awardees have committed to a 20 percent cost share contribution.


 
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