DOE and USDA Award $24 Million in Biomass Grants
November 18, 2009
DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on November 12 more than $24 million in grants for the research and development (R&D) of biofuels, bioenergy, and high-value biobased products. The grants will support a dozen projects aimed at increasing the availability of biofuels and other products produced from biomass. DOE is contributing $4.9 million in grants and the USDA is contributing $19.5 million, with awardees adding at least 20% matching funds for R&D projects and at least 50% matching funds for demonstration projects.
Six projects involve R&D in biomass conversion technologies, including an effort by GE Global Research to develop kinetic models of biomass gasification, which will help engineers design better gasifiers. In the realm of fermentation, Gevo, Inc. will develop a yeast fermentation organism that can cost-effectively convert cellulosic-derived sugars into isobutanol, a second-generation biofuel that balances high octane content and low vapor pressure, while Yenkin-Majestic Paint Corporation will demonstrate a dry fermentation system that converts food wastes into biogas, heat, and electrical power. Itaconix will develop an integrated system to extract sugars from Northeast hardwoods, ferment them, and polymerize them to form polyitaconic acid, a water-soluble polymer that can be used in dispersants, detergents, and super-absorbents. And Velocys, Inc. will use microchannels—parallel arrays of channels that are a fifth of an inch wide, or smaller—to convert biomass to biofuels more efficiently, using smaller process equipment. Finally, Exelus, Inc. will seek to bypass fermentation and other processing steps by using engineered catalysts to convert biomass directly into gasoline.
Three grants will support biomass feedstock development. Agrivida will develop a form of switchgrass with new traits that eliminate the need for both expensive pretreatment equipment and enzymes; Oklahoma State University will study best practices and technologies necessary to ensure sustainable production of cellulosic ethanol feedstocks; and the University of Tennessee will compare three varieties of switchgrass using various management practices, harvesting equipment, and harvesting timelines.
The final three awards will support analyses of future biofuels production. Purdue University will analyze the global impacts of second-generation biofuels within the context of other energy technologies, as well as alternative economic and climate change policy options; the University of Minnesota will assess the environmental sustainability and capacity of forest-based biofuel feedstocks within the Lake States region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin; and the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials will compare environmental and economic impacts of collecting biomass from various sources for conversion to fuels via several pathways, using the analysis to estimate the national potential for biofuels production. See the DOE press release.