The US Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE) recently issued a joint solicitation for applications to support R&D projects in bioenergy and biofuels for fiscal year 2006. This is the fourth year in which the agencies have jointly solicited R&D projects under the Biomass Initiative.
Combined, the two will provide $14 million in funding: $12 million from the USDA; $2 million from the DOE.
The Technical Areas of solicited research and the respective aggregate funding levels are as follows:
Feedstock Production through the development of crops and cropping systems relevant to production of raw materials for conversion to bio-based fuels and bio-based products. ($2,800,000)
Overcoming Recalcitrance of Cellulosic Biomass through developing technologies for converting cellulosic biomass into intermediates that can subsequently be converted into bio-based fuels and bio based products ($6,300,000), including:
- Pretreatment in combination with enzymatic or microbial hydrolysis;
- Thermochemical approaches, including gasification and pyrolysis
Product Diversification through technologies relevant to production of a range of bio based products (including chemicals, animal feeds, and co-generated power) that eventually can increase the feasibility of fuel production in a biorefinery. ($4,200,000)
Analysis that provides strategic guidance for the application of biomass technologies in accordance with realization of improved sustainability and environmental quality, cost effectiveness, security, and rural economic development, usually featuring system-wide approaches. ($700,000)
With 45% of the allocated funding, cellulosic biomass is clearly an area of overall importance. Note that this is not just focusing on the production of ethanol from cellulosic biomass; opening the door to gasification and pyrolysis also means considering biomass-to-liquids processes (e.g., variants of the Fischer-Tropsch process).
That said, however, the basic program is still focused on dramatically lowering the cost of the cellulosic production of ethanol.
As a result of focused DOE research, the cost of cellulose enzymes to break down the lignocellulose biomass to sugars for processing has been reduced from approximately $5 per gallon ethanol to about $0.14-$0.18/gallon. However, in order to enable a robust industry based on conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to very low cost sugars, the cost of using cellulases must be further reduced to reach the program goal of $0.05-$0.06/lb by 2030.
There are a number of pretreatment methods being developed and evaluated including dilute acid, ammonia fiber explosion (AFEX), ammonia percolation, lime, hot water (as is, or with pH control to maintain neutral pH), and organosolv-based processes.
These pretreatments each produce substrates that differ in composition and in the nature of the enzyme mixtures required for effective hydrolysis (as well as in the levels of conditioning or detoxification required to make the sugars derived from these materials fermentable by microorganisms).
Minor changes in the conditions used to carry out pretreatment (as well as using different batches of feedstock) can have a dramatic impact on the enzymatic digestibility of pretreated corn stover cellulose, in some cases enabling the quantity of enzyme required to convert the cellulose to be reduced substantially.
The DOE Program wishes to identify the conditions and feedstock, pretreatment process conditions, and enzyme combinations that will lead to significant improvements in and cost reduction of conversion of cellulose to sugars as an intermediate in ethanol production).
The average award size for this program in FY 2004 was $1.1 million. DOE and USDA expect the average award size to be similar under this announcement.
The agencies also just last month announced the 11 biomass research, development and demonstration projects selected to receive $12.6 million in funding for FY 2005.
|DOE and USDA FY 2005 Biomass Research Awards|
|University of Idaho (Moscow, Idaho)||Increasing the Potential for the Utilization of Cellulose from Straw for Biofuel and Bioproduct Production||$693,285|
|The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc. (Ardmore, Okla.)||Development of Low-Lignin Switchgrass for Improved Ethanol Production||$670,166|
|The Tampa Bay Area Ethanol Consortium (Florida)||Implementation of a Scale-Up Pilot Plant Demonstration Facility toward the Commercialization of Florida Biomass Feedstocks for Ethanol Production||$1,920,000|
|University of Montana, College of Technology (Missoula, Mont.)||Biopower Demonstration and Educational Outreach||$990,500|
|North Carolina State University, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (Raleigh, N.C.)||Conversion of BioDiesel Derived Glycerol to Glycidol, Glycerol Carbonate and C-3 Oxygenates by Catalytic and Biocatalytic Pathways||$1,606,265|
|Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa)||Environmental Enhancement through Corn Stover Utilization||$1,853,996|
|Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, Tenn.)||Carbon Fiber from Biomass Lignins||$1,083,770|
|Clarkson University (Potsdam, N.Y.)||Environmental and Economic Performance of an Integrated, Digester-Cogeneration-Value-Added Process||$805,938|
|University of Minnesota, Morris (Morris, Minn.)||Biomass Gasification: A Comprehensive Demonstration of a Community-Scale Biomass Energy System||$1,896,493|
|University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)||Bioenergy: Optimum Incentives and Sustainability of Non-Industrial Private Forests in the U.S. South||$656,525|
|Environmental Resources Trust (Washington, D.C.)||Incentives for Biomass Commercialization: Pioneering Markets for Biomass Using Renewable Energy Certificates, Emission Reduction Credits and Incentive Programs for Ammonia, PM10 and PM2.5 Reductions||$449,993|