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DOE Will Provide Up To $200M in Funding for Small-Scale Biorefineries

1 May 2007

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will provide up to $200 million, over five years (FY’07-’11) to support the development of small-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the United States.

DOE is soliciting projects to develop biorefineries at 10% of commercial scale that produce liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol, as well as bio-based chemicals and bioproducts used in industrial applications. Small-scale projects will use novel approaches and a variety of cellulosic feedstocks to test new refining processes.

These projects complement DOE’s announcement earlier this year of up to $385 million over four years for the development of six full-scale biorefineries. (Earlier post.)  The full-scale biorefineries focus on near-term commercial processes, while the small-scale facilities will experiment with new feedstocks and processing technologies.  Combined, these small- and full-scale projects will receive up to $585 million in federal investment.

The new funding will support demonstration projects that test key refining processes and provide operational data needed to lower the technical hurdles sometimes associated with financing a full-size commercial plant.  These projects are expected to be operational within three to four years and will speed the adoption of new technologies to produce ethanol and other biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks.  Commercial-scale demonstrations would follow thereafter.

DOE requests applicants to design, construct and operate an integrated biorefinery demonstration facility, employing lignocellulosic feedstocks for the production of some combination of liquid transportation fuel(s), biobased chemicals, and substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks and products.  DOE is seeking projects that can rapidly move to commercial-scale, supported by a sound business strategy and; encourages applications that demonstrate breakthrough technologies and collaboration between industry, universities, and DOE’s national laboratories.

Up to $15 million is expected to be available in FY’07, with the remaining $185 million expected to be available in FY’08-’11, subject to appropriation from Congress.  DOE anticipates selecting 5-10 awards under this announcement.  These projects require a minimum of 50 percent cost share from applicants.

Applications for this funding opportunity are due August 14, 2007.

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May 1, 2007 in Bio-polymers, Biomass, Cellulosic ethanol | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)

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Correct me if I'm wrong but rather than aiming at finished product from a small refinery, wouldn't it be better to have the many small refineries reducing the bulk of the biomass (pyrolysis?) to something easily transported to larger refineries for finishing?

Enzymatic processes need unmodified cellulose, not charcoal.  The gasification processes could use charcoal or torrefied biomass.

Depending on the desired product biometabolic pathways may be more efficient then pyrolysis and gasification. Small scale turn-key plants could provide the optimal arena for finding the most efficient means to produce specific products: instead of focusing on a few techniques with larger biorefineries this focuses on experimenting on a much larger variety of techniques with smaller more modifiable biorefineries.

Or not.  Syntec claims a yield of 114 gallons/ton, while Iogen only gets 70 (clicky).  The ability to convert the lignin is a big plus for gasification.

Hey, whatever works the best wins. Good old competition sounds fine to me as long as all viable options get more than adequately funded. 1% of the $500 billion that we have spent so far on war ought to do the trick.

WE REALLY APPRECIATE WHAT PRESIDENT BUSH IS DOING ON THR ENERGY FRONT. AMERICA HAS TO MOVE AWAY FROM POLLUTING PETROLEUM AND GO FOR GREEN ENERGY, ONLY THIS CAN SUSTAIN HEALTHY CIVILISATION.

IT IS TIME GOVERNMENTS OF COUNTRIES LIKE INDIA BECOME VERY AGGRESIVE ON GREEN ENERGY.IN THE MEANWHILE USA HAS TO SHIFT TO CARS THAT GIVE MINIMUM OF ATLEAST 15 KMS PER LITRE. CAR GIVING 15KMS PER GALLON ARE HARMING THE WHOLE WORLD.

SJC I very much like your comparison of money spend on promoting home made fuels to the US military spending in Iraq. The Iraqi military spending is now $150 billion a year. For comparison the ethanol subsidy is $0,5 per gallon and current annual production capacity is 5,9 billion gallon. That makes $2,95 billion for subsidising ethanol.

Seriously the US should consider raising the ethanol subsidy to $1 per gallon. With such a subsidy it would likely increase the annual capacity to 60 billion gallons of ethanol (from all kinds of feedstock) in less than 10 years from now. It would cost $60 billion a year in 2018 but it will make the US practically independent of foreign oil and it would save $150 billion a year in Iraq (not to mention the savings of thousands of dead and wounded soldiers).

I say we should raise that ethanol subsidy to $1 per gallon ASAP not only in the US but worldwide. This world is heading for more chaos in the Middle East and it will ultimately diminish the amount of crude oil it is possible to export from that region.

Only three problems with that, Henrik:

  1. The current US ethanol production is from corn (maize).  The US produces less than 12 billion bushels of maize per year.  At 2.66 gallons/bu ethanol production, the total production is limited to less than 40 billion gallons/year.  (The limit is much less than this, because some corn is required for other purposes and only so much "dried distillers grains" can be used as animal feed.)
  2. The production of ethanol requires a lot of energy from oil and natural gas.  The "net" after the inputs is perhaps 25%.
  3. 40 billion gallons of ethanol has the energy of about 27 billion gallons of gasoline.  The US uses more than 140 billion gallons of gasoline per year, and imports about 13 million barrels (~560 million gallons) per day.  Even if ethanol required NO fossil-fuel inputs in its production, it would come nowhere near US imports.
Ethanol subsidies just transfer money to special interests while starving the poor.  They are a very expensive technical and moral failure.

The ability to convert the lignin is a big plus for gasification.

Conceivably, the lignin could be gasified even if the cellulose (+ hemicellulose) is processed by some other means.

Gasification also has significant entropy production; I'd like to see a less brute force approach, such as direct hydrogenation of lignin to produce light hydrocarbons.

I have nothing against multi-stage conversion you could run fermentation on it first then gasificate the left overs. I would love to see gasification produce high quality lactic acid for making polylactone plastics at a higher efficiency then yeast can. If your trying to make charcoal, oil or methane from biomass then gasification and pyrolysis is probably the way to go, if your trying to make industrial chemicals like acetone, butanol, ethanol, iso-propanol, etc, fermentation can do it in less steps and more cheaply then gasification or pyrolysis can.

Engineer-Poet:

Regarding your point 1). We can make much more ethanol from corn than the US currently makes. First you get 2,8 gallon of ethanol per bushel of corn (not 2,66). This year the corn fields will be expanded by 15% in the US. Higher corn prices mean subsequently increased production. With a $1 subsidy on ethanol we should expect corn production to rise quickly to 18 billion bushels (only three years from now if 15% growth pro anno. Use 12 billion bushels for ethanol (and 6 for other uses) and you get 12*2,8= 33,6 billion gallons. The other 30 billion gallons of ethanol should come from cellulose feedstock such as switch grass or forestry. With a $1 subsidy on ethanol, increasing corn prices and gasoline prices, the first cellulose ethanol will be produced in 2 or 3 years from now and thereafter production will explode because the production cost will go down and feedstock will not be plentiful enough for prices to stay low.

Regarding your point 2). You are right that ethanol producers currently use a lot of natural gas to produce ethanol but they use very little oil/diesel. In fact, the US department of agriculture made an analysis saying that, I quote “Every 1 Btu of petroleum fuel used to produce ethanol generates 13.2 Btus, thereby greatly enhancing U.S. energy security.” In other words, if the trucks used ethanol instead of diesel it would only decrease ethanol production available for non-ethanol related transportation by 7,6%. The natural gal is used because it currently is cheap. It will increase in price with increasing ethanol production and as a result new sources of stationary energy will be used. Electricity from the next generation 5MW wind turbines (4 years from now) will be able to produce at 4 c/kWh cheaper than coal and nuclear power. Use that instead of natural gas.

Regarding your point 3). I know that the energy content in ethanol is lower than gasoline but that is not all that matters for fuel economy. I have read somewhere that when the engine is adjusted to run primarily on ethanol and not gasoline the engine can take advantage of the characteristics of ethanol, (high octane, and high combustion point?) to produce almost the same torque as gasoline does. In other words, with adjusted flex fuel cars the 60 billion of ethanol could replace almost 60 billion of the 140 billion gallons of gasoline. The US can produce another 50 billion gallons by its own oil and the rest can be imported from Canada and Mexico.

The point is that it does not pay at all to spend $150 billion a year to protect oil in the Middle East when a $60 billion ethanol subsidy could insure (I repeat insure) the US from the disaster of not being able to import energy from a Middle East. That area is on a highway to total chaos and it seems that not even a $150 billion in military spending on Iraq is able to prevent this disaster anyway. The US would do much better by getting out of there and use the saved money to become self-sufficient on energy.

This is a competition to see who can come up with the best method of production. This competition a very good idea, then again so is distributed energy. Let the games begin and may the best player win.

My money's on cellilosic butanol from various waste feedstocks and biodiesel from algae grown at coal power plants to feed off the C02.

Henrik,

All of which suggests the reasons for Iraq are not entirely petroleum driven.

Gr first it was to look for WMD. No one found. Then it was creating democracy. Complete failure, seems impossible in that culture. I think both objectives were noble and worthwhile pursuing. Now I am not sure why the US is in the Middle East. Protecting oil exports is still a reason. Fighting terror? I think the local people will always be more efficient fighting that fight perhaps with financial support and a flow of weapons from outside. That would be much cheaper than sending tenths of thousands of soldiers to fight on the other side of the planet. The US being there just makes it more difficult for good local people to gather support. Foreign forces will always be hated and viewed as occupiers if they stay too long simply because they are foreign. I say get out of there save the money and use some of them to become self-sufficient on energy. I am not from the US but the whole world would benefit from the technology that the US would develop if they decided to get serious on green transportation energy. The US after all has most of brightest brains on the planet and if any nation can make a big difference on green energy it is the US.

As always people INSANELY see 1 reason for everything...

fuels... wars...

The war was about several things.

1 Slime congressmen outed our spies in the region meaning no one with ANY aence spies for us there UNLESS the are a double agent...
2 As a result we went to wat based on what we DIDNT know.

3 We also had only 1 more year before we COULD NOT EVER invade iraq... we litteraly would never EVER be able to do so again..
4 Saddam was printing over 1 BILLION a tear in funny money and giving billions to terrorists to try to buy his way into herodome...

5 We lost track of some rather scarry thngs.. and saddam was top on the list of buyers.
6 Saddam was OUR fault in the first place WE MADE HIM. We were the only ones who could take him before he went over the edge.

So we went in... didnt hurt that we needed to test our new army setup and soo many untested deadly toys... also didnt hurt that we are SURE to face a REAL war in same conditions soon... having some vets around for such a war is more valuable then all the tanks ad stealth bombers we have...

And it keeps suiciders bussy over THERE.

As for fuels... because we have 1000s of different goals we have people woking on thousands of different fuels... we dont have to worry wich will work out as long as enough do... But just as in the war we realy need to yjik on ALL the reasons for these fuels.. or we might be unpleasantly suprised by what the future brings.

Paul Dietz writes:

Conceivably, the lignin could be gasified even if the cellulose (+ hemicellulose) is processed by some other means.
The alcohol produced by the cellulose-fermenting bugs is rather dilute due to their low alcohol tolerance; the lignin has to be burned to perform the distillation.  Synthesis of ethanol or hydrocarbons from syngas doesn't have that problem.

Henrik writes:

We can make much more ethanol from corn than the US currently makes. First you get 2,8 gallon of ethanol per bushel of corn (not 2,66). This year the corn fields will be expanded by 15% in the US.
You are arguing that a 20% increase will address a 5:1 disparity.  This is ridiculous.
Higher corn prices mean subsequently increased production. With a $1 subsidy on ethanol we should expect corn production to rise quickly to 18 billion bushels (only three years from now if 15% growth pro anno. Use 12 billion bushels for ethanol (and 6 for other uses) and you get 12*2,8= 33,6 billion gallons.
You sound like Vinod Khosla.  The increased production of maize comes at a cost in other foodstuffs, plus soil erosion and water pollution.  Worse:  the EROI of corn ethanol is only positive if the grain byproducts can be used as animal feed to replace the corn itself.  That market will saturate long before you can process all the corn.
The other 30 billion gallons of ethanol should come from cellulose feedstock such as switch grass or forestry.
How?  There are no commercially viable cellulosic ethanol processes yet.  If you think that they'll magically appear because we want them, consider that fusion energy has been 20 years away for the last 50 years.

You also ignore the fact that the net energy from ethanol (including corn ethanol) is a small fraction of the gross yield.  This problem is far worse for cellulosic processes than for production from starches and sugars.  If you can only produce ~60 billon gallons gross, and perhaps 15 billion gallons net, you will not get anywhere near either replacing petroleum imports or producing a sustainable system.

Engineer poet to repeat what you presumably missed “In fact, the US department of agriculture made an analysis saying that, I quote “Every 1 Btu of petroleum fuel used to produce ethanol generates 13.2 Btus, thereby greatly enhancing U.S. energy security.” In other words, if the trucks used ethanol instead of diesel it would only decrease ethanol production available for non-ethanol related transportation by 7,6%.”
That is, produce 60 billion gallons of ethanol gross and you get 60 - 60*0,076=55,44 billion gallons of ethanol net of the ethanol needed to grow and transport the corn and do all the distribution of the ethanol.

You are also grossly wrong when equating the struggle of developing commercial cellulose ethanol with the struggle to develop commercial fusion energy. I wonder were you got your degree Engineer-poet.

EP has been right on for the last several years that I have been reading this page. I do not care where he or you got your degrees. It is the content of character and the sharpness of mind that makes all the difference in a world where getting things done right matters.

Henrik attempts to obfuscate:

“Every 1 Btu of petroleum fuel used to produce ethanol generates 13.2 Btus, thereby greatly enhancing U.S. energy security.”
Most of the input is not consumed as petroleum motor fuel; it is oil and natural gas used to make the chemical fertilizers, and natural gas and coal used to perform the distillation.
I wonder were you got your degree Engineer-poet.
University of Michigan.  I wonder what you got your degree in; you are very, very good with the sophistry.  Law?  Or could you be a seminarian?

Ep so you now acknowledge that petroleum motor fuel is only a fraction of the energy input for ethanol production. That is progress. My point is that all other energy that is used for ethanol production (energy for fertilizer and heating processes etc.) that is all energy forms that are not important for the national security because it may come from other sources than crude oil that are plentiful and that can even be green e.g. using wind turbines. I thought your tone was getting a bit improper comparing me to others so I start playing tit for tat. Maybe I overdid it, sorry. That being said, I would clearly prefer that we can stick to criticising each other respectfully. We could even please each because we share many beliefs but that is boring compared to critique where you actually may learn something. My PhD is in economics. A seminarian? Absolutely not. You know I am probably less superstitious than the average engineer.

Ep so you now acknowledge that petroleum motor fuel is only a fraction of the energy input for ethanol production. That is progress.
I stipulate to a fact which I never disputed, and you call it progress?  I define progress differently:  when you admit that it is irrelevant.

The world is running out of all fossil fuels.  Localities which have coal or natural gas have the advantage for some industries (because those fuels do not travel well), but a system which requires 750 kJ of fossil fuels to produce 1 MJ of "biofuel" is a failure in the long run, whether economists recognize it or not.  The division between motor fuel and other fuels is ultimately unimportant.

My point ... is all energy forms that are not important for the national security because it may come from other sources than crude oil that are plentiful and that can even be green e.g. using wind turbines.
Give me one example of a commercial ethanol distillery in an industrialized country driven by wind power.  Heck, even solar.  Just one.

If you cannot give me even one example, admit to me that these things DO NOT EXIST and may require too much invested energy to ever be worthwhile.  Distilleries are driven by heat, and the heat required to distill ethanol can be half or more of its chemical energy (more for dilute starting liquors).

Current stand-alone distilleries in the US mostly use natural gas or propane, both of which are perfectly good motor fuels themselves.  I suggested that the use of those fuels in distilleries be banned, and that the distilleries be relocated to the grounds of steam-turbine powerplants.  The distilleries could buy low-pressure steam to run their processes, and the fermentation gases with their troublesome odors could be used as a diluent gas in the boilers where the organic compounds would burn off.  The efficiency penalty at the powerplant is much smaller than the fuel ethanol yield.  If someone has a way to treat the distillery wastewater (perhaps convert the unrecovered ethanol to acetic acid with Acetobacter, then anaerobically digest the remaining organics to methane), this might address most of the objections to ethanol production.

It still wouldn't be sustainable; it would depend on depleting fossil fuels.  But it would be far better than anything out there today.

My PhD is in economics. A seminarian? Absolutely not. You know I am probably less superstitious than the average engineer.
You certainly do have strong faith in things that are not in evidence, and you haven't even shown good reason to suspect that they are possible (thus my "seminarian" quip).  If you had done some accounting to suggest the likelihood (like the accounting for missing energy and momentum in beta decay suggested the existence of the neutrino) I would take you seriously, but a PhD in economics doesn't make your unsupported word better than anyone else's.

Henrik,

You're right. We should have abandoned France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, and all of Europe to Hitler. It would've been much cheaper than the 400,000 lives we lost defending freedom.

We should have let South Korea fall into Communist hands. Today they could be just like North Korea, the lone dark nation at night.

Now, we should abandon 50 million Iraqi and Afghanis to more tyrants because they're not worth it. You may have a PhD in economy, but you have no soul and are blind to the realities of the world.

BTW, we should abandon Somalia, Palestine, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia and frankly the entire Middle East and Africa.

There, that was so easy.

Michael we who share the privilege of being part of the free and democratic part of the world should keep fighting for that privilege. It is worth dying for at any time. If I am called for service I will fulfil my duty. I do not questing our obligation to fight for our own freedom or to assist our neighbours struggle for their freedom. But I do question the strategy to fulfil that obligation.

Firstly, I believe it is a strategy failure of grand scale that we the past 10 years have become increasingly dependent on crude oil from areas that by far and large do not share our passion for freedom and democracy. Instead, a massive effort (at least $100 billion a year for the US and a similar amount for the rest of the free world) should be launched to get means of transportation such as bio fuels, PHEVs and EVs that does not rely on crude oil imports. In the long run we can’t afford not to have that kind of insurance because eventually there will be war (wars have come and they will continue to come).

Secondly, I believe it is a strategy failure of grand scale to fight the war like we do now in Iraq. There are many issues to address and it would not be possible to get into the details in this forum. However, here is a few: 1) You can’t help somebody if they don’t wish to be helped. Unfortunately, I see only a few groups in Iraq that have asked for foreign help notably the Kurds. Let us help those groups and forget about the rest. Most of Europe and even a large part of the Germans were begging for the US to come and help them fight Hitler. 2) Our soldiers should not lead the fight since it is ultimately not their war. We should train the local people until they can lead themselves. They could get air support from a few heavily fortified air bases that covered all of Iraq. 3) It should be considered to build these support airbases on top of an Iraqi oil field so that they could drill and refine the gas needed for their own operation. Then they could fly everything else in and out thereby exposing our troops minimally to attacks from the enemy. This strategy would require far less soldiers and it would cost a fraction (perhaps 1/3) of the current $150 billion annual spending in Iraq. More importantly, we would decimate the losses of life among the coalition forces. Such an operation could carry on for as many years or decades as needed to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

I do not want to sound arrogant but as an economist I am trained to pay attention to the resources spend and its payoff. There is no doubt in my mind that we could promote and secure our freedom and democracy far better by going for a low cost operation in Iraq and use the saved money to get serious with green energy such as bio fuels, PHEVs, EVs, wind and solar. With that strategy we would be much better prepared if a serious war with hundred of thousands of dead should break out (the clash of civilisations or something else). Furthermore, and even more important we could at the same time solve then problem of global warming and prevent mass extinction of species.

Michael you are right on about me not having a soul. I don’t believe in that. We are sophisticated chemistry. That is all. But I do believe in moralising and in caring deeply about others. My feelings in this regard are not limited to humans, but cover the survival and well being of all spices.

Ep the seminarian thing was me trying to be funny. I failed, you understood it literally. I completely agree with you that “a system which requires 750 kJ of fossil fuels to produce 1 MJ of "biofuel" is a failure in the long run”. Fortunately, wind is a growing part of the US electricity supply and as such it ends up in electricity used for ethanol production. To repeat, wind power could in a not so far future deliver the bulk of the necessary energy for bio fuel production. Let us take that discussion in another post on wind energy. As an engineer, it is your duty to worry about the low energy conversion rate from turning some energy forms into transportation fuel. As an economics I worry mostly about whether it pays or not and ethanol is actually good business. I am sure that you engineers will make it an even better business by improving the future conversion rate.

To repeat, wind power could in a not so far future deliver the bulk of the necessary energy for bio fuel production.
You have failed to answer two crucial questions:
  1. How is this wind energy going to get into the form required?
  2. How much will it take, and how much will it cost?
I'm not an economist, but I do accounting for everything from grams of fuel consumed to microseconds of CPU time available, so I'll answer it for you.

Current US ethanol distilleries require as much as 34,000 BTU of process heat per gallon of ethanol, but some have this down to 24,000 BTU/gallon.  If supplied as electricity (from e.g. wind), this is 7 kWh/gallon.  In a world of carbon taxes, all but the least-available off-peak electricity will probably cost 10¢/kWh or more; this adds at least $0.70/gallon to the cost of the ethanol, just for the distillation.

If you supply that ethanol to a vehicle getting 35 miles per gallon of ethanol, the electric distillation adds 2¢/mile to the cost of driving.  If you supply the electricity directly to the vehicle and it uses 300 Wh/mile, the total cost of energy is 3¢/mile.  I find it astounding that you, touting your PhD in economics, did not perform this calculation long ago.

(While searching for that, I found something else.  The Chippewa Valley ethanol cooperative is going in a direction you wouldn't like.  They are burning the distiller's grains for process heat (though they may switch to burning corn stover in the future).  There goes your partial replacement for the animal feed value of the corn.)

Let us take that discussion in another post on wind energy. As an engineer, it is your duty to worry about the low energy conversion rate from turning some energy forms into transportation fuel.
You think the Second Law of Thermodynamics is just a matter of insufficiently clever engineers?  If so, the low opinion of economists held by so many other professions is well-earned.

Henrik and EP:
If we want to make a realistic comparison between both the economic (dollar) costs and the energy costs (KJ or BTU) of biomass-based hydrocarbon fuels and petroleum-based hydrocarbon fuels, we have to put both in the same context. This is a fundamental point which is usually lacking in discussions of the 'cost of ethanol'.

It would require an entire study to do it correctly, but consider the variations in the cost of imported oil from Mexico, Venezuela, and Nigeria - three of our major suppliers. There's the mining, the transport across the globe, the desulfurization, the refining, the transport to market - all quite variable, depending on whether it's heavy or light petroleum, with or without sulfur - etc. There are also the 'indirect costs' of toxic pollution, military conflict and political instability, as well as the effect on net fossil CO2 emissions.

To make a comparison to ethanol costs, you'd have to include the same factors: agricultural costs of biomass production (water, fertilizer, tractor fuel, labor) must be treated the same way as the costs of mining petroleum; the 'biorefinery process' must be treated the same as the oil refinery process - and yet this has to my knowledge never been done. Every study seems to skew the results in the favor of one side or the other.

The very fact that people attempt to assign a single 'energy cost' to ethanol production is evidence of a certain level of ignorance on the topic. Every energy use estimate should produce a RANGE of costs, depending on the efficiencies along every step of the path, whether you are dealing with petroleum or agricultural products.

For example: If you can drill a hole under your house and hit a well of pure kerosene, that's a bit different from extracting sulfurous oil from the desert, processing it in three different refineries, and shipping it halfway around the world. Your energy costs would be very different in those two cases! Similar issues apply to agricultural ethanol production.

In thermodynamic terms, this is a path-dependent function, NOT a state function. The efficiencies are the dominant factor: one can build a gasoline or ethanol powered car that gets 10 mpg, or you can build one that gets 100 mpg - the energy density of the fuel (i.e. the state function) is a minor factor.

Is anyone selling E100-electric hybrids? The first one was patented in 1903, you know.

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