The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000836) for up to $6 million for projects that will develop and demonstrate supply chain technologies to deliver commercial-scale lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks affordably to biorefineries across the country.
DOE’s updated Billion Ton Study (earlier post) finds that sustainable biofuels could displace approximately one-third of America’s current transportation petroleum use. However, the lack of logistics systems capable of handling and delivering sufficiently high tonnage year-round volumes of high quality feedstocks to support the rapid escalation of cellulosic biofuels production has been identified as a significant barrier to the expansion of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry. In particular, biomass physical and chemical quality parameters have repeatedly been identified as significant challenges to the smooth operation and economic viability of biorefineries.
In fiscal year 2009 (FY09), the BTO (then Office of the Biomass Program) issued a FOA in this area and in FY10 funded five “high tonnage logistics projects” to develop purpose-designed, prototype equipment to reduce the logistics-related costs associated with the feedstock supply chain for a variety of crop species.
While each of these projects has made significant progress toward achieving the stated goals of that FOA, new challenges have emerged as a result of this work, as well as in some of the DOE-funded Integrated BioRefinery (IBR) projects. In particular, biomass physical and chemical quality parameters have repeatedly been identified as significant challenges to the smooth operation and economic viability of biorefineries.
In November 2012, DOE issued a Request for Information (RFI) (DE-FOA-0000791) to solicit comments on efficient strategies and technologies for reducing the delivered cost of lignocellulosic biomass, increasing industry-accessible biomass volumes, and ensuring input quality specifications required by a variety of biorefinery processes. Responses to the RFI from industry and other interested parties were considered during the framing of this FOA.
This FOA will focus on developing and demonstrating strategies, equipment, and rapid analytical methods to manage feedstock quality within economic constraints throughout the feedstock supply chain. The main effort in proposals must be directed toward full-scale demonstration of integrated feedstock supply chain systems that can deliver the volume of high quality, affordable, high impact feedstocks required by commercial biorefineries over a significant geographic area in the United States.
This FOA requests that applicants define, design, fabricate, and demonstrate a comprehensive, integrated, industrial-scale feedstocks logistics handling system capable of supplying “high impact feedstocks” to support domestic production of advanced biofuels. Two specified technical barriers must both be addressed in the proposal:
Technical Barrier Area 1: Feedstock Logistics Costs. BTO’s overarching goal is to develop and validate thermochemical and biochemical biomass conversion technologies capable of producing drop-in biofuels at $3 per gallon of gasoline equivalent ($3/GGE), or less, by 2017. A contributing goal is to develop feedstock logistics technologies and systems that can reliably and sustainably deliver on-spec feedstock(s) to the conversion reactor throat at or below $80/dry ton (i.e., $80/DT) by 2017. Therefore, at 60 gal/DT conversion yield, the BTO’s 2017 target for feedstock cost will consume up to $1.33/GGE (~44%) of the $3/GGE overall target production cost for advanced biofuels. Lower feedstock costs (i.e., <$80/DT) are, of course, preferred.
The $80/DT target includes all costs associated with feedstock up to the point where it is introduced into the throat of the conversion process reactor and includes a grower payment plus logistics-associated costs. For the purpose of this FOA, a target of $50/DT, or less, is being set for all cumulative logistics costs (i.e., all costs incurred between harvesting the biomass through to the throat of the conversion reactor, including those associated with harvest , collection, preprocessing (e.g., drying, grinding, blending, etc.), and transportation and handling costs). Subsidies or other forms of Federal, State of Local government aid shall not be applied to achieve the $50/DT cost target.
Technical Barrier Area 2: Feedstock Quality. Feedstock quality characteristics have recently emerged repeatedly as critical variables in the success of biorefinery operations and their economic viability. Feedstock quality parameters can be assigned to one of three major categories: physical, chemical, and conversion performance characteristics. Examples of physical parameters include particle size and shape, particle size distribution, bulk density, bridging behavior in feed hoppers, and other performance characteristics that may affect a variety of handling and conveyance operations. Examples of chemical parameters include moisture and ash content, BTU content, carbohydrate, and lignin content.
Examples of conversion performance characteristics include changes in biofuel product yield/DT of input biomass, process kinetics (i.e., throughput), and capital and operating costs.
An additional challenge to consider is the variable nature of the in-feed requirements of different conversion processes that are currently being developed, and may be developed in the future. For example, certain biochemical conversion processes are more efficient and may prove profitable when fed herbaceous feedstocks at less than 20% moisture content, <7% ash content and >59% carbohydrate content. By contrast, certain fast pyrolysis processes may produce a higher bio-oil yield when using woody feedstocks at less than 10% moisture content, <1% ash content, and 2-6 mm particle size. The conversion process in-feed specifications of the biorefinery process being targeted in submitted proposals must be clearly defined in each proposal, and will establish the target quality goals for the project.
Funding will be available this year for one to two multi-year projects. All selected projects will require a cost-share contribution by the grant recipient, including 20% for research and development activities and 50% for demonstration activities.