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USDA announces availability of $181M to support development of advanced biofuels projects

US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of $181 million via its Biorefinery Assistance Program to develop commercial-scale biorefineries or retrofit existing facilities with appropriate technology to develop advanced biofuels.

The Biorefinery Assistance Program was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA Rural Development. It provides loan guarantees to viable commercial-scale facilities to develop new and emerging technologies for advanced biofuels. Eligible entities include Indian tribes, State or local governments, corporations, farmer co-ops, agricultural producer associations, higher education institutions, rural electric co-ops, public power entities or consortiums of any of the above.

To be eligible for the program, a technology must be adopted in a viable commercial-scale operation or demonstrated to have technical and economic potential for commercial application in a biorefinery that produces an advanced biofuel.

Advanced biofuels are fuels derived from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch, and include:

  • Biofuel derived from cellulose, hemicellulose, or lignin;

  • Biofuel derived from sugar and starch (other than ethanol derived from corn kernel starch);

  • Biofuel derived from waste material, including crop residue, other vegetative waste material, animal waste, food waste, and yard waste;

  • Diesel-equivalent fuel derived from renewable biomass, including vegetable oil and animal fat;

  • Biogas (including landfill gas and sewage waste treatment gas) produced through the conversion of organic matter from renewable biomass; and

  • Other fuel derived from cellulosic biomass.

Basic parameters of the loan guarantees from the Biorefinery Assistance Program are:

  • The proposed operation must have realistic repayment ability.

  • Maximum Federal government participation in an eligible project is 80%; the borrower will need to provide the remaining 20% from other non-Federal sources.

  • There is no minimum loan amount and a maximum loan amount is $250 million.

Guarantee percentages range from 90% on loans of $0-125 million (under certain conditions) to 60% if the loan amount is $200 million up to and including $250 million.

Sapphire Energy’s “Green Crude Farm” in Columbus, N.M., is an example of the use of this program. In 2011, USDA provided Sapphire Energy a $54.5-million loan guarantee to build a refined alga oil commercial facility. In continuous operation since May 2012, the plant is producing renewable algal oil that can be further refined to replace petroleum-derived diesel and jet fuel. The company expects to produce 100 barrels of refined algal oil per day by 2015, and to be at commercial-scale production by 2018. After receiving additional equity from private investors, Sapphire was able to repay the remaining balance on its USDA-backed loan earlier this year.

Applications for biorefinery assistance are due by 30 January 2014. Since the start of the Obama Administration, the USDA Biorefinery Assistance Program has provided approximately $684 million in assistance to support biofuels projects in eight states.



We can use wheat straw, corn stover and switch grass grown on pasture land to make synthetic gasoline via the DME to gasoline process.

If we have enough PHEVs using biomass synthetic gasoline we can reduce oil imports. This would keep hundreds of billions of dollars here in the U.S. for new business.


This is great. It's nice that the funds get spread around a bit. The DOE does some good stuff, but are unlikely to be perfect, so this allows someone else to fill in the gaps perhaps. It also makes it more difficult for the detracters of alternative fuels and vehicles (the oil and car companies) from being able to focus their political and media campaigns on just one government entity.

And hey, they are loans, not grants. I know many don't know the different or care to point that out, or analyze honestly the benefits to the country from these loan programs, but they do benefit us.


Anything that cuts demand for petroleum fuels keeps money in the USA.  My experience with a PHEV so far is that 85% of it is the PEV, leaving only 15% for any sort of fuels effort.  I think we might be better off aiming these efforts at plastics, adhesives, really cheap fuels for ag machinery and off-road equipment, and other things instead of reproducing motor gasoline.

Kit P

“My experience with a PHEV so far…”

The interesting thing about E-P experience hauling batteries around is he will not tell us what the sticker price was. Clearly relatively few are buying PHEV because of the cost. If E-P is dishonest about the initial cost, he cannot be trusted to honestly report actual costs.

Therefore, E-P’s experience will not persuade others to follow his path. It is very telling that BEV owners are not singing the praises at GCC. Yes, there are lots of people with buckets of money on all kinds of overpriced cars but claiming you are saving money in a public forum will open you to the ridicule your consumptive behavior demands.

On the other hand, incorporating biomass into the petroleum fuel supply system requires not action on the part of the consumer. Using E10 in my old truck is an example.

Dare I say it but E-P could try driving less. It is always interesting that those who claim to save on fuel spend twice as much.


Before giving an opinion about what great/not-so-great things government is doing for biofuels and energy independence, check out today's and references to Peter Schweizer's new book, and a related story from 60 Minutes.

In other words, rationality or competitive enterprise in this country is either bribed or blackmailed out of existence, courtesy of the campaign fiance system. Prepare to be depressed for once.

Want energy independence? Don't ask, MAKE California bring San Joaquin shale into frack production. It's that simple.

Would like some feedback on this.

Kit P

“Would like some feedback on this.”

You could learn to think for yourself. Gone are the days when you had to rely on journalist reporting on what political advisors think to get information. Do some research and establish in your mind what a good policy would be and performance indicators would be.

Now you are prepared to make rational, unemotional opinions. Then read the source documents like THE NATIONAL ENERGY POLICY, May 2001; or the 2005 Energy Bill. I found no evidence that critics actually read what they were critical of.

Look for a systematic approach to solving problems. In the above example we start with a good policy and end up with good legislation. Next look for results. We now have E10, 3% wind, and are building 4 new nukes.

“Want energy independence?”

Ask yourself if the problem is real or political and how you would solve it. I am very optimist that we can solve the real energy problems because we do it so well every day. The sky is not falling. Our political system is broken by design of our founding fathers. An interesting thing about our broken system, it is working better than any other for the last 200 years.

Yes, there are those on the left and right who make a living trying to depress us but I am not part of that audience. I stopped watching 60 Minutes many years ago after figuring out they were more interested ratings that the truth.

The bottom line is that I think that biomass should be funded and I think that the USDA is the correct agency to do the selecting. It will be interesting to see how the project fair.


I looked at the previous article about this project, and looked at your comment about the amortized cost.

I thinked the calculation slipped a decimal:

"•...produces an average 56 W(th) of methane.
•Multiplied by 8766 hr/yr this is a total of 49 kWh(th)/yr of methane."

Should be

"•...produces an average 56 W(th) of methane.
•Multiplied by 8766 hr/yr this is a total of 491 kWh(th)/yr of methane."

That makes the numbers look much better: about 6 cents per kWh before energy costs. Yes?

Oops - I meant to comment on the methanation project.

Hmmm. Is there a way to delete one's previous comment, before reposting it in the right spot?



How absolutely astonishing what passes for scientific reasoning, and is oblivious to purely political manipulation for feel-good results.

You honestly believe that "gone are the days when you can rely on journalist reporting on what political advisers think to get information"? Apparently that's the only political reporting the Feds know, particularly this administration.

You advise me to think for myself? Shale fracking in California is the most original and underreported idea in US energy out there. Think of it -- energy independence at least the eighth largest economy in the world (and 20% of the US population, quite significant when you consider a 10 basis point swing in favor of domestic oil production against foreign imports). A road to balancing the state budget of the home of the biggest tranch of municipal bankruptcies in the US. Jobs in the most persistently unemployed region in the country, particularly susceptible to drought and an influx of undereducated hispanics.

And all without beggaring the national government for corn subsidies and release from bioethanol quotas which industry cannot fulfill.

I'm sorry you are depressed by the left and right -- too depressed to examine your remarkable claim that "our political system is broken by design of our founding fathers." In other words you think the Constitution is crap. Not to be too right wing for you, but since when does the Commerce Clause require every state to poison its gasoline with ethanol,to reduce mileage and increase costs? Ever hear of choosing between the two as separate fuels? Or how about paying through the nose for our food, first at the market, and then through ag subsidies, even as huge inedible corn surpluses accumulate? ( You can actually have cheap ethanol if gov gave biorefiners our corn surplus away for free, and then bought back finished ethanol and distillers grain for animal feed at low cost).

Listen bub, when I asked for feedback, it was about the question whether politics is playing fast and loose with science, because it is most assuredly playing fast and loose enriching a few pols who either bribe industry with favors, or blackmail it to do favors.

So I'm still asking for feedback and I'll take care to avoid your uninformed screeds.


The interesting thing about Kit P and his obsession with my ride is that he can't bring himself to go over to the website and look up the price himself.  What a maroon!

Some of the recently developed battery chemistries are game-changers if they ever make it to market.  The metal-molten salt-air cells in particular appear to have dirt-cheap cost for the active materials, and the reaction kinetics and ion mobility at their operating temperatures should be lightning fast and offer high specific power.  Even if they aren't suitable for vehicles, they may well supply the energy buffers for fast-charging stations.  If a 2nd-gen Supercharger only needs 480 VAC 3φ at 30 A to handle a dozen customers a day, you'll be able to put them almost anywhere.

Kit P

"How absolutely astonishing what passes for scientific reasoning ..."

I am very good at providing scientific reasoning for biomass. You appear to want to debate politics rather than science.

I stopped trying to make a living in California 20 years ago. I have no problem with fossil fuel development in California but that does not preclude farmers other places from producing energy from biomass.

"I'm sorry you are depressed by the left and right..."

There are some serious reading skill problems here. I am not depressed. I ignore the 60 minute brand of entertainment 'news'.

"avoid your uninformed screeds."

Good advice, it is your right to remain ingornat.

Kit P

"obsession with my ride"

Please notice that E-P interjected into a article about biomass his ride.

I have no doubt that E-P has good intentions and sincere when buying his PHEV. That is nice but he is wrong. PHEV are a bad engineering choice. It will remain so until the laws of thermodynamics are repealed.


The Twït was too dense to notice that "leaving 15% for the fuels effort" was the operative part.  Or, rather, the aside about "my experience" was the only thing he had a hard-on for.  (Hey, Twït!  I don't swing that way.  Try public bathrooms when you need to scratch that itch.)

The thermo that Twït P should concern himself with is the 2nd law deterioration of his brain.  PHEV is the immediate future.  It's the first step that doesn't require an engine running for all normal operation, and achieves several times the fuel savings per kWh of battery compared to pure EVs like the Leaf.  It does this without the range restriction of the pure EV.  From natural-gas well to CCGT to battery to wheels, a PHEV is more efficient than an NGV like the Civic GX while remaining far more flexible.  And when there's no gasoline, I'll be driving around on wall power and laughing at the nay-sayers.

Kit P

“PHEV is the immediate future.”

This sound like telling the truth depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.

Clearly the subject of this article is biomass. E10 is now. E85 is now but it depends on how many flexible fuel vehicles and filling stations provide E85.

“And when there's no gasoline”

Your PHEV will be in the junkyard.

When all the power company cars are PHEV then you will know it is not a completely stupid idea. Many power companies have investigated this issue because ‘big power’ would like to take business from ‘big’ oil.

E-P is a sucker for Detroit marketing.

Kit P,

How do you calculate that PHEVs are a bad engineering choice?


Kit P

“bad engineering choice”

On what basis do you calculate that they are a good choice?

I am an engineer. If want me to help you make a choice good first I want you to tell me where you live and what you want to achieve.

If you live in France and want to reduce imported oil while reducing pollution and ghg emissions, I could show by a calculation that a PHEV is a good choice.

However, if you live in the US your air quality is good so a PHEV is not going to make it better. There is a pile of coal that is stores energy until it is needed. Burning it to store in batteries is going to increase ghg gasses.

I work in the power industry. If like me you want to promote the American economy by using domestic sources of energy, then the question is a little more complex. If the cost of a PHEV was $5k more, I would buy one if I knew the impact of recycling the battery. However, I am not going to promote burning more coal by hauling around heavy, inefficient, and expensive batteries.

Of course this article is about biomass. I think biomass is a good choice for the environment and our economy.


Well Kit-P, if you can't make a living in California as an engineer, where do you make a living? On some ranch stoking manure gas into your SUV?

If you actually read the article that is the basis of this thread, you will find it is 90% politics, and not much science. Why do existing biorefineries need government funding for retrofits? Isn't that something the free market is supposed to take care of? Didn't the wave of bioethanol bankruptcies post 2008 teach us anything?

In your view you think the free market is about avoiding using fracked or any other sort of petroleum, because you think this "choice" should not be imposed on you, or the yet unspecified locality in which you apparently live. Somehow supply and demand have nothing to do with the scientific choices we make. So run your car on pure lemon juice, if anyone cares.

But what a big, wide wonderful world we live in! A PHEV may have big heavy batteries, but the coal to give it electricity provides twice the mileage that it would if converted to synfuel. We estimate electric vehicles would boost household electric demand by at least 30%, thus providing impetus for modern DC grid conversion and bus line capacitors, thereby reducing gross energy consumption to produce electricity by about 30%. Or if you go the fuel cell route, existing gas lines will replace much of existing AC grid capacity, and provide cogenerative heat along with charged batteries. Like swapping scarce copper and aluminum for, well, lead and other cheap electrolytic material, and using PVC pipe instead of aluminum to convey the energy (lead is a fantastic electrolyte, because despite its lack of conductivity, it provides a gravitational well on electrons.)

Natural gas lines are damn near universal in the US, which, in case you didn't notice, provide most of the energy used to produce corn ethanol. And having followed this blog for years, it's disappointing to read endless reports about the GHG emissions, land degradation, and disputed EROIA of corn ethanol. You'd be better off filling up with methane and leaving it at that.

So if Vilsack's USDA can't prove it stands for science or my wallet, what else is it dithering about except the politics?

Kit P


“if you can't make a living in California as an engineer ”

When I worked in California it was with the navy nuke program, SMUD, and GE. SMUD shutdown the nuke plant and GE moved nuclear operations to NC. I now live and work and Virginia.

I turned my environment engineering master thesis into a business plan for my company. I can show that collecting manure at animal feeding operations and putting it anaerobic digester is very good environmental choice. There are also large amounts of waste biomass that can be used for energy.

“90% politics, and not much science ”

That is your ignorant opinion. My well informed thinks it is promoting good science.

“government funding ”

Promoting R&D is clearly an appropriate use of our tax dollars.

“free market ”

Energy is not a free market. It is heavily regulated and taxed because it is an essential need.

“Didn't the wave of bioethanol bankruptcies post 2008 teach us anything? ”

Actually there was a lot of new facilities that came on line to produce a lot of ethanol. The free market did weed out some of those that could not compete. Iowa was a state that was well prepared while California was not.

“”In your view you think

Clearly kalendjay is wrong about what I think. Being for biomass does not imply that I am against something else. I think that using fossil fuel is a great way to make energy.

“Somehow supply and demand have nothing to do with the scientific choices we make ”

You confuse economics with science.

“We estimate electric vehicles would boost household electric demand by at least 30%, ...”

Who is we? It sounds to me like kalendjay just makes up stuff.

“reducing gross energy consumption ”

At some point in a rant it becomes clear that the individual never came close to classroom of higher education.

“it provides a gravitational well on electrons ”

That is funny.

“And having followed this blog for years ”

kalendjay you may want to go back and read the part about learning to think for yourself. Learn the differnce between science and junk science.

E-P is a sucker for Detroit marketing.

This is really rich, coming from an oil-company shill.  I've been wanting a PHEV (although the acronym didn't exist then) since 1992.  Detroit finally caught up with me.

if you live in the US your air quality is good so a PHEV is not going to make it better.

Everyone, notice this bit of verbal misdirection.  The Twït yammers about air quality (never mind the first bag on every emissions test, which every ICE vehicle fails because the catalyst is cold), when other major issues are noise and petroleum imports.  He won't talk about those, because he knows that they make a solid case for PHEVs.


"If want me to help you make a choice good first I want you to tell me where you live and what you want to achieve."

Let's assume the US averages for night time charging: very roughly 35% coal, 25% NG, and 40% very low CO2 emissions (nuclear, hydro, wind, etc).

Kit P

"Let's assume the US averages for night time charging..."

That would be an incorrect assumption. Power does not come from averages is comes from specific power plants. Thsse links may help.

The "REAL-TIME STATISTICS" tell me that the added demand is coming from coal.

Kit P


"I've been wanting a PHEV (although the acronym didn't exist then) since 1992. "

Wanting something is a good enough reason for me. Why all the BS to justify buying what you want? What do you feel guilty about?


Guilty?  I do believe you're projecting your own feelings onto me... again.

Kit P

Actually I very proud of my accomplishment.

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