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DOE issues 4 funding opportunities totaling $78M for advanced biofuels, bioenergy and bioproducts

The US Department of Energy (DOE) issued four funding opportunities (FOAs) totaling up to $78 million to support early-stage bioenergy research and development under the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). These include:

BioEnergy Engineering for Products Synthesis (BEEPS) (up to $28 million) (DE-FOA-0001916)

This FOA addresses gaps in current research and development (R&D) which hinder better utilizing waste streams (e.g. lignin, CO2, and biosolids), improving organic and inorganic catalysts to increase conversion efficiency and decrease costs, and creating high-value performance-advantaged bioproducts to allow for more profitable biorefineries. It contains six Topic Areas, each of which contains different specific areas of interest, required descriptions, and metrics.

Although products of particular interest vary by topic area, fuels with potential as jet or diesel replacements as well as fuels identified by DOE’s Co‐Optimization of Fuels and Engines (Co‐Optima) consortium are of particular interest.

Topic Area 1: ChemCatBio Industrial Partnerships. Virtually all technology pathways that convert biomass into a hydrocarbon fuel require a catalytic process. The high costs associated with these processes are one of several issues that plague the commercial viability of biofuels and bioproducts. Catalysts for bioenergy applications need to be inexpensive, robust, and not susceptible to poisoning by the multiple impurities found in biomass and intermediates, such as sulfur, nitrogen, alkali metals, etc.

Catalysis solutions from conventional processes do not always translate to bioenergy applications due to the high oxygen and moisture content of biomass feedstocks. Other pervasive challenges in catalysis for bioenergy include: developing catalysts with longer lifetimes, minimizing biogenic carbon loss to coke and aqueous waste streams, increasing fuel and product yield, and controlling product selectivity and branching.

The Chemical Catalysis for Bioenergy (ChemCatBio) consortium is a DOE National Laboratory‐led research and development consortium dedicated to identifying and overcoming catalysis challenges for biomass conversion processes. ChemCatBio features a network of capabilities in catalyst synthesis, characterization, and evaluation. Topic Area 1 will provide funding for collaborative projects between an applicant and ChemCatBio aimed at tackling fundamental challenges in catalysis for bioenergy.

Specific areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Bioenergy catalyst characterization including catalyst post‐mortem analysis;

  • Catalyst development for biomass conversion processes;

  • Identification and characterization of biomass‐derived contaminants and catalyst poisons and development of catalysts that are tolerant of those contaminants;

  • Development or improvement of catalytic processes for converting biomass to biofuels and bioproducts; and

  • R&D for producing engineering‐relevant/technical catalysts from vetted bench scale catalysts for bioenergy applications.

Topic Area 2: Agile BioFoundry Industrial Partnership Initiative. Bringing a new biologically‐produced molecule to market can cost more than $150 million dollars and take more than ten years. Decreasing the development cost and time for new bioproducts will enhance the bioeconomy and enable the cost‐competitive production of biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass. To decrease this time and cost, new biomanufacturing techniques and hosts with improved industrial properties are needed.

The Agile BioFoundry is focused on developing and uniting tools, technologies, software, and instrumentation across the DOE National Laboratory system for the robust and predictive engineering of biology for the production of biofuels and renewable chemicals from domestic, non‐food lignocellulosic biomass. Central to this effort is developing robust host organisms and new microbiology techniques, in conjunction with databases and machine learning methods to enable better, automated design of bioprocesses with predictable performance and scaling, as well as significantly increased conversion efficiency. These efforts are incorporated into a Design‐Build‐Test‐Learn (DBTL) methodology to enable faster, and more efficient bioproduct development cycles.

Topic Area 2 will provide funding for collaborative projects between an applicant and the Agile BioFoundry to address critical biomanufacturing challenges. Applications are invited that address early stage R&D challenges that are best addressed with the resources (equipment and personnel) based within the Agile BioFoundry consortium.

Specific areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Development of non‐model host organisms with industrially‐relevant production advantages (low‐pH, high flux to a metabolic node, utilization of a broad substrate scope, robustness, etc.) over E. coli and S. cerevisiae for a target molecule or class of molecules;

  • De‐bottlenecking of biosynthetic pathways to take a target molecule from mg/L to tens (10s) of g/L, increase productivity, and increase yield; and

  • Projects which produce data sets that will enable Agile BioFoundry’s Learn methodologies, which seek to use machine learning and other approaches to improve subsequent rounds of design.

By the end of the project period, all projects will be required to demonstrate titers exceeding 20 g/L of product using cellulosic sugars or other biomass derived intermediates as a feedstock.

Topic Area 3: Performance Advantaged Bioproducts. The Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) at DOE invests in R&D for developing bio‐derived products (“bioproducts”) that have similar functions to petroleum‐derived products, such as fuels and chemicals. Due to the vast structural differences between petroleum‐derived and bio‐derived feedstocks, bioproducts also provide a platform to incorporate novel properties into existing materials, providing new opportunities across the supply chain. While the search for existing petrochemical replacements that have enhanced functionality has yielded few new opportunities in recent years, novel bio‐based alternatives remain largely unexplored.

The relationship between a bioproduct and a petroleum‐derived product can be categorized one of three ways: bioproducts can be 1) direct replacements (i.e. the bio‐derived product and the petroleum‐derived product are chemically identical, also known as “drop‐in” replacements); 2) functional replacements (i.e. the bio‐derived product and petroleum‐derived product are different chemically, but they have similar functions/properties), or 3) novel products (i.e. the bio‐derived product does not resemble an existing petroleum‐derived product in structure or function.) Performance advantaged biobased products are bioproducts that do not resemble an existing commercial petroleum‐derived product with functions that offer a performance advantage over existing products.

Under this Topic Area, the DOE seeks applications in two specific areas of interest:

  • Topic 3a: Performance Advantaged Bioproduct Identification (TRL 2): Areas of interest for bioproduct identification include, but are not limited to: elucidating structure‐function relationships for novel biobased compounds by using computational methods and/or high‐throughput screening; and identifying and publishing performance attributes unique to biobased compounds along with example compounds that display those attributes.

    If a proposal focuses on screening compounds, the applicant must commit to identifying at least 5 new performance advantaged bioproducts. By the end of the project ≥ 5 novel bio‐based compounds will be identified that improve performance metrics (e.g., thermal and mechanical properties, barrier properties, rheological and physiochemical properties, and composite manufacturability) over the incumbent product by >10%.

  • Topic 3b: Performance Advantaged Bioproduct Production (TRL 2‐3): Areas of interest for bioproduct identification include but are not limited to producing and testing novel performance advantaged bioproducts.

    If a proposal focuses on producing a performance advantaged bioproduct, applicants must commit to substantially improving one or more performance metrics (e.g., thermal and mechanical properties, barrier properties, rheological and physiochemical properties, and composite manufacturability) over the incumbent product by >10%.

Topic Area 4: Biofuels and Bioproducts from Wet Organic Waste Streams. Wet organic waste streams represent valuable potential feedstocks for the bioeconomy. They include, but are not limited to, municipal sludges and biosolids, industrial, commercial, and residential food wastes, manure slurries, fats, oils, and greases, byproducts from ethanol production, and other feedstocks not suitable for food or feed uses. These feedstocks often present a disposal problem for municipalities and similar responsible parties.

Further, in many cases, they are already being collected, and in some cases separated, as part of existing waste management practices. While some of the available energy is currently being captured, a significant amount remains untapped. These resources thus offer potential opportunity for conversion into biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower.

However, these feedstocks are not produced at the scale of traditional petroleum refineries. Further, given their high moisture content, long‐distance transportation is rarely economically viable. This implies the need for conversion strategies that are techno‐economically feasible at scales that match the available feedstock volumes.

There is a practical need for novel alternatives to anaerobic digestion that have the potential to compete economically with feeds of one dry ton/day or less. Novel solutions must compete with existing practices therefore, applications must illustrate awareness of their competitive position with respect to incumbent technologies and waste management practices.

Under this Topic Area, DOE seeks applications in two specific areas of interest:

  • Anaerobic processes economically suitable for operation at scales at or below 1 dry ton of feedstocks per day, roughly equivalent to 1 million gallons/day of municipal wastewater. These volumes have not proven profitable for traditional forms of anaerobic digestion and this topic aims to enhance the viability of smaller‐scale operations.

  • Alternatives to traditional anaerobic digestion with potential for direct production of higher value products than biogas from wet waste feedstocks. Emphasis will be placed on processes that minimize the need for both drying and transportation of wet materials, have the potential to either reduce disposal costs or meet local organics diversion requirements, and are economically competitive with existing practices.

Successful applications will propose to develop and run systems at a relevant scale (e.g., 5–50 L reactor volume).

Topic Area 5: Rewiring Carbon Utilization. Carbon is the major component of most fuels and materials in the market. During the process of converting or combusting carbon feedstocks, there are inefficiencies that generally represent themselves as carbon lost as carbon dioxide. This waste carbon source resulted in around 5 gigatons of emissions in 2016 from the transportation, industrial, and electricity sector.

Though this represents a large supply of potential feedstock and commercial‐scale carbon capture has enjoyed recent success, a major barrier to its utilization is the low energy content of CO2, making it relatively difficult to convert to fuels and products. Even the most robust photosynthetic biological systems are relatively inefficient and slow at utilizing CO2; however, once reduced, biological systems can much more easily manipulate simple organic molecules to synthesize more valuable products.

Various catalytic methods have been shown to reduce CO2 to single‐carbon intermediates with greater energy efficiency than photosynthesis. The continued deployment of inexpensive energy sources could cause electricity to become more plentiful and inexpensive in the near future, thus enabling catalytic approaches to CO2 reduction to make sense from a techno‐economic and lifecycle assessment standpoint. However, the increasing energy requirements for generating multi‐carbon compounds via catalysis makes this approach less appealing for forming more complex carbon products.

Topic Area 5 will provide funding for applications that combine the two approaches above and leverage non‐biological carbon dioxide utilization technologies which efficiently generate reduced carbon intermediates and biological systems which can use that intermediate to generate a final product. This opportunity seeks to “rewire” carbon conversion by using electricity to transform waste CO2 into intermediates and subsequently to biofuels and bioproducts through non‐photosynthetic biological system engineering.

Specific areas of interest include:

  • Cooperation between entities with previously proven experience in either innovative non‐biological CO2 reduction or biological upgrading of carbon intermediates is specifically encouraged;

  • Applications targeting tractable carbon intermediates generated from CO2 which may include (but are not limited to): formic acid, methanol, carbon monoxide and methane; and

  • Applications that will lead to an integrated system by the end of the project are encouraged.

Applicants must indicate how, by the end of the project, the proposed CO2 utilization process achieves a 37% conversion efficiency of an input CO2 stream to fuel or product.

Efficient Carbon Utilization in Algal Systems (up to $15 million) (DE-FOA-0001908)

Advanced biofuels and bioproducts made from algae have the potential to enhance energy security, create domestic jobs, enable energy affordability, and spur the advancement of the bioeconomy. The objective of the Advanced Algal Systems Program is to accelerate the commercialization of algal biofuels by overcoming barriers identified in the 2010 National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap, updated in June 2016. BETO’s Algae Program is implementing a long-term applied research and development strategy to support the bioeconomy by lowering the costs of production for algal biofuels and bioproducts.

This FOA supports research on increasing carbon utilization efficiencies as well as on developing direct air capture technologies, with the goals of increasing productivity and reducing costs.

CO2 quantity, quality, availability, delivery into the system, uptake in the organism, and dispersion techniques represent some of the areas directly related to productivity and the economics of an overall algae cultivation system.

To address CO2 utilization efficiency within algae cultivation systems, this FOA has two topic areas: one focused on CO2 utilization improvements (Topic Area 1) and the other on economic direct air capture technologies (Topic Area 2).

This FOA will allow for a variety of approaches to addressing CO2 utilization including but not limited to capturing CO2 directly from the air for delivery to cultivation systems, optimizing organisms for better uptake and utilization, and engineering the delivery and cultivation systems themselves for better dispersion and utilization within cultivation systems.

Applications for Topic Area 1 must include achieving, at a minimum, a 25% improvement in carbon utilization efficiency over their baseline; an increase in productivity over their baseline; and a reduction in costs.

Applicants for Topic Area 2 must provide the baseline percentage of CO2 the direct air capture technology can provide to the algae cultivation system and must propose supplementing, at a minimum, 20% of the CO2 required for algae cultivation, from the direct air capture technology.

Process Development for Advanced Biofuels and Biopower (up to $20 million) (DE-FOA-0001926)

The purpose of this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is to identify, evaluate, and select applications proposing research, development and execution plans to test engineering principles and unit operations for the production and testing of Drop-in Renewable Jet Fuel Blendstocks and Drop-In Renewable Diesel Fuel Blendstocks from eligible feedstocks.

Scale-up and verification of these process technologies is essential to enable the industry to design, construct, and operate pilot-scale facilities. This FOA seeks applications for projects to bridge technologies from scientific research to engineering, to integrate unit operations, and to engage in the R&D of integrated processes designed to produce drop-in renewable jet fuel blendstocks, drop-in renewable diesel fuel blendstocks, and biopower.

Applicants proposing to produce drop-in renewable jet fuel blendstocks and drop-in renewable diesel fuel blendstocks will be required to verify that resulting fuels meet or exceed industry/market specifications and complete basic engineering packages to enable preliminary cost estimation and techno-economic analysis.

This funding opportunity contains three topic areas.

Topic Area 1: Drop-in Renewable Jet Fuel Blendstocks. Under Topic Area 1, DOE seeks applications that advance innovative pathways for producing drop‐in renewable jet fuel blendstocks suitable for use by the aviation sector, with a focus on comparable or higher specific energy and price competitiveness with conventional jet fuel.

More specifically, DOE seeks applications that advance the state of knowledge of innovative pathways that can produce comparable or higher performance fuels suitable for use by the aviation sector. The objective is to develop drop‐in renewable jet blendstocks with high specific energy (for example, >4% relative to comparable jet fuels in terms of MJ/kg), price competitiveness, and acceptability by certification organizations such as ASTM.

Biochemical, thermochemical and hybrid conversion routes are allowed. Innovative routes with advantages such as high yield and selectivity for target molecules, robust and low cost catalysts, overall process energy efficiency, and improved separations / recovery technologies are encouraged. Applicants must address advancements through applied R&D to successfully overcome systems and process integration with the goal of meeting or exceeding a modeled, mature price goal of $3 / GGE at commercial production volume.

The applicant must produce and test at least 100 gallons (maximum 1,000 gallons) of renewable jet fuel in Tier 1 and 2 tests of the ASTM D4054, “Standard Practice for Qualification and Approval of New Aviation Turbine Fuels and Fuel Additives.” It is expected that renewable jet fuels will be tested for jet combustion operability behavior developed under the National Jet Fuels Combustion Program (NJFCP).

Drop‐in renewable jet fuels must be capable of direct blending with existing petroleum fuels, and be utilized in the current infrastructure of pumps and pipelines. These renewable jet fuels must meet or exceed the D4054 tests and the D7566 “Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons” approval process.

Topic Area 2: Drop-in Renewable Diesel Fuel Blendstocks. DOE seeks applications that advance the state of knowledge of innovative pathways that can produce renewable diesel for selected applications with focus on performance, price competitiveness and acceptability by certification organizations such as ASTM.

The focus of this topic is on the experimental development of technologies to produce “drop‐in” renewable diesel fuels that are compatible with existing fueling infrastructure and vehicles across a range of transportation modes supplied with diesel fuels. Transportation modes and markets of relevance to this topic include on‐ and off‐highway trucks, construction equipment, rail, marine, and home heating oil.

Applicants must address the economic feasibility of the co‐product market if applicable. Biochemical, thermochemical and hybrid conversion routes are allowed. Innovative routes with advantages such as high yield and selectivity for target molecules, robust and low cost catalysts, overall process energy efficiency, and improved separations / recovery technologies are encouraged.

Projects should address advancements through applied R&D to successfully overcome systems and process integration issues necessary for industry to scale the technology with the goal of meeting a modeled, mature fuel price goal of ≤ $3 / GGE (high volume).

The applicant must produce and characterize fuels in accordance with standards for the relevant market or application.

Topic Area 3: Biomass, Biosolids, and Municipal Solid Waste to Energy. BETO seeks to encourage the development of solutions which make full and innovative use of biomass, municipally‐derived biosolids, and sorted‐municipal solid waste (MSW) feedstocks to advance the state of the art in waste‐to‐energy.

Municipally‐derived biosolids and MSW often present a clear disposal problem for municipalities and similar responsible parties. Further, the municipally‐derived feedstocks are generally already being collected as part of existing waste management practices. These feedstocks include, but are not limited to, forest residues (notably, trees that have succumbed to environmental stresses), municipal sludges and biosolids; industrial, commercial, and residential organic wastes; fats, oils, and greases; yard trimmings; construction and demolition wastes; non‐recyclable paper; and other organic components of MSW.

Biosolids from municipal wastewater treatment processes (including primary, secondary, tertiary, and post‐anaerobic digestion sludges) have traditionally been applied as fertilizer, utilized as daily cover in landfills, or incinerated.

All three of these options are increasingly constrained by regulation, landfill consolidation, and public acceptance. Alternative solutions that simultaneously minimize the amount of biosolids requiring disposal and energy consumption are needed. Similar logic applies to the organic fraction of municipal solid wastes. Some of these efforts could potentially produce electricity or valuable intermediates (such as renewable natural gas), offering the opportunity to generate revenue from what is currently considered a waste treatment expense.

This FOA seeks proposals to convert these valuable resources into biopower and/or intermediates used to produce biopower. Successful proposals will need to develop technologies that reduce the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) by at least 25%.

Specific Areas of Interest include:

  • Improved strategies for cost‐effective torrefaction of eligible feedstocks, including methods to improve uniformity of torrefied biomass and investigation of the effects of biomass and waste blends on the composition of torrefied biomass;

  • Lower‐cost biogas cleanup approaches (relative to incumbent technologies such as pressure swing adsorption) or enhancement to produce pipeline‐quality renewable natural gas;

  • Novel anaerobic digestion processes or alternatives which offer substantial reductions in capital and/or operating costs, including both pre‐treatments that substantially enhance the performance of anaerobic digestion, and post‐treatments that further reduce solids volume and/or recover additional energy and other valuable resources, as well as processes that operate independently of anaerobic digestion; and

  • Innovations in gasification of eligible feedstocks, including more cost‐effective syngas cleanup.

Affordable and Sustainable Energy Crops (up to $15 million) (DE-FOA-0001917)

This funding opportunity supports early-stage research and development related to the production of affordable and sustainable non-food dedicated energy crops that can be used as feedstocks for the production of biofuels and bioproducts.

Projects selected under this FOA will seek to:

  • Conduct small-scale field testing of new varieties of energy crops;

  • Measure crop performance and environmental effects relative to traditional cropping and pasture systems; and

  • Define cost-effective methods for planting, harvesting, collecting, and storing biomass.

Letters of Intent for all the FOAs are due 30 May 2018, and full applications are due 27 June 2018.



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