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DOE awarding $16.7M to 5 projects to advance production of affordable biofuels and biochemicals

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding $16.7 million in funding to five projects to advance the production of affordable biofuels and biochemicals that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Located in four states, these selected projects support the development of high-impact technologies that convert domestic biomass and waste resources into affordable biofuels and bioproducts.

The selected projects will support the Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) Grand Challenge and its target of net-zero emissions by 2050 through the development of sustainable feedstock and conversion technologies needed to produce vital fuels and carbon-based products.

The selected projects will address the crucial advancement of biomanufacturing R&D through two topic areas:

  1. Overcoming barriers to syngas conversion, with the goal to advance syngas cleanup technologies to identify and overcome barriers for the conversion of biomass and waste-derived syngas to SAF, renewable diesel and marine fuels; and

  2. Overcoming barriers to biochemical products, with the goal to develop biochemical conversion technologies to produce renewable, affordable chemicals with strong GHG reduction potential.

The selected projects are:

  • Invizyne, $3,770,190, Cell-free Isobutanol Production. The project further advances a cell-free production system to produce isobutanol. In this project, Invizyne will demonstrate the potential for economic and energy efficient cell-free production of the biofuel isobutanol by developing an optimized cell-free process that utilizes yellow dent corn starch coupled to energy efficient in situ separation and isolation of product, enabling the sustained production of isobutanol at high productivity over many days. Upon completion of this project, a working prototype system will be developed that can be deployed at scale to provide a commercially competitive biofuel. Success of the project will demonstrate that cell-free biomanufacturing is an important option that complements or replaces metabolic engineering, redefining the possibilities for bioconversion technologies.

  • Michigan Technological University, $2,400,000, From Sorted MSW to Clean Syngas via Solvent Targeted Recovery and Precipitation (STRAP). The project team aims to further develop the Solvent-Targeted Recovery and Precipitation (STRAP) process by pre-sorting and fractionating MSW (INL), followed by STRAP to remove Chlorine, Nitrogen and Sulfur contaminants to generate a clean biogenic material that will produce a cleaner syngas via gasification for SAF production via F-T synthesis. Additionally, this process will recover pure plastic resins that can be sold as a high value co-product, thus improving the overall process economics.

  • The Ohio State University, $2,499,657, Bench Scale Development of Facilitated Transport Membranes (FTMs) for Bio-Syngas Cleanup. The project leverages prior work on coal syngas and membrane module fabrication and will develop a new amine carrier reaction chemistry for biomass derived syngas. The Facilitated Transport Membrane will reduce hydrogen sulfide (H2S) to ≤ 1 ppm while also removing ≥ 8% CO2. The project could have significant impact on small-scale biomass/waste gasification by enabling replacement of an energy intensive and costly gas cleanup step through reduced gas cooling requirements and eliminating re-compression. This research will enable utilization of challenging feedstocks such as forest residue and municipal solid waste (MSW) for producing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) via gasification and F-T synthesis to support the BETO goal of economically converting domestic biomass and waste into liquid fuels.

  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, $4,000,000, Biocatalysis Enabled Conversion of Lignin to Adipic Acid: Establishing a Commercial Route to Bio-Nylon. This project will convert industrial lignin streams to adipic acid, which will be used to produce the polymer nylon-6,6 at pilot scale. A tandem chemocatalytic and biocatalytic strategy will be initiated by continuous aerobic oxidative depolymerization of lignin and continuous liquid-liquid extraction to produce aromatic monomers. The mixture of aromatic monomers will then undergo biological funneling into cis,cis-muconic acid, which is a direct precursor to adipic acid. The bioconversion process will use an engineered strain of a robust soil bacterium, Pseudomonas putida KT2440, to achieve industrially relevant titer, rate, and yield of muconic acid from lignin-derived aromatic compounds. Muconic acid will be separated from the fermentation broth and hydrogenated into adipic acid in a continuous process. Finally, the lignin-derived adipic acid will be used to synthesize nylon-6,6 on a scale suitable for full material performance testing.

  • ZymoChem, $4,000,000, Scaling an integrated process for biopolymer production using lignocellulosic feedstock. This project develops bio-based Super Absorbent Polymers (Bio-SAP) that are low-cost, environmentally safe, high-performing, biodegradable, and can be made using lignocellulose-derived sugars. This project develops iterative, stepwise process development in which fermentation and downstream purification operations are optimized at 10-fold jumps in scale (300 L to 3,000 L to 30,000 L). This project enables near term chemical commercialization with significant GHG reduction potential, exceeding >70% compared to incumbent and large market.


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