DOE awards $16.5 million for biomass initiatives

Posted September 9, 2010, at 8:50 a.m. CST

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today the investment of up to $16.5 million for two major research and development (R&D) initiatives that will support the expansion of renewable transportation fuels production. The first initiative will invest up to $12 million over three years for four projects to advance technologies for the thermochemical conversion of biomass into advanced biofuels that are compatible with existing fueling infrastructure. The second initiative provides up to $4.5 million for three projects that support research focused on designing landscapes that produce bioenergy feedstock while protecting air, soil, water, and wildlife resources and enhancing ecosystem services. These biomass R&D initiatives continue to strengthen the Department's efforts to accelerate development and deployment of sustainable, renewable biofuels in order to significantly reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

"Developing cost-effective renewable transportation fuels is a key component of DOE's strategy to reduce green house gas emissions and move the Nation toward energy independence," said Secretary Chu. "These innovative projects will help America develop a clean, sustainable transportation sector while spurring the creation of jobs in the domestic bio-industry."

Advanced Biofuels Technology Development – up to $12 million

These investments are for further R&D of thermochemical conversion catalysts and processes that will produce gasoline, diesel and/or jet fuel from biomass. Each selectee will utilize a thermochemical process known as pyrolysis, which breaks down biomass using heat in the absence of oxygen to produce a bio-oil. This bio-oil has shown potential to be refined and used in current infrastructure and vehicles.

The projects selected for funding are:

• W. R. Grace & Company (MD) – New Technology for Processing Bio-oils to Produce Gasoline, Diesel and Jet Fuels – up to $3.3 million. This project will evaluate a specialized catalytic reactor designed to resist corrosion and extend catalyst life. These reactors have not yet been evaluated for use with renewable feedstocks such as pyrolysis oils. W.R Grace & Company will demonstrate the use of a single catalyst charge and reactor apparatus for more than 1000 operating hours to evaluate and improve the performance and lifetimes of pyrolysis catalysts and reactors.

• Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (WA) - Catalytic Deoxygenation of Pyrolysis Oils – up to $3.1 million. This project will collaborate with Albemarle Corporation and UOP LLC, a Honeywell Company in a three-year project to develop better processes to upgrade pyrolysis oil to hydrocarbon fuels. The goal of the project is to produce hydrocarbon fuels from bio-oil that are interchangeable with gasoline, diesel or jet fuels produced from petroleum. This project will develop an integrated and stable catalytic deoxygenation process for converting bio-oil to drop-in fuels. The project will also investigate catalyst and process parameters that lead to increased process performance over time to enable extended operations in future commercial-scale refineries.

• Gas Technology Institute (IL) – Long-Term Processing in the Production of Gasoline and Diesel from Biomass – up to $2.4 million. This project will demonstrate long-term processing and catalyst stability in an automated, integrated pilot plant that converts biomass directly to gasoline and diesel fuel. This advanced biofuel will contain less than 1% oxygen and can be blended with typical gasoline or diesel at 30% by weight or upgraded in typical refinery unit operations. Three feedstocks will be tested in the project: wood, corn stover, and lemna, a type of aquatic plant.

• Battelle Memorial Institute (OH) - Upgrading of Biomass Fast Pyrolysis Oil – up to $3.2 million. This project will develop catalysts and an integrated process tailored to upgrade pyrolysis bio-oil, demonstrate system operation for more than 1,000 hours using a single catalyst charge, and produce a final product that can be blended to 30 percent by weight with petroleum fuels or that is compatible with existing petroleum refining operations. Battelle will also test a novel commercialization model for the technology, by embedding it in small-scale, factory-built systems deployed widely where biomass is available at low cost. These systems would be built at significantly lower cost relative to large, fixed biorefineries.

Sustainable Bioenergy Feedstock Production – up to $4.5 million

These projects will take important steps to help design, model, and implement sustainable biomass production systems across different regions of the country, looking at a variety of feedstocks and critical factors like soil erosion and water quality. With sustainable production and processing, the nation's vast agricultural and forest biomass resources have the potential to provide a source of liquid transportation fuels, as well as biopower and bioproducts.

The projects selected for funding are:

• North Carolina State University – North Carolina State University will receive up to $2,092,892 for its project with sites in Mississippi, Alabama, and North Carolina that will evaluate the impacts on hydrology, water quality, wildlife, plant diversity, soil productivity, carbon budgeting, economics, and safety of biomass feedstock cultivation. N.C .State and partners will investigate biomass production options compatible with forest management with a focus on pine and switchgrass intercropping. The total cost-shared project value is $4,807,390.

• Purdue University - Purdue University will receive up to $1,592,385 for its project that will conduct a sustainability assessment of multiple species of energy crops including miscanthus, switchgrass, and hybrid poplar, and examine the impacts of removing of crop residues within two watersheds representative of conditions in the Upper Midwest. The project will gauge sustainability in relation to soil erosion, biomass yield, and aquatic biodiversity impacts and develop methods to optimize watershed landscapes to improve water quality and associated ecosystem services. The total cost-shared project value is $1,991,177.

• University of Minnesota – The University of Minnesota will receive up to $790,943 for its project that will analyze the Mississippi River watershed using a set of models to help stakeholders make informed decisions about what bioenergy feedstocks to use, where to produce or collect them, and what environmental impacts they will have in terms of climate change or other environmental shifts. The goal of this work is to estimate the biophysical and economic impacts of different placements of feedstock production operations on the landscape in order to maximize net benefits returned to farmers, biorefineries, and the public. The total cost-shared project value is $999,473.