California Energy Commission awards grants to biofuel projects

By Katie Fletcher | August 04, 2014

The California Energy Commission supports California-based biofuel production facilities that can sustainably produce low carbon transportation fuels through their release of a grant solicitation entitled “Pilot-Scale and Commercial-Scale Advanced Biofuels Production Facilities” under the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program.

ARFVTP is a competitive grant program that aims at helping California meet its energy, clean air and climate change goals. To date, ARFVTP has invested more than $400 million to more than 250 clean transportation projects. This grant solicitation is combined from three different allocations over three fiscal years. As of July 1, the 2014-2015 fiscal year funds are available, totaling the proposed monetary awards to over $43 million.  

“We’re looking at the business viability of the proposed biofuel production facilities, said Bill Kinney, lead technical specialist for biofuels with the CEC. “It’s about the carbon intensity of the fuel that is proposed to be produced, it’s about the efficiency of the budget, and how well are our goals met by a given dollar of public investment by that program and the state.”

The CEC chose from a number of competing renewable fuel projects that applied for the grant, categorized by fuel substitute including diesel, gasoline and biomethane substitutes. The evaluation committee chose the projects to receive the monetary awards after conducting two rounds of scoring.

“We tend to fund less risky projects that have a bigger bang for the buck, and appear to get the most benefit to the state,” Kinney said.  

Four biogas projects were amongst the listed awardees, as well as one biobased jet fuel project, to name a few. The Napa Renewable Resources Project is one of the proposed biogas projects, receiving $3 million for an anaerobic digestion (AD) and biofuel production facility to create renewable natural gas (RNG).

“That is a very interesting project,” Kinney said.

The project has a mission of sustainability with plans to intake 25,000 tons per year of food and organic green waste from various suppliers around the Napa area to produce renewable compressed natural gas to fuel the collection fleet, digestate for compost and electricity. According to the grant estimates, the system is designed to produce 328,000 diesel gallon equivalents (DGE) per year.

“The really cool thing about this whole project is this is kind of the sustainability dream, in what you are collecting in terms of food waste will ultimately power the trucks you are collecting it in,” said Kevin Miller, the NRRP fund manager. “You can’t get much more full circle, or renewable than that; we get a compost product at the end and it keeps it out of landfills.”

Napa Recycling and Waste Services will run the day to day operations. The company chose to utilize Zero Waste Energy technology if the project moves forward. “We kind of joke with them that they are making a micro biotic hot tub,” Miller said. “They are truly trying to maximize the methane production.”

The resulting biomethane from the AD process goes through a series of bladders creating a high grade and medium grade. “The high grade will eventually go to the transportation fuel, and the medium grade will go to a combined heat and power system for electrical production,” Miller said.

AD to biofuel is just one of the upgrades NRRP includes. After going through the Environmental Quality Review the facility has the option of doing a number of things. “We are doing a covered compost system, we are doing a storm water upgrade, potentially somewhere in the future we’d do a biomass system to power the facility, we could do solar panels,” Miller said. “We have to do the cover compost and storm water to be ahead of the game regulatory wise.”

The $3 million from the CEC grant solicitation is one step forward in the $12.7 million AD to biofuel portion of the proposed project. “It really takes the AD as a maybe element of that project to a probably,” Miller said. “It really takes it from a just almost breakeven long term investment proposition to something where you are getting your return on investment that makes sense to take your local rate payer dollars and invest it in this kind of system.”

The other biobased projects receiving monetary awards include: AltAir Fuels LLC commercial scale biofuels production facility, $5 million; Recology Inc. hay road AD facility, $5 million; City of San Mateo wastewater digester gas to biomethane for vehicle fuel, $2.45 million; and Colony Energy Partners Tulare LLC demonstration of the Colony Energy Organic Power System at the Endeavor facility, $5 million. All the submitted projects can be found on the Energy Commission’s website