DOE backs cellulosic ethanol, energy policies

By Bryan Sims | September 08, 2008
The U.S. DOE recently doled out a variety of funds to accelerate the development of cellulosic ethanol production. The recipients, which included academia, businesses and an association, are exploring many feedstock options and process technologies to help our country reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

On July 31, the DOE awarded grants totaling $10 million to 10 universities and research institutes under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006 to advance fundamental research in biomass genomics, and further the use of cellulosic plant material for bioenergy and biofuels production. Colorado State University was awarded $1.5 million, the highest amount, to explore rice plants, according to Jan Leach, a professor in the department of bioagricultural sciences and pest management at CSU, and lead researcher on the project. For a complete list of award winners, read the August EPM Web exclusive at

Amherst, Mass.-based SunEthanol Inc. was awarded a $750,000 contract from the DOE in August, the company's fourth from the DOE this year. The award, a follow-up to the successful completion of a one-year Phase I grant, will help advance the development and commercialization of the company's patented Complete Cellulosic Conversion process that uses its QMicrobe technology, which SunEthanol claims can convert a wide range of plant and organic materials directly into ethanol. "The projects are underway in stages," said Jef Sharp, SunEthanol's executive vice president. "Things are moving very quickly."

BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc. recently received its first installment of a DOE grant initially awarded in March 2007 for the development of BlueFire Mecca LLC, a 17 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant near Palm Springs, Calif. The facility will use wood wastes and other refuse-derived biomass as feedstocks. According to BlueFire President, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Arnold Klann, the company intends to break ground on the plant next year. Start-up is expected before 2010. To help with this endeavor, BlueFire announced Aug. 1 that it had signed an agreement with Amalgamated Research Inc. for the exclusive rights to its Simulated Moving Bed Chromatographic Separation Technology. The technology will specifically aid BlueFire's acid hydrolysis process, which converts cellulose to ethanol, by recovering 99 percent of the entrained sugars in the acid/sugar stream. "This is history-making, and we're excited because we believe we're going to be building many more of these facilities in the future," Klann said.

In an effort to support energy policies at the state level, the DOE awarded $850,000 to the National Governors Association, which is seeking to develop and deploy cleaner sources of energy to power vehicles, homes and workplaces more efficiently. This goal is part of a clean energy initiative set forth by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose NGA chairmanship ended July 14. The DOE funding will support one year of the five-year plan, and more funding will be issued in the future, according to Christopher Cashman, spokesman for the NGA.