USDA, DOE to provide $35 million for advanced biofuels projects

By Kris Bevill | March 22, 2012

The Obama administration announced March 22 that it plans to provide up to $35 million over three years to fund fiscal year 2012 Biomass Research and Development Initiative projects. Led by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, BRDI is focused on providing funding to projects that will help develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increase the availability of advanced biofuels and bioproducts. Heads of both agencies said BRDI supports President Barack Obama’s goal of developing technologies fueled by domestically available resources and produced by American workers.

“President Obama called for an all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy and advances technologies that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and save money for American consumers,” Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said in a statement. “Investing in next-generation biofuels helps boost the competitiveness of the U.S. biofuels industry, supports economic development in rural communities and creates skilled jobs for American workers.”

The DOE is providing $10 million of the total amount available for 2012 BRDI projects, pending appropriations approval, and expects to fund between one and three projects. The USDA’s NIFA will contribute the remaining $25 million, which is expected to fund five to 10 projects. Chosen projects will each receive awards ranging from $3 million to $7 million. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the projects selected to receive funds through the USDA/DOE partnership will increase energy security through innovative advancements. “This funding represents the kind of innovation we need to build American-made, homegrown biofuels and biobased products that will help to break our dependence on foreign oil and move our nation toward a clean energy economy,” he said in a statement.

In order to be eligible to receive funding, proposed projects must address three key technical areas: feedstock development, biofuels and biobased products development and biofuels development analysis. Projects are required to integrate these three components in order to encourage collaborative problem-solving, identify and address knowledge gaps and accelerate the science and engineering associated with producing advanced biofuels, bioenergy and biobased products. In the area of feedstock development, for example, logistical systems capable of handling high volumes of feedstock have yet to be established and are considered to be a significant barrier to the commercialization of biofuels produced via energy crops, agricultural residues and other cellulosic feedstocks. Projects that address feedstock logistics as part of the required three areas could help to speed the near-term commercialization of cellulosic biofuels.

In the funding opportunity announcement, the agencies offer a list of areas of particular interest in the biofuels and biobased products development category, including: small-scale biomass densification, conversion of acceptable feedstocks into advanced biofuels and/or biobased products including intermediate and end-use projects, improved chemical and physical biomass separation processes, and improving the potential for rural-based processing and manufacturing of biofuels and/or biobased products. The agencies also specify areas of interest for each conversion method—biochemical, thermochemical and chemical—but said areas of interest will not be given preferential treatment during the application review process.

In order to incorporate the development analysis, the third required area, into the proposed project, the agencies recommend that the project consider the full life cycle of the technology and include sustainability data in engineering process models to be used over the life of the project.

Interested parties have until April 23 to submit applications. A thorough description of the program, as well as eligibility requirements and application instructions is available at and under Reference Number DE-FOA-0000657.