DOE awards funding to several biofuel-related energy projects

By Holly Jessen | November 29, 2012

More than $6.1 million in funding has been awarded to four biofuel-related energy technology projects, including research and development in engineered bioenergy crops and a flexible molecular sieve for biofuel production.

The projects are among a total of 66 that Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Nov. 28 had been selected by the U.S. DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). In all, a total of $130 million in funding was awarded through OPEN 2012. The funding program, which was  first issued in 2009, focuses on a wide variety of technologies, ranging from advanced fuels to advanced vehicle design and materials, carbon capture and energy storage.

“With ARPA-E and all of the Department of Energy’s research and development efforts, we are determined to attract the best and brightest minds at our country’s top universities, labs and businesses to help solve the energy challenges of this generation,” Chu said in a prepared statement. “The 66 projects selected today represent the true mission of ARPA-E: swinging for the fences and trying to hit home runs to support development of the most innovative technologies and change what’s possible for America’s energy future.

Biofuel-related projects include:

Colorado State University was awarded $2.09 million to develop a method of introducing new genetic traits into crops that scientists have previously not been able to engineer. The goal is to produce additional crops suitable as biofuel feedstock.

Plant Sensory Systems LLC, a Baltimore, Md.-based company, will receive $1.8 million to develop a high-output, low-input energy beet, which is optimized for biofuel production. Researchers will engineer energy beets able to efficiently use of water and fertilizer and that contain higher levels of fermentable sugars than existing crops.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota will use $1.8 million to develop flexible and ultra-thin molecular sieve membranes which can be used to improve the production of biofuels and other industrial products. The separation membranes have the potential to reduce U.S. energy consumption by 3 percent, if fully implemented.

More than $441,000 was awarded to the University of Tennessee, which will work on a technology to bioengineer and trait test switchgrass. The goal is to maximize biofuel production by significantly reducing the time needed to engineer new switchgrass varieties.

Thousands of concept papers and hundreds of full applications were submitted for consideration. Those ultimately selected represent 24 states. A total of 47 percent of the projects are university led, with the remainder led by small businesses, large businesses, national labs and non-profits. Since the funding program began it has awarded approximately $770 million in funding to about 285 projects 

The DOE website contains complete list of the 2012 projects, including several C02 technologies and a system to produce electricity utilizing waste heat from industrial facilities.