DOE pledges $18M for pilot projects on ‘drop in’ fuels for military use

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Energy Department today announced $18 million to fund four advanced pilot-scale biofuels projects that could help wean the U.S. military from foreign oil.

The advanced biofuel projects would produce fuel “substantially similar” to gasoline, diesel or jet fuels that could “drop in” and replace the hydrocarbon-based fuels without any significant changes to vehicles and infrastructure, a current barrier to fast commercialization of ethanol and biofuels.

The military has been interested in biofuels since at least 2008, when a major price spike left the Defense Department with a roughly $20 billion fuel bill.

DOE’s funding would help demonstrate that the advanced technologies could be cost-effective and scaled up to commercial levels mainly for military specifications but that also could be applicable to other non-military uses. The recipient companies are required to contribute at least 50 percent matching funds, DOE said.

“Advanced biofuels are an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, improve our energy security and protect our air and water,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. “The innovative biorefinery projects announced today mark an important step toward producing fuels for our American military and the civil aviation industry from renewable resources found right here in the United States.”

The largest award of up to $6.4 million will go to BioProcess Algae, which uses an algal growth platform to turn renewable carbon dioxide, lignocellulosic sugars and waste heat into fuels with military specifications. The process would also produce additional products including other hydrocarbons, glycerine and animal feed, according to DOE.

The agency will provide Frontline Bioenergy LLC with up to $4.2 million to demonstrate a new gas conditioning technology built upon an existing Fischer Tropsch unit at the Iowa Energy Center’s Biomass Energy Conversion Facility that produces 1 barrel per day of fuel made from woody biomass, municipal solid waste and refuse. SGC Energia, Stanley Consultants, and Delphi Engineering and Construction are partners in the project, which will be based in Ames, Iowa.

Mercurius Biorefining Inc. based in Ferndale, Wash., will receive up to $4.6 million to build a pilot project to convert cellulosic biomass into non-sugar intermediates, which can then be processed into drop-in jet biofuel and chemicals. Purdue University, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Incitor are partnering with Mercurius on that project.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Cobalt Technologies will receive up to $2.5 million to scale up a process to convert switch grass to bio-jet fuel and also assess the facility’s greenhouse gas emissions. Cobalt is partnering with the Naval Air Warfare China Lake Weapons Division, Show Me Energy Cooperative and National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the project.

While targeting military fuel use, these pilot projects are not being funded through the $510 million interagency partnership between DOE, Navy and the Agriculture Department, a DOE spokesman said. That program has become a political football as GOP lawmakers targeted biofuel investments as a misuse of defense dollars as the Pentagon is facing steep budget cuts (E&ENews PM, March 20).

The Navy and Air Force are currently finishing certifying their ships and aircraft on biofuels, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has been looking to use the service’s purchasing power to help spur a commercial-scale biofuels market (Greenwire, July 16, 2012).