USDA, DOE invest $10 million in biofuel, feedstock research

Source: By Erin Voegele, Ethanol Producer Magazine • Posted: Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy have announced a joint investment of $10 million towards research that aims to drive more efficient biofuels production and agricultural feedstock improvements.

The awards were made through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. The BRDI is a joint program run by NIFA and DOE to develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of biomass and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products, helping replace the need for gasoline and diesel in vehicles, and diversify our nation’s energy choices.

Recipients of USDA funding include: 

University of California-Riverside: $1.3 million for a project that aims to convert poplar to ethanol and polyurethane via pretreatment and lignin polymer synthesis. The research is expected to increase revenue at biorefineries and offset pretreatment costs to improve overall process economics.

University of Montana: $1.4 million to a project that will focus on ponderosa pine and mixed, dry conifer forests to quantify ecological and economic opportunities, identify innovative management pathways to quantify financial, environmental and social health benefits of displacing fossil fuels with forest-based bioenergy.

North Carolina Biotechnology Center: $1.87 million for a project that proposes to address feedstock development to optimize production of educational resources on biomass sorghum production in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Dartmouth College: $1.9 million for a project that proposes an approach to overcoming the lignocellulosic recalcitrance barrier through physical disruption during biological processing. This can potentially decrease pretreatment costs by increasing lignocellulosic solubilization. Planned activities will extend work and discoveries to the industry through extension outreach programs.

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry: $906,722 for a project that will provide comprehensive life cycle economic and environmental understanding of the production of willow and forest biomass for use in power, combined-heat-and-power, and biofuels from hot water extraction. The project aims to assist in mitigating investment risk in the bioenergy sector.

Recipients of DOE funding include: 

Ohio State University: The OSU project, titled “Biomass Gasification for Chemicals Production Using Chemical Looping Techniques,” proposes to develop biomass to syngas (BTS) chemical looping process for efficient production of value-added chemicals and liquid fuels from biomass. The BTS process is expected to deliver high-quality syngas from biomass in a single step, with a potential to reduce capital costs for syngas production by 44 percent compared to conventional processes.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The MIT project, titled “Improving Tolerance of Yeast to Lignocellulose-derived Feedstocks and Products,” aims to enhance production of cellulosic ethanol by improving tolerance towards three common inhibitors during cellulosic ethanol production. This same tolerance mechanism is expected to also enhance production of products beyond ethanol, such as monoethylene glycol, an important precursor material used in the production of bottling, fabrics an anti-freeze.