The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced US$64.7 million in funding for projects focused on producing biofuels. These investments will advance technologies to create replacements for petroleum fuels used in heavy-duty forms of transportation, like airplanes and ships, and accelerate America’s path to a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
“Decarbonizing transportation – particularly planes and ships that are difficult to electrify – is an essential part of the path to a net-zero carbon future,” said Secretary Of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These investments mobilize industries to join this effort, which will create new, good-paying jobs across the biofuels, chemical, and agricultural supply chains and boost economic activity in rural economies.”
The DOE also signed a memorandum of understanding with the US Department of Transportation and US Department of Agriculture to collaborate on the needed research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to reach the goals of supplying at least 3 billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) per year by 2030 and sufficient SAF to meet 100% of aviation fuel demand – currently 35 billion gallons per year – by 2050.
These efforts seek to cut carbon emissions from the aviation and shipping industries, which – because of their size – are more challenging to electrify. Biofuels, which are produced by converting the renewable carbon from recently living organic materials like crop waste, food waste, and algae into a liquid fuel, can serve as a low-carbon equivalent to fossil-based fuels such as gasoline, jet, and diesel fuel.
The 22 selected projects target high-impact bioenergy technology RD&D to bolster foundational knowledge and scale up systems to produce biofuels at lower costs. Among the projects are:
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, Colorado) will lower the cost and carbon intensity of producing a highly fermentable sugar from corn stover. (Award Amount: US$2,800,000)
- Archer Daniels Midland (Decatur, Illinois) will couple isobutanol (a precursor for sustainable aviation fuel) fermentation with a membrane separations system – reducing energy used in the separation process by 50%. (Award Amount: US$3,466,844)
- Alder Energy (Charleston, South Carolina) will convert miscanthus, a highly promising biomass crop, to SAF through their advanced pyrolysis oil technology, a process that utilizes heat, pressure, and solvents to deconstruct the miscanthus into oils for conversion to SAF. (Award Amount: US$3,000,000)
- D3MAX (Grand Forks, North Dakota) will design a pilot plant to validate technology for first generation ethanol plants to produce ethanol from corn stover, which is then converted to SAF. (Award Amount: US$499,988)
- T2C Energy (Pinellas Park, Florida) was selected to design a demonstration scale plant that converts waste landfill gas to SAF or renewable diesel. (Award Amount: US$533,619)
- AVAPCO (Thomaston, Georgia) will demonstrate a production process for clean, affordable cellulosic sugars, which are derived from agricultural or woody waste residues and can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a variety of products including SAF, bioplastics, and biopolymers. (Award Amount: US$2,800,000)
- Quasar Energy Group (Independence, Ohio) will use an anaerobic digestor to convert food waste to SAF precursors. The microbes that digest the food waste produce a type of chemical called a volatile fatty acid, which can be converted to SAF. (Award Amount: US$3,500,000)
These investments are administered by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), which is focused on developing technologies that convert domestic biomass and other waste resources into low-carbon biofuels and bioproducts. BETO is increasing its emphasis on partnering with industry to demonstrate technologies at large scale in recognition of the urgent need to reduce risks and scale up SAF production.