DOE, USDA Hand Out $24M in Biomass Grants

16/11/2009 at 7:14 pm Leave a comment

The Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture gave out $24 million in biomass research grants on Friday [November 13, 2009] to boost research ranging from more efficient ways to turn biomass into fuel, chemicals and energy to better breeds of switchgrass and other feedstocks.

Friday’s grants ranged in size from $1 million to $4.2 million, and most of it -$19.5 million – comes from USDA. The idea is to promote technologies to make bioenergy, as well as bio-based chemicals and products, cheaper and easier to adopt.

Several grants are going to find new ways to make biochemicals as well as biofuels. Biochemicals represent smaller, but often more lucrative, markets for the wide range of technologies – genetically modified microbes, oxygen-free superheating, chemical processes – that seek to turn food and non-food biomass alike into useful products.

One winner, Englewood Colo.-based Gevo, won up to $1.78 million from USDA to improve its methods of fermenting sugars into bio-isobutanol. That’s a chemical that can be turned into fuel or various products, such as PET plastics. Gevo wants to buy shuttered ethanol plants and retrofit them with its biobutanol systems, and has raised about $57 million from investors including Khosla Ventures, the Virgin Green Fund and French oil company Total SA since last year.

Another winner, Hampton Falls, N.H.-based Itaconix, landed $1.86 to find a way to make polyitaconic acid from hardwood. That acid can be made into a polymer with the potential to replace petrochemical dispersants, detergents, and super-absorbents that now sell to the order of about 2 million metric tons per year, USDA announced.

As for so-called “drop-in” fuels – biofuels that need little or no modification from factory to pump – Livingston, N.J.-based Exelus won $1.2 million from DOE to work on its biomass-to-gasoline technology using low-temperature chemical processes.

To help chemical processes run more efficiently, Velocys got $2.65 million from USDA to work on its microchannel reactor technology – that is, equipment that channels chemicals and catalysts into tiny tubes to improve throughput and effectiveness. The Plain City, Ohio-based company has raised about $100 million and has projects with Toyo Engineering, Dow Chemical, DOE and the Department of Defense.

As for turning biomass into a syngas that can be burned for energy or turned into other chemicals, USDA tapped GE Global Research with a $1.6 million grant to help devise “simplified kinetic models” for biogas plants using a variety of feedstocks.

On the crop side, Oklahoma State University got $4.2 million to develop best practices for sustainable cellulosic ethanol feedstocks, the University of Tennessee got $2.35 million to compare different switchgrass varieties, and the University of Minnesota got $2.7 million to run studies on the potential for Great Lakes states’ forests to meet biofuel feedstock needs.



Entry filed under: Biomass. Tags: , , , , , , .

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