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US Energy Dept. announce US$11.3 million for biofuel

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The US Energy Department has announced up to US$11.3 million in funding to develop flexible biomass to hydrocarbon biofuels conversion pathways that can be modified to produce advanced fuels and/or products based on external factors, such as market demand. These pathways could consist of a route to a platform chemical that could be converted to products or renewable hydrocarbon fuels, or a route that co-produces chemicals and renewable hydrocarbon fuels.

The Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has a goal of meeting the 2022 cost target of US$3/gal. for the production of renewable hydrocarbon fuels from lignocellulosic biomass. One approach BETO has taken previously to achieve this goal is to focus on conversion pathways that produce biofuels, with little or no emphasis on co-producing bioproducts. As BETO increasingly focuses on renewable hydrocarbon fuels, it is examining strategies that capitalise on revenue from bioproducts as part of cost competitive biofuel production. A variety of technology pathways can be used to produce hydrocarbon biofuels, but many of them require the production of value added chemicals and products in the near term to achieve an attractive rate of return on cost competitive fuels. Value added chemicals and products can also incentivise the de-risking of ‘front end’ processes (from feedstock logistics through to deconstruction) that are necessary for fuel production.

In response to this need, the intent of this funding opportunity is to identify research and development (R&D) projects that propose a conversion pathway that may flexibly produce bioproducts and biofuels. The proposed pathway must illustrate a realistic approach to producing cost competitive renewable hydrocarbon biofuels. These pathways could consist of a route to a platform chemical that could be converted to products or fuels, or a route that co-produces chemicals and fuels. Successful applications will include a clear justification for producing the target molecule(s) from biomass, a compelling narrative explaining how the target product(s) will enable biofuels, and supporting techno-economic analysis and lifecycle analysis. It is important to note that while bioproducts are seen as a valuable strategy for enabling fuels, BETO is not interested in pursuing R&D solely on bioproducts that do not contain a fuels component.

There will be two topic areas:

  1. Early Technology Readiness Level (TRL) (TRL 2–3) R&D to optimise one unit operation of the proposed conversion pathway.
  2. Middle Technology Readiness Level (TRL 4–5) R&D to optimise and integrate multiple unit operations of the proposed conversion pathway.

If successful, the anticipated outcomes are:

  • Identification of promising conversion technology pathways that can be incorporated into the BETO research portfolio to demonstrate and experimentally verify a hydrocarbon fuel modelled cost of US$3/gal.
  • Successful R&D on unit operations or integrated pathways that further the state of technology for biomass to biofuels conversion.
  • Increased private investment for biofuels and bioproducts due to improved confidence in biomass to biofuels conversion technologies.
  • Replacement of fossil fuel derived chemicals with biomass derived chemicals.

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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