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US Energy Department to fund biorefinery projects

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Recognising the importance of biofuels to energy and climate security, the Energy Department has announced up to US$90 million in project funding focused on designing, constructing and operating integrated biorefinery facilities. The production of biofuels from sustainable, non-food, domestic biomass resources is an important strategy to meet the Administration’s goals to reduce carbon emissions and the US’ dependence on imported oil.

Project Development for Pilot and Demonstration Scale Manufacturing of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biopower is a funding opportunity meant to assist in the construction of bioenergy infrastructure to integrate cutting edge pretreatment, process, and convergence technologies. Biorefineries are modelled after petroleum refineries, but use domestic biomass sources instead of crude oil, or other fossil fuels to produce biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. They convert biomass feedstocks – the plant and algal materials used to derive fuels like ethanol, butanol, biodiesel and other hydrocarbon fuels – to another form of fuel or energy product. This funding will support efforts to improve and demonstrate processes that break down complex biomass feedstocks and convert them to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, as well as plastics and chemicals.

“The domestic bio-industry could play an important part in the growing clean energy economy and in reducing American dependence on imported oil,” said Lynn Orr, DOE’s Under Secretary for Science and Energy. “This funding opportunity will support companies that are working to advance current technologies and help them overcome existing challenges in bioenergy so the industry can meet its full potential.”

The United States spends approximately US$1 billion every three days on imported oil. Meanwhile, the Energy Department and the US Department of Agriculture estimate that the United States could sustainably produce more than 1 billion t of biomass that could be converted to biofuels, bioproducts and biopower. This would spur economic development in rural communities across the nation and those products could be used to fuel vehicles, heat homes and replace everyday materials such as plastic — all while potentially displacing over 25% of US petroleum use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 550 million t.

Prior Energy Department investments in biomass have helped develop a number of biofuels pathways, some of which are ready to scale up toward commercialisation. The funding opportunity announcement will advance the Department’s goal of producing at least three total pioneer commercial plants over the next 12 years.

Adapted from press release by Rosalie Starling

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