Skip to main content

Over $22 million in new Dept. of Energy biofuels research grants

The US Dept. of Energy has announced over $22 million in research grants to advance biofuels technology and research.

To increase national energy security and reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. Dept. of Energy announced today over $22 million in new investments to spur development of cost-competitive algae fuels and streamline the biomass feedstock supply chain for advanced biofuels. Biofuels in general are an improvement over fossil fuels, because biofuels are renewable and can be grown from plant or animal matter, meaning their use doesn't increase carbon in the ecosphere.

"By partnering with industry and universities, we can help make clean, renewable biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline, give drivers more options at the pump, and cut harmful carbon pollution," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

The scope of the problem is enormous, because in the U.S. the transportation sector accounts for two-thirds of total U.S. oil consumption and one-third of our nation's total greenhouse gas emissions. The task of replacing fossil oil is large and has been, and will be, the subject of research project after research project to develop the right technologies. Cellulosic and hydrocarbon-based biofuels made from non-food feedstocks, waste materials and algae can directly replace gasoline and other fuels in our gas tanks and refineries. That is, with the right technology mix to efficiently process those materials into liquid fuels.

The Dept of Energy has a goal of producing cost-competitive drop-in biofuels by 2017 and algae biofuels by 2022.

The five projects announced today total to $22 million in grants in Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Ohio:

Hawaii Bioenergy ($5 million DOE investment): Based in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii Bioenergy will develop a cost-effective photosynthetic open pond system to produce algal oil, as well as preprocessing technologies that reduce energy use and the overall cost of extracting lipids and producing fuel intermediates.

Sapphire Energy ($5 million DOE investment): Headquartered in San Diego, California, Sapphire Energy will develop a new process to produce algae-based fuel that is compatible with existing refineries, as well as improving algae strains and increasing yield through cultivation improvements. They call their product "Green Crude" and stress that it fits right in with the existing refinery system.

“Sapphire Energy is very appreciative of the continued support by the USDOE in our steadfast mission to make algae-based crude oil a viable fuel alternative for our nation and the world,” said Tim Zenk, vice president of corporate affairs at Sapphire Energy. “With every met milestone, we are proving that algae fuel is efficient, sustainable, scalable, compatible with our existing infrastructure of refineries and transportation systems, and good for the environment. This new investment by the DoE further validates our work, and will help us move forward as we work to refine our technologies and move towards commercial scale production.”

New Mexico State University ($5 million DOE investment): New Mexico State University will increase the yield of a microalgae, while developing harvesting and cultivation processes that lower costs and support year-round production.

California Polytechnic State University ($1.5 million DOE investment): California Polytechnic State University will conduct research and development work to increase the productivity of algae strains and compare two separate processing technologies. The project will be based at a municipal wastewater treatment plant in Delhi, California that has six acres of algae ponds.

FDC Enterprises ($6 million DOE investment): The company aims to reduce harvesting, handling, and preprocessing costs across the entire biomass feedstock supply chain. A large cost in scaling up the biofuels industry is harvesting its raw material or feedstock—the wood, grass, or agricultural waste it converts to fuel—and delivering it from the field or forest to a biorefinery.