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January 04, 2013

Biofuels Get Vote of Confidence from U.S. Congress



There was good news for the biofuel industry this week, as the U.S. Congress voted to extend the tax and production credits in the 2008 Farm Bill for another year and the Department of Energy announced funding for development and demonstration efforts nationwide.

When Congress stopped short of leaping off the so-called "fiscal cliff" this week, many of the biofuel initiatives from the 2008 Farm Bill were extended for another year. Specifically, the agreement prolonged the $1.01-per-gallon production tax credit for cellulosic biofuel for another 12 months and retroactively approved a $1-a-gallon production credit for biodiesel (which had expired in December 2011) through 2013. Cellulosic biofuel producers will still be able to depreciate 50 percent of their capital costs during the first year of production.

In addition, on January 3, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it would award a total of $10 million to five projects in California, Washington, Maryland, and Texas that promise to develop new technologies to convert biomass into advanced biofuels and bioproducts like plastics and chemical intermediates.

These projects use innovative synthetic biological and chemical techniques to convert biomass into “processable” sugars that can be transformed into bioproducts and drop-in biofuels for cars, trucks, and planes. The awards will support projects led by collaborative teams, including universities, national laboratories and private industry.

The five projects support the Energy Department's broader biomass portfolio which focuses on research, development and demonstration efforts to achieve affordable, scalable and sustainable advanced biofuels. Two of these projects will develop cost-effective ways to produce intermediates from the deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass; while three projects will propose new conversion techniques to transform biomass intermediates into advanced biofuels and bioproducts.

The following projects were selected for negotiation of award:

  • J. Craig Venter Institute (up to $1.2 million; Rockville, Maryland): This project will develop new technologies to produce enzymes that more efficiently deconstruct biomass to make biofuel. This work will be performed in collaboration with La Jolla, California-based Synthetic Genomics, Inc.
  • Novozymes (up to $2.5 million; Davis, California): Through collaborative work with a team of partners, Novozymes will expand its existing capabilities to find new sources of enzymes, which can be targeted to deliver more cost-effective solutions for deconstructing biomass into processable components.
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (up to $2.4 million; Richland, Washington): The goal of this project is to increase the production of fuel molecules in fungi growing on lignocellulosic hydrolysate. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will partner with universities and industry, including the University of Kansas, to complete the project.
  • Texas AgriLife Research (up to $2.4 million; College Station, Texas): This project will employ state-of-the-art technology to develop a novel and integrated platform for converting lignin, a component of all lignocellulosic material, into biofuel precursors. The team includes scientists from Georgia Institute of Technology (News - Alert), University of British Columbia, Washington State University and Texas A&M University.
  • Lygos (up to $1.8 million; Berkeley, California): The goal of this project is to develop efficient, inexpensive methods of converting biomass into common and specialty chemicals. This work will be performed in collaboration with San Francisco-based TeselaGen Biotech.

The Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and facilitates deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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