Advanced biofuel projects receive DOE funding

By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy
In April, the U.S. DOE Biomass Program announced the selection of three small-scale cellulosic ethanol projects in Maine, Tennessee and Kentucky to receive $86 million in a second round of funding from the department's Biomass Program.

Mascoma Corp., RSE Pulp and Chemical LLC, and Ecofin LLC are leading the projects, which are expected to be operational within four years. Each one will produce liquid transportation fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, as well as biobased chemicals and biobased products used in industrial applications.

Mascoma, based in Boston, received up to $26 million for a 5 MMgy switchgrass-based ethanol plant to be built in Monroe County, Tenn. RSE Pulp and Chemical, a subsidiary of Red Shield Environmental LLC, received up to $30 million for a wood-based ethanol facility at an existing pulp mill in Old Town, Maine. Nicholasville, Ky.-based Ecofin, a subsidiary of Alltech Inc., received up to $30 million for a 1 MMgy demonstration-scale plant to validate the commercial viability of a novel, solid-state enzyme process that can convert a wide range of lignocellulosic feedstocks to ethanol and other biobased products.

Earlier this year, the DOE selected four projects in the first round of the Biomass Program's funding in St. Joseph, Mo.; Commerce City, Colo.; Boardman, Ore.; and Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. With the first and second round combined, the seven selected small-scale biorefinery projects will receive up to $200 million in DOE funding and, when combined with the industry cost-share, will total more than $634 million invested over the next four years.

More DOE funding for advanced biofuel projects is available. Applications were due May 29 for a funding opportunity for up to $7 million in federal monies over the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years for advanced research and development in converting nonfood-based biomass into advanced biofuels. The DOE expected to select five to seven projects that would improve the conversion of biomass to biofuels through pyrolysis, which uses heat to break down the lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose of biomass feedstocks.

The DOE Golden Field Office is making approximately $4 million available to higher-education institutions for applied research in the conversion of biomass to advanced fuels. The applications, due June 2, should reflect innovative and unique approaches to addressing the needs of the biochemical and thermochemical processing of biomass as implemented in integrated biorefinery operations. This could involve-but isn't limited to-unique interfaces between pretreatment processing and advanced biofuel production, consolidated bioprocessing options, or unique and innovative combinations of chemical and biological processing. The DOE expects to fund between three and 12 institutions.