DOE invests $4.4 million in six biofuels projects

By Bryan Sims
Web exclusive posted Sept. 17, 2008 at 1:55 p.m. CST

The U.S. DOE has allotted $4.4 million to higher education institutions for six advanced biofuels projects supporting research and development of cost-effectively converting non-food biomass into advanced biofuels.

The following educational entities received funds for their selected projects: University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio; Steven's Institute of Technology's New Jersey Center, Hoboken, N. J.; Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont.; University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.; University of Maine, Orono, Maine; and Georgia Tech Research Corp. in Atlanta.

Combined with the minimum university cost share of 20 percent, more than $5.7 million is slated for investment in the six projects.

"Reaching out to our university partners across the country is one more step in expanding our national team that is working to make cost-effective, sustainable biofuels from non-food cellulosic feedstocks an essential contributor to fulfilling our renewable energy goals," said Jacques Beaudry-Losique, program manager of the DOE Office of the Biomass Program. "DOE is investing in these universities and novel technologies to pursue research and development in support of the goals established in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) for advanced biofuels and the [President George W. Bush] administration's production targets."

By engaging the research entities, the DOE is working to meet the renewable fuels standard mandated by EISA, which includes a requirement that at least 36 billion gallons of U.S. renewable fuels must be produced by 2022; with a short-term goal of consuming at least 100 MMgy of advanced and/or cellulosic biofuel by 2010.

Additional biofuels research and development projects recently announced include: industrial enzymes improvements; pilot-scale 10 percent biorefineries to test novel refining processes; biomass gasification improvements; "ethanologen" development; four commercial-scale biorefineries and three new DOE Bioenergy Research Centers established by the DOE Office of Science.

The following six projects were selected to receive DOE funds:

University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio: The University of Toledo will address development of cost-effective biocatalysts capable of increasing product yield in the biological conversion of lignocellulosic biomass. The project will use a novel enzyme pellet scheme for efficient fermentation of both cellulose and hemicellulose sugars. The proposed approach provides the potential of simultaneous conversion of cellulose to sugar and fermentation to ethanol with native yeasts for the first time. The University of Toledo will undertake research tasks to evaluate the implementation of the technology in several modes of operation.

Steven's Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J.: Steven's Institute of Technology's New Jersey Center for MicroChemical Systems with Catalysts LLC is planning to evaluate and demonstrate a novel microchannel reactor to reform pyrolysis oil to syngas. The project intends to use the novel reactor and precisely controlled operating conditions to produce a high yield of syngas at a reduced energy and temperature, while additionally extending the life of the chosen catalyst.

Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont.: Montana State University will partner with Utah State University to evaluate the oil content of algae cultures available to the universities and identify populations that naturally have higher rates of oil production. In this project, they will test the oil producing microalgae in existing open ponds for growth characteristics and oil production and determine the optimal algae type and most efficient biorefinery design.

University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.: The University of Georgia intends to develop novel approaches to supply nutrients to oil-producing algal systems resulting in cost-effective algae-biofuel production systems. The project will take advantage of the abundance of litter from the poultry industry as a source of low cost nutrients, and develop a nutrient delivery system to grow algae sustainably. Additionally, this project aims to develop process methods for the harvesting of algae from open ponds and subsequent processing to biofuels and other value-added products from algae.

University of Maine, Orono, Maine: The University of Maine, in conjunction with several industry and academic partners is planning to determine the optimal yield and productivity of high potential bacteria at moderate to high temperatures. It also intends to utilize regionally available feedstock, such as pre-pulping extracts and seaweed sludge, to model alternative conversion and fermentation pathways into intermediates and alcohols, respectively.

Georgia Tech Research Corp., Atlanta: Georgia Tech Research Corp. plans to evaluate and model the reaction kinetics in two experimental gasifiers using forest residues under different processing conditions. This project will evaluate the impact specific conditions, pressure and temperature, has on the carbon gasification rate and formation of contaminates. The resulting models will maximize syngas yield from an optimized gasifier.