Department of Energy Offers $33.8 Million for Cellulosic Biofuels Projects

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) yesterday announced a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) that will make available up to $33.8 million to support the development of commercially viable enzymes — a key step to enabling bio-based production of clean, renewable biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol.

As part of the President’s Twenty in Ten Plan, DOE is pursuing a long-term strategy to support increased availability and cost-effective use of renewable and alternative fuels. Twenty in Ten seeks to displace 20 percent of U.S. gasoline usage by 2017 through diversification of clean energy sources and increased vehicle efficiency.

“These enzyme projects will serve as catalysts to the commercial-scale viability of cellulosic ethanol, a clean source of energy to help meet President Bush’s goal of reducing our reliance on oil,” said DOE Assistant Secretary Andy Karsner. “Ethanol from new feedstocks will not only give America more efficient fuel options to help transform our transportation sector, but increasing its use will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

With a minimum 50 percent industry cost-share, this funding will total nearly $68 million to further enzyme commercialization efforts. By harnessing the power of enzymes, which are responsible for many of the biochemical processes in nature, biorefineries can more efficiently use cellulosic feedstocks for biofuels production. The latest funding aims to further reduce costs of enzyme system preparations in process-relevant conditions. Since 2000, DOE enzyme development advancements have yielded thirty-fold cost reductions mainly on enzyme production.

This biofuels effort focuses on production from non-food materials and agricultural waste such as corn stover, switchgrass, and prairie grass. The FOA focuses specifically on systems to hydrolyze and saccharify cellulosic biomass feedstocks. Saccharification enables the biorefining process by breaking down pretreated cellulosic material into more simple sugars, allowing them to be further processed through fermentation and ultimately turned into biofuels such as ethanol. Enzymes developed under this FOA must prove durable and effective in process-relevant conditions.

DOE is asking for letters of intent, which are due by September 10. Completed applications are due by October 30. Projects are expected to begin in Fiscal Year 2008 and continue through Fiscal Year 2011. Funding is subject to Congressional appropriations.

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