US agencies dole out biomass grants

It’s always nice to hear our tax money going to something (hopefully) useful.

This one is a $24m grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) being given to companies that are develop technologies to produce biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products using biomass as feedstock.

The awardees must contribute a minimum of 20% of matching funds for R&D projects and 50% of matching funds for demonstration projects. For biobased products and biofuels development, companies selected include GE Global Research, Gevo, Itaconix, Yenkin-Majestic Paint Corporation, and Velocys.

Gevo, which was awarded $1.8m, said that this grant will help fund ongoing development of its yeast strain to produce biobutanol from cellulosic biomass. The company started up its biobutanol demonstration plant – said to be the first in the world, last September. The facility was designed from retrofitting an existing demonstration scale ethanol plant to produce biobutanol.

Itaconix, meanwhile, aims to produce green polymers from itaconic acid fermented with sugars extracted from hardwood biomass. Their product polyitaconic acid is a water soluble polymer, said to have a 2 million ton/year market potential as a replacement for petrochemical dispersants, detergents, and super-absorbents.

Other awardees include Exelus, which aims to develop a Biomass-to-Gasoline (BTG) technology; and universities such as University of Tennessee (working on switchgrass), Oklahoma State University, University of Minnesota, and Purdue University.

Energy crop company Ceres also won a separate grant ($5m) from the DOE to develop high-yielding, low-input energy grasses. The company aims to expand an advanced trait development project to increase biomass yields of several energy grasses by as much as 40%, and at the same time decreasing the use of inputs such as nitrogen fertilizers.

This “amazing grass” could displace 1.3 billion barrels of oil and 58 million tons of coal over a ten year period, according to Ceres.

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