What Is The Future For The U.S. Biofuel Industry?
Electric vehicles are starting to challenge the status quo as the prices start to fall and their range increases. The charge times are still however much greater than the few minutes it takes to fill up our car tanks with gasoline or diesel fuel. Even the fastest electric chargers take more than 30 minutes to return a battery to full charge.
When it comes to large trucks that problem with electric design so far is the very heavy weights involved for both the vehicle and the battery. So far battery technology is not up to the task.
This is why alternative liquid fuels such as ethanol or biodiesel are so attractive as replacements for conventional fossil fuels. In many countries such as Brazil, ethanol use is widely accepted. In the U.S. what is needed to expand the use of biofuels are new biorefineries.
It will interesting to see if the new Whitehouse adminstration and Secretary of Energy put the same priority on alternative renewable fuels. Here is one of the last moves from the current Obama lead Department of Energy.
The United States Energy Department (DOE) and the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) jointly announced $22.7 million this month to support the optimization of integrated biorefineries (IBR). DOE is providing majority funding with up to $19.8 million and USDA-NIFA is providing up to $2.9 million in funding.
Federal support for first-of-a-kind IBRs could significantly reduce the technical and financial risks associated with the operation of commercial scale biorefineries. The DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has identified, via stakeholder engagements through a request for information (RFI) and a Biorefinery Optimization Workshop, areas in which DOE and USDA-NIFA can effectively support technology development and engineering solutions to economically and sustainably overcome technology barriers.
This funding opportunity announcement (FOA) will be coordinated and co-funded by BETO and USDA-NIFA. It seeks applications for projects focused on lowering technical and financial risk, addressing challenges encountered with the successful scale-up, and reliable, continuous operation of IBRs. Upon conclusion of the review process, meritorious proposals may be recommended for funding by either of the participating agencies.
This FOA invites applications for the following four topic areas:
- Topic Area 1: Robust, continuous handling of solid materials (dry and wet feedstocks, biosolids, and/or residual solids remaining in the process) and feeding systems to reactors under various operating conditions.
- Topic Area 2: High value products from waste and/or other under-valued streams in an IBR.
- Topic Area 3: Industrial separations within an IBR.
- Topic Area 4: Analytical modeling of solid materials (dry and wet feedstocks, and/or residual solids remaining in the process) and reactor feeding systems.
Here is a great video of the inside of a modern US biorefinery.