Charting A Path for Sustainable Jet Fuels

Read the full story from U.S. DOE.

Aviation is essential to keep our world running. It allows us to ship goods and travel far and wide for business and pleasure. Military aviation also keeps our nation safe from foreign threats. But modern jets are mostly powered by petroleum-based fuel, which contribute to carbon pollution — a major driver of climate change. This is a big problem but we’re working on it. Renewable biofuel alternatives made from waste fats, oils, and greases, agricultural residues, municipal solid waste, energy crops or forestry residue can help replace conventional petroleum-based jet fuel. Even better, they can do so without the need to modify aircraft engines and fuel distribution infrastructure. However, we are still meeting the challenge of making these fuels affordable enough for the entire commercial airline industry.

A new report by the White House’s National Science and Technology Council called the Federal Alternative Jet Fuels Research and Development Strategy outlines the federal government’s plans to lower the cost of alternative jet fuels through coordinated, targeted research and development by agencies including the Energy Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These efforts focus on feedstocks (the biomass used to make the fuel), conversion technologies and scale-up (which enables the fuel to be created and produced commercially), fuel testing and evaluation and overcoming other technical challenges.

The Environmental Justice Implications of Biofuels

Gonzalez, Carmen G., “The Environmental Justice Implications of Biofuels” (July 21, 2016). UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs, Vol. 20, 2016. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2813002

Abstract:  Analyses of the viability of biofuels as alternatives to fossil fuels have often adopted a technocratic approach that focuses on environmental consequences, but places less emphasis on the impact that biofuels may have on vulnerable populations. This Article fills the gap in the existing literature by evaluating biofuels through the lens of environmental justice – including climate justice and food justice. The Article examines the impact of biofuels on the global food system and on the planet’s most food-insecure populations. It concludes that the laws and policies promoting the cultivation of biofuels have contributed to global malnourishment by raising food prices and accelerating the large-scale acquisition of arable lands in poor countries that deprive local communities of the land and water necessary to grow food (a phenomenon known as land-grabbing). Ironically, the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of many biofuels exceed those of the fossil fuels they replace. Instead of mitigating climate change, the promotion of biofuels threatens to intensify an industrial model of agricultural production that degrades local ecosystems, exacerbates climate change, and intensifies food insecurity. The Article concludes by discussing governance strategies to foster a more equitable and sustainable approach to bioenergy that respects, protects, and fulfills the human right to food.

USDA Seeks Applications for Funding to Develop Advanced Biofuels and Plant-Based Products

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking applications for funding in the form of loan guarantees to help support the development of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals and biobased products.

For this announcement, USDA will seek applications in two cycles. Applications for the first funding cycle are due October 3, 2016. A letter of intent to apply is due by September 1, 2016. Applications for the second cycle are due April 3, 2017. For more information, see page 48377 of the July 25, 2016, Federal Register. Application materials can be found on USDA’s Rural Development website.

“The bioeconomy is a catalyst for economic development in rural America, creating new jobs and providing new markets for farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “Investing in the businesses and technologies that support the production of biofuels and biobased products is not only good for farm incomes. The whole economy benefits from a more balanced, diversified and consumer-friendly energy portfolio, less dependence on foreign oil and reduced carbon emissions.”

Funding is being provided through the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program, formerly known as the Biorefinery Assistance Program. Congress established the program in 2008 to encourage the development of biofuels that use renewable feedstocks. The 2014 Farm Bill expanded the program to include renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturing. The program now provides loan guarantees of up to $250 million to develop, construct and retrofit commercial-scale biorefineries and to develop renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturing facilities.

USDA has provided $844 million in loan commitments to 10 businesses in the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program since the start of the Obama administration. Companies receiving these commitments are projected to produce 159 million gallons of advanced biofuels.

In 2011, under this program, USDA provided Sapphire Energy a $54.5 million loan guarantee to build a refined algal oil commercial facility. Sapphire’s “Green Crude Farm” in Columbus, N.M., is an example of how USDA funding and partnerships with the private sector are helping to support the development of biorefineries.

The plant opened in May 2012 and is producing renewable algal oil that can be further refined to replace petroleum-derived diesel and jet fuel. According to the company, more than 600 jobs were created during the first phase of construction at the facility and 30 full-time employees currently operate the plant. After Sapphire received additional equity from private investors, it repaid the remaining balance on its USDA-backed loan in 2013.

USDA is helping to develop the bioeconomy, which has the potential to spur unprecedented growth in the rural economy by creating opportunities for the production, distribution and sale of biobased products and fuels. For example, USDA has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Navy to create advanced drop-in biofuels that will power both the Department of Defense and private-sector transportation throughout America. Over the course of this Administration, USDA has invested $332 million to accelerate research on renewable energy ranging from genomic research on bioenergy feedstock crops, to development of biofuel conversion processes and cost/benefit estimates of renewable energy production. For more information on how renewable energy factors into USDA’s work to reduce greenhouse gases, visit the latest chapter of USDA’s Medium entry, How Food and Forestry Are Adapting to a Changing Climate.

The Department has also taken steps to support biobased product manufacturing that promises to create new jobs across rural America – including adding new categories of qualified biobased products for Federal procurement and establishing reporting by Federal contractors of biobased product purchases. The more than 2,200 products that have received certification to display the USDA Certified Biobased Product label are creating and increasing consumer and commercial awareness about a material’s biobased content as one measure of its environmental footprint. A 2015 USDA study of the bioeconomy found that the biobased products industry generates $369 billion and 4 million jobs each year for our economy. Biobased products industries directly employ approximately 1.5 million people, while an additional 2.5 million jobs are supported in other sectors.

In October 2015, Rural Development implemented a redesigned two-phase application process. This new process helps the Agency identify the projects that have made the most progress in the development stage and have the greatest capacity for implementation and loan closing. The first two application cycles under the new process yielded complete applications from projects producing biogas, biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, biobased lubricants and oils, lignin cake and syrup, and fertilizers.

Eligible borrowers include individuals, corporations, federally-recognized tribes, units of state or local government, farm cooperatives and co-op organizations, associations of agricultural producers, national laboratories, institutions of higher education, rural electric cooperatives, public power entities – or a consortium of any of these borrower types. Entities that receive program financing must provide at least 20 percent of the funding for eligible project costs.

Since 2009, USDA Rural Development (@USDARD) has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 185,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/results.

Point/Counterpoint on Ethanol

Yale Environment 360 has an interesting point/counterpoint on ethanol.

  • The Case Against More Ethanol: It’s Simply Bad for Environment: The revisionist effort to increase the percentage of ethanol blended with U.S. gasoline continues to ignore the major environmental impacts of growing corn for fuel and how it inevitably leads to higher prices for this staple food crop. It remains a bad idea whose time has passed.
  • The Case for More Ethanol: Why Green Critics Are Wrong: The criticism of ethanol by environmentalists is misguided and just plain wrong. In fact, thanks to improvements in farming techniques, increasing the amount of corn ethanol in U.S. gasoline would reduce air pollution, provide significant health benefits, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework

The Bioenergy Knowledge Discovery Framework (KDF) is an online collaboration toolkit and data resource providing access to the latest research on bioenergy. The site supports the creation of a robust, advanced, domestic bioenergy industry for the United States, offering resources for researchers, private industry, policy makers, and the public. In the KDF, users can:

  • Search the Bioenergy Library to find datasets, publications, and models on a wide variety of bioenergy topics.
  • Use the map interface to visualize, analyze, download, and export geospatial data.
  • Browse the site’s collection of specialized Tools & Apps, which can also be launched on the map.

The Bioenergy Library contains hundreds of publications, datasets, and models specifically related to the production, distribution, delivery, and end use of bioenergy. Many of the Bioenergy Library publication records include abstracts and links to full-text content. Additionally, users can add data to certain datasets and visualize them on the KDF map. Registered users also have the ability to comment on entries and share links with others via email and social networking sites.

Algae + Papaya = Biofuel

Read the full story from the Agricultural Research Service.

There was a time when a green mat of algae was little more than pond scum—but no longer. Now, thanks to advances in science and technology, these microscopic plants are considered promising natural sources of oil that can be converted to biodiesel fuel.

At the Daniel K. Inouye U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, Hawaii, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant pathologist Lisa Keith has spent the past 5 years fine-tuning conditions under which Chlorella protothecoides algae can be coaxed into producing oil from discarded papayas and other unmarketable crops or byproducts, like glycerol. The effort is part of a zero-waste system being championed and supported by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) to ease the Island State’s reliance on imported oil for its fuel and energy needs.