DOE Selects Projects For Its Co-Optima Initiative For Biofuel And Combustion Engines
On May 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selected four research and development (R&D) projects focused on the interaction between promising biofuels and combustion engines. As part of the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office’s Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines (Co-Optima) initiative, the four projects will leverage National Laboratory capabilities that can bring biofuel-engine combinations closer to commercial adoption. Each project awardee will receive up to $250,000 in National Laboratory assistance for experimental or computational projects that can leverage innovative capabilities in bioblendstock fuel property, production, and combustion performance research. Awardees have committed to a 20 percent cost share contribution.
DOE Announces $35 Million In Funding To Reduce Carbon Emissions From Biofuel Production
On May 14, 2021, DOE announced $35 million in funding for 15 research projects focused on reducing the carbon footprint of biofuel production. Housed at colleges, laboratories, and universities in nine states, these projects aim to advance new technologies to decarbonize biorefining processes in the agriculture, energy, and transportation sectors. Funding awards are supported by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) through its “Energy and Carbon Optimized Synthesis for the Bioeconomy” (ECOSynBio) program. The 15 selected teams will research five methods to optimize biofuel production:
- Carbon-optimized fermentation strains that avoid carbon dioxide (CO2) waste;
- Engineered organisms that can use a mix of different sources of energy and carbon and avoid evolving CO2;
- Biomass-derived sugar or carbon oxide gas fermentation with internal CO2 recycling;
- Cell-free carbon-optimized biocatalytic biomass conversion and/or CO2 use; and
- Cross-cutting carbon-optimized bioconversion methods that have the potential for high-impact emission reductions.
Additional information about the winning projects is available here.
DOE Announces Investment In R&D For Plastic Recycling Technologies
On May 25, 2021, DOE announced the availability of up to $14.5 million in investments for R&D to reduce waste and energy use related to the recycling of single-use plastics. As the largest subset of plastics found in landfills, single-use plastics, including plastic bags, wraps, and films, are also among the most challenging to recycle. According to DOE, plastic production uses the same amount of oil around the world as the aviation industry. Only ten percent of plastics, however, are currently recycled, and most of those plastics are downcycled, or repurposed into low-value products. Secretary of Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm, hopes that these funds supporting plastic recycling innovation will be a “triple win by cutting plastic waste we see in our everyday lives, reducing industrial energy use and resulting emissions, and creating clean manufacturing jobs for American workers.” This is an effort by DOE to decarbonize the plastics industry and increase investments in recycling processes. There are many obstacles to plastic film recycling, including collection, sorting, contamination, and lack of economically viable methods for recycling and upcycling. Therefore, DOE will support various projects to develop viable solutions for converting plastic films to more valuable materials and designing plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable.
In addition to a concept paper and full application, the application process requires a description of how diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives will be incorporated into the project. Submission deadlines are as follows:
- Concept Paper – Deadline: June 28, 2021, by 5:00 p.m. (EDT);
- Full Application – Deadline: August 16, 2021, by 5:00 p.m. (EDT); and
- View Full Application Reviewer Comments – Between September 23, 2021, and September 28, 2021, by 5:00 p.m. (EDT).
Iowa Republican U.S. Senators And Representatives Call On President Biden To Uphold His Biofuel Promises
On May 25, 2021, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Representatives Randy Feenstra (R-IA), Ashley Hinson (R-IA), and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) joined forces in a letter to urge President Biden to uphold his promise to support biofuels in the next four years. Criticizing President Biden’s efforts under the American Jobs Plan for failing to include investments in biofuels, the letter states that “advancements in biofuels can drive biofuels towards being carbon neutral or even carbon negative – something electric vehicles cannot achieve.” According to the representatives, President Biden’s American Jobs Plan focuses on investments in electric vehicles rather than supporting biofuels as a solution to reduce carbon emissions. The letter also urges President Biden to support the biofuels industry through strong Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) for 2021, 2022, and beyond under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The letter concludes with the following statement: “Biofuels should not be treated as a transition fuel, but prioritized as a fuel of the future.”
U.S. Senators Introduce Bipartisan RFS Integrity Act Of 2021
On May 25, 2021, U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced the bipartisan RFS Integrity Act of 2021. Aiming to provide more certainty to rural America, this legislation would require that small refineries petition for RFS hardship exemptions by June 1 of each year. According to Senator Fischer, the RFS Integrity Act of 2021 would ensure that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) properly accounts for exempted gallons in the annual RVO it sets every November. The legislation would also require that EPA publish the name of the refinery and volume that is exempted at the same time that the refiner receives the exemption.
President Biden’s FY 2022 Budget Request Includes $11.2 Billion For EPA
On May 28, 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration submitted President Joseph Biden’s budget for fiscal year 2022 (FY 2022) to Congress. According to EPA’s May 28, 2021, press release, the budget request advances “key EPA priorities, including tackling climate change, advancing environmental justice, protecting public health, improving infrastructure, creating jobs, and supporting and rebuilding the EPA workforce.” The President’s FY 2022 budget request supports:
- Rebuilding Infrastructure and Creating Jobs: The budget provides $882 million for the Superfund Remedial program to clean up some of the nation’s most contaminated land, reduce emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gases (GHG) from existing and abandoned infrastructure, and respond to environmental emergencies, oil spills, and natural disasters;
- Protecting Public Health: The budget includes $75 million to accelerate toxicity studies and fund research to inform the regulatory developments of designating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances while setting enforceable limits for PFAS. In FY 2022, EPA will advance public health by providing an additional $15 million and 87 full-time equivalent employees (FTE) to build agency capacity in managing chemical safety and toxic substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA);
- Tackling the Climate Crisis with the Urgency Science Demands: The FY 2022 budget recognizes the opportunity in tackling the climate crisis by developing the technologies and solutions that will drive new markets and create good paying jobs. The budget restores the Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program and increases base funding by more than $60 million, including $30 million for breakthrough research through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C) with DOE. The budget provides an additional $6.1 million and 14 FTEs to implement the recently enacted American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act and reduce potent GHGs while supporting new manufacturing in the United States;
- Advancing Environmental Justice and Civil Rights: The budget includes more than $900 million in investments for environmental justice-related work, collectively known as EPA’s Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice Initiative, elevating environmental justice as a top priority across the agency. The budget also proposes a new national program dedicated to environmental justice to further that goal;
- Supporting States, Tribes, and Regional Offices: Almost half of the total budget, $5.1 billion, will support states, tribes, and localities through the State and Tribal Assistance Grants account;
- Prioritizing Science and Enhancing the Workforce: The FY 2022 budget includes an increase of 1,026 FTEs “to stop the downward slide in the size of EPA’s workforce in recent years to better meet the mission.” Within this increase are 114 FTEs to propel and expand EPA’s research programs to ensure the agency has the science programs that communities demand from EPA. Also included are 86 additional FTEs to support the criminal and civil enforcement programs to ensure that environmental laws are followed.
DOE EERE Holds Webinar On EERE’s FY 2022 Budget Request
On June 3, 2021,DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) Acting Assistant Secretary Kelly Speakes-Backman and the Deputy Assistant Secretaries (DAS) for EERE’s three technology pillars and Operations held a webinar to discuss EERE’s FY 2022 budget request. DOE EERE’s three technology pillars are: Energy Efficiency, Renewable Power, and Sustainable Transportation. EERE has requested $4.7 billion in an effort to lead the transition of the national economy into a 100 percent clean energy economy. The budget request includes more than $1 billion in new funding to deploy clean energy technologies. The one-hour webinar covered activities, programs, and initiatives proposed in EERE’s budget request. EERE’s main goals include the decarbonization of the electricity, industrial, and transportation sectors.
EP Announces Funding For Projects Focused On The Transition To A Sustainable, Climate-Neutral, And Circular European Economy
On May 18, 2021, the European Parliament (EP) issued a press release announcing the Just Transition Fund (JTF) to assist European Union (EU) countries to address climate neutrality goals. The JTF is composed of €7.5 billion from the European Commission’s (EC) long-term EU budget under the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and €10 billion from the EU recovery plan, NextGenerationEU. According to the press release, eligible projects must focus on economic diversification, reconversion, or job creation, or they must contribute to the transition into a sustainable and circular European economy. JTF will finance:
- Job seeking assistance, upskilling, and reskilling to help workers as Europe shifts to a climate-neutral economy;
- Business incubators;
- Public research institutions; and
- Investments in new energy technologies, energy efficiency, and sustainable local mobility.
A “Green Rewarding Mechanism” could be introduced to the JTF for distribution of additional funding to member states if the EP decides to increase the fund’s resources after December 31, 2024. The goal is for the €7.5 billion JTF funds to generate between €30 and €50 billion from investments. Member states that succeed in reducing industrial GHG emissions will receive additional funding.
Access to JTF for member states is conditional upon adoption of national-level commitments to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Before adoption of such commitments, member states will be entitled to only 50 percent of their national allocations. The portion of the investments provided by EC is set at a maximum of 85 percent for less developed regions, 70 percent for transitional regions, and 50 percent for more developed regions.
JTF is part of the European Green Deal Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) initiative, which provides targeted support to regions and sectors in the EU that are most affected by the transition into a green economy. JTM aims to help EU member countries by also:
- Supporting the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient activities;
- Creating new jobs in the green economy;
- Investing in public and sustainable transport;
- Providing technical assistance;
- Investing in renewable energy sources;
- Improving digital connectivity;
- Providing affordable loans to local public authorities; and
- Improving energy infrastructure, district heating, and transportation networks.
In support of JTM, Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of EC stated that “[w]e must show solidarity with the most affected regions in Europe, such as the coal mining regions and others, to make sure the [European] Green Deal gets everyone’s full support and has a chance to become a reality.”
MSU Researchers Publish Study On Biomineralization Of Plastic Waste For Cement Mortar
On April 13, 2021, Montana State University (MSU) researchers from its Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering published an article entitled “Biomineralization of Plastic Waste to Improve the Strength of Plastic-Reinforced Cement Mortar.” The study evaluates calcium carbonate biomineralization techniques applied to coat plastic waste and improve the compressive strength of plastic-reinforced mortar (PRM), a type of plastic-reinforced cementitious material (PRC). In an effort to reduce the environmental impact of plastic pollution, the study tested two types of biomineralization treatments: enzymatically induced calcium carbonate precipitation (EICP) and microbially induced calcium carbonate precipitation (MICP). While MICP treatment of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resulted in PRMs with compressive strength similar to that of plastic-free mortar, EICP-treated PET resulted in weaker strength than that of MICP. MICP treatment, however, affects differently the compressive strength of PRM in various types of plastics. According to the researchers, further work is needed to understand the impact of MICP treatment on interfacial strength. The authors hope that greater knowledge of this mechanism will lead to the establishment of biomineralized PRC as a high-volume method to reuse plastic waste.
DOE Argonne National Laboratory Publishes Retrospective Analysis Of Changes In U.S. Corn Ethanol GHG Emission Intensity Throughout The Years
On May 4, 2021, DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory published an article titled “Retrospective Analysis of the U.S. Corn Ethanol Industry for 2005-2019: Implications for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions.” Using a life-cycle analysis (LCA), researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory quantified the life cycle of GHG emissions of fuels to compare relative GHG impacts among different fuel production pathways. According to the retrospective analysis conducted, since 2000, corn ethanol production in the United States quadrupled due to supportive biofuels policies such as EPA’s RFS. Consequently, carbon intensity (CI) over the past 15 years has significantly decreased by 23 percent. Since 2000, the corn ethanol production pathway, including corn farming and biorefineries, has substantially evolved. Researchers state in the article that this shift into more efficient farming and biorefinery practices increases revenue while also potentially reducing the emission burdens of ethanol production. DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory researchers conclude that biofuels, including corn ethanol, can and likely will play a key role in decarbonizing the U.S. economy.
The article’s findings will also be used by DOE to update key corn ethanol parameters in the Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) Model 2021, which will be released in October 2021.