DOE Invests On Next Generation Plastics Technologies
On January 11, 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) announced that seven research and development (R&D) projects were selected to receive $13.4 million in funding for R&D projects to advance next generation plastic technologies to reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of single-use plastics. The selected R&D projects, led by industry and universities, will focus on converting plastic films into more valuable materials and designing new plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm stated that “By advancing technologies that repurpose single-use plastics and make the materials biodegradable, we can hit a trifecta of reduced plastic waste, fewer emissions from the plastics industry, and an influx of clean manufacturing jobs for American workers.”
According to DOE’s EERE, less than ten percent of plastics are recycled currently. Those plastics that are recycled are typically “downcycled” or repurposed into low-value products. The selected projects will work to develop affordable solutions for “upcycling” plastics into more valuable materials and to design new plastics that are recyclable and biodegradable.
DOE Student Competition For The Development Of Algal Technologies Now Open
On January 13, 2022, DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), in collaboration with the Algae Foundation and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, opened the AlgaePrize competition for high school through graduate students in the United States. This new prize focuses on the development, design, and invention of algal technologies to help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through algae commercialization. During the competition, teams will participate in an 18-month process of pursuing the technologies for algae production, downstream processing, and/or identification of novel products or tools. The AlgaePrize grand champion winner will receive a total of $20,000 cash prize.
The competition is open to teams of two or more students who are currently enrolled in an education program based in the United States. Students interested in participating in the competition must register by March 2, 2022. Additional information is available here.
EPA Announces Effort To Streamline Review Of Climate-Friendly New Chemicals
On January 21, 2022, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new effort under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to streamline the review of new chemicals that could be used to displace current, higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting transportation fuels. The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention’s (OCSPP) New Chemicals Division (NCD) has implemented a “robust, consistent, and efficient process to assess the risk and apply mitigation measures, as appropriate, for substitutes to petroleum-based fuels and fuel additives that use biobased or waste-derived sources to produce biofuels.” EPA states that this effort supports its goals under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, as well as its 2021 Climate Adaptation Action Plan. According to the announcement, EPA has received over 30 biofuel premanufacture notices (PMN) “that collectively describe plans for close to 800 million gallons per year of production of advanced biofuels, that could contribute to annual volume mandates under the RFS program and help support the goals of energy security through increasing domestic production” within the United States.
The announcement includes:
New Chemicals Division Integrated Approach To Biofuels
Under this effort, NCD formed a dedicated team to collaborate on the review of PMNs for biobased or waste-derived feedstocks used to make transportation fuel substitutes with the goals to use the best available science while creating a consistent and efficient review process. EPA states that NCD developed a standardized process for the way biofuel PMNs are reviewed. For example, the same dedicated team will be conducting reviews for all biofuels PMNs, helping to ensure the assessments and determinations are consistent and aligned with requirements. Further, NCD will generate one report for biofuels PMNs that combines the six different risk assessments typically conducted for PMNs, helping to provide a clearer summary explanation of how EPA conducted its assessment and made its determination.
For risk management actions, NCD will apply appropriate mitigation measures to address any potential for unreasonable risk identified in an efficient and consistent manner within TSCA consent orders and significant new use rules (SNUR).
Outreach and Training
According to the announcement, OCSPP is launching outreach and training for interested stakeholders in the biofuels sector to review TSCA requirements, outline the streamlined approaches for risk assessments and risk management actions, and provide information on how to navigate the new chemicals PMN process.
OCSPP will hold a kick-off meeting on February 9, 2022, to provide an overview of this initiative and answer questions from stakeholders. Registration for the meeting is open.
Other planned outreach and training related to this biofuels initiative include webinars on:
- TSCA requirements and the PMN process;
- The TSCA Inventory, nomenclature, and Bona Fide process;
- New chemicals risk assessments, including applications of the tools, models, and databases; and
- New chemicals risk management actions, including TSCA Section 5 orders and SNURs.
EPA states that it may add additional outreach and training sessions, including training opportunities applicable to all new chemical submitters, based on stakeholder interest and feedback.
DOE EERE BETO Issues Two RFIs On Biomass Conversion R&D
On February 1, 2022, DOE EERE BETO issued two new requests for information (RFI) on biomass conversion R&D and community organic waste programs. The RFI titled “Biomass Conversion Research, Development, and Analysis Programs” focuses on biomass conversion R&D and seeks to address improved robustness of microbial cells, catalytic processes, and state-of-technology analyses in the BETO research portfolio. Through this program, BETO is interested in receiving feedback on barriers, capabilities, tools, and other general information needed to prioritize future R&D programs in the areas of organism and catalyst development. BETO also seeks input on which analyses are most useful to the broader bioenergy research and industrial community. Responses to this RFI must be submitted by March 11, 2022, and are required to be provided as an attachment via e-mail to [email protected].
DOE EERE BETO’s RFI titled “Community-scale Resource and Energy Recovery from Waste Solutions” requests feedback from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders on issues related to community programs for organic waste. DOE EERE wishes to understand better which wastes related to economic, environmental, and social impacts are of highest priority to communities and how DOE can make its Conversion R&D program more effective in addressing these types of challenges. BETO is particularly interested in input on five different waste streams: dairy manure, swine manure, food waste, municipal wastewater residuals, and fats/oils/greases. Responses to this RFI must also be submitted by March 11, 2022, and provided as an attachment via e-mail to [email protected]. In lieu of providing written responses to this RFI, BETO is also accepting requests for a 30-minute individual discussion via e-mail. Additional information on both RFIs is available here.
Senator Daley Introduces Bill To Boost Michigan Biofuels
On January 11, 2022, Michigan State Senator Kevin Daley (R, 31st Senate District) introduced a bill focused on growing alternative fuel production in Michigan and providing cleaner and cheaper options for Michigan drivers using biofuels produced with renewable energy from Michigan farms. Senator Daley highlighted that “Biofuels are a major economic engine for rural communities across Michigan, and they help position our state to rely less on foreign oil.” Creating a five-cents-per-gallon tax credit for the sale of ethanol 15 (E-15) fuel and a 0.085-cent-per-gallon for the sale of ethanol 85 (E-85) fuel, this legislation aims to contribute to the reduction of emissions and stabilize markets for Michigan farmers that supply the corn for Michigan’s five ethanol plants. Industry stakeholders such as the Michigan Corn Growers Association demonstrated support for the introduced bill, stating that COVID-19 had a large impact on family farmers and small business owners.
MIT Researchers Create New Approach To Controlling Methane Emissions Through Zeolite Clay
On January 10, 2022, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that a team of its researchers has developed a promising approach to control methane emissions and remove methane from the air using zeolite clay. Zeolite clay is inexpensive and abundant. The MIT team found that, when treated with copper, the material is very effective at absorbing methane from the air even at low concentrations. According to researcher and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Desiree Plata, Ph.D., this process is advantageous over other approaches to removing methane from the air, as other methods tend to use more expensive catalysts that require high temperatures. The method converts methane into carbon dioxide that, according to Plata, is much less impactful in the atmosphere than methane. Methane is about 80 times stronger as a GHG over the first 20 years, and approximately 25 times stronger for the first century.
MIT researchers still have outstanding engineering details to address in this process. To do so, DOE awarded a $2 million grant for MIT to continue to develop specific equipment for methane removal in places with concentrated sources of methane, such as dairy barns and coal mines. Plata reported that the next phase of the project will focus largely on ways to structure the clay material in a multiscale, hierarchical configuration to demonstrate a proof of concept that this method can work in the field.
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