DOE and USDA Award $47 Million in Biomass Research Grants
DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on May 5 a total of $47 million to fund eight research and development projects that will support the production of biofuels, bioenergy, and biobased products from biomass sources. The advanced biofuels produced through these projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% compared to fossil fuels.
The projects are funded through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, and they will help increase the availability of alternative renewable fuels and biobased products. Funding is provided through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and DOE’s Biomass Program. Each award was made through a competitive selection process, and recipients are required to contribute a minimum of 20% of matching funds for research and development projects and 50% of matching funds for demonstration projects. Awardees must pursue projects that integrate science and engineering research in three areas: feedstocks development, biofuels and biobased products development, and biofuels development analysis.
The selected proposals include Cellana LLC of Hawaii, which will develop a protein supplement from algae as a byproduct of algal biofuels production; Exelus, Inc., of New Jersey, which will redesign a process to make hydrocarbon fuels using new catalysts and chemistry that avoids the high temperatures and large energy inputs required by current processes; and Metabolix, Inc., of Massachusetts, which will enhance the yield of biobased products, biopower, or fuels made from switchgrass. DOE’s Biomass Program works with industry, academia, and national laboratory partners on a balanced portfolio of research in biomass feedstocks and conversion technologies. See the DOE press release and the Biomass Program website.
USDA Announces Project to Develop Next-Generation Biofuels
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on May 5 the first Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project area, which will promote the production of dedicated feedstocks for bioenergy. This initiative, encompassing 39 counties in Missouri and Kansas, will help spur the development of next-generation biofuels. The first BCAP project area proposes enrolling up to 50,000 acres for growing a crop of native grasses and herbaceous plants for energy purposes. Producers in the project area will plant mixes of perennial native plants, such as switchgrass, for the manufacture of biomass pellet fuels and other biomass products. Those will be used for power and heat generation. Bioenergy facilities are those facilities that produce heat, power, biobased products, or advanced biofuels from biomass feedstocks.
The project is a joint effort of the agriculture producers of Show Me Energy Cooperative of Centerview, Missouri, and USDA to spur the expansion of domestically produced biomass feedstocks for renewable energy. Crop producers will be eligible for reimbursements of up to 75% of the cost of establishing a bioenergy perennial crop, and they can receive up to five years of annual payments for grassy crops, and up to 15 years of annual payments for woody crops. Signup began on May 9. See the USDA press release.
DOE Offers $90.6 Million Loan Guarantee for Colorado Solar Facility
DOE announced on May 10 the offer of a conditional commitment for a $90.6 million loan guarantee to Cogentrix of Alamosa, LLC, for one of the largest high-concentration solar photovoltaic (HCPV) generation projects in the world. Then guarantee will support the construction of the Alamosa Solar Generating Project, a 30-megawatt (MW) net capacity HCPV project located in south-central Colorado near Alamosa. Cogentrix estimates the project will create about 75 construction jobs and 10 operations jobs.
The proposed facility will use HCPV systems consisting of concentrating optics and multi-junction solar cell panels controlled by a dual-axis tracking system. The tracking system rotates and tilts the cells throughout the day so the surface of the solar panel maintains an optimal angle with respect to the sun. The multi-junction solar cells are nearly 40% efficient or about double that of traditional PV panels used in areas with high amounts of direct sunlight, according to the project sponsor. The project, which is expected to produce approximately 75,000 megawatt hours of energy per year, will sell all of its electricity to Public Service Company of Colorado. It will be enough to power more than 6,500 homes, and it will avoid the emissions of more than 43,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
DOE’s Loan Programs Office administers loan guarantee programs that support the deployment of innovative technologies that avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it has the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program, which supports the development of advanced vehicle technologies. Under the two both programs, DOE has issued loans or loan guarantees and offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling more than $30 billion to support 28 clean energy projects across the United States. See the DOE press release and the Loan Program Office website.
Turning Sunlight and Water Into Hydrogen Fuel
In a key step toward advancing a clean energy economy, scientists have engineered a cheap, abundant way to make hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water. The team, led by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory researcher Jens Norskov, paired a molybdenum sulfide catalyst with a light-absorbing electrode to split water into its components.
Hydrogen is an energy-dense fuel that releases water upon combustion. Today, most hydrogen is produced from natural gas, which results in carbon dioxide pollution. An alternative is called photo-electrochemical (PEC) water splitting. When sunlight hits the PEC cell, solar energy is absorbed and used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. However, the process requires a catalyst and while platinum is already recognized as an efficient catalyst, its high cost makes widespread use difficult. See the Energy Blog post.
Innovation in Electric Vehicle Technology? Easy as A123
To find an example of the innovations highlighted at the”Electrifying the Economy—Educating the Workforce” Michigan workshop recently, the Energy Blog traveled to the A123 Systems’ battery production plant in Livonia, Michigan. Thanks to DOE support, A123 is rolling out advanced battery technology that is helping power many of the electric vehicles that are on America’s roads today.
A123 Systems began as a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With Department of Energy support, it grew from a small start-up company in 2001 to an international business with more than 2,000 employees. What’s more, in just one decade of partnership with the DOE, A123 has developed advanced lithium-ion batteries based on a unique nanoscale lithium-iron-phosphate cathode material that allows batteries to operate with improved safety, excellent cycle and calendar life, and higher rates of charge and discharge than previous generations of lithium batteries. See the Energy Blog post.
New Rules Facilitate Renewable Energy Development on Public Land
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has moved to simplify right-of-way applications for lands with wind and solar energy development potential. On April 26, BLM published in the Federal Register rules that would allow the agency to temporarily segregate lands in a wind or solar energy right-of-way application from mining claims or other land appropriations. Under existing regulations, areas included in a proposed right-of-way, remain open to appropriations such as the location and entry of mining claims while the BLM is considering the application.
However, since 2006, there have been complications as the BLM has processed 24 solar and wind energy development right-of-way applications. In two proposed right-of-ways, mining claims were located after the applications were submitted but before the right-of-ways could be authorized. Over the past two years, 437 new mining claims were located within wind energy ROW application areas in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, while 216 new mining claims were located within solar energy ROW application areas. To help resolve conflicts, the BLM published two rules: a proposed rule and a temporary interim final rule. The two rules grant the BLM authority to temporarily remove lands included in a renewable energy ROW application and lands offered for wind or solar energy lease from land appropriations such as mining claims. The segregation would be effective for two years and can be extended for an additional two years. See the rules in the Federal Register and the BLM press release.
United States’ Clean Energy Patents Soar in 2010: Report
The number of U.S. patents issued in 2010 for clean energy technologies jumped to 1,881, according to the recently released Clean Energy Patent Growth Index. This was a 170% increase over those recorded in 2009. The report, published by the Cleantech Group at Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C., noted that the past year showed the largest year-to-year jump since the firm began tracking clean energy patents in 2002. The index surveys filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in technologies including solar power, wind power, hybrid and electric vehicles (EV), fuel cells, hydropower, tidal and wave power, geothermal power, and biomass and biofuels. The report noted solar patents were up 134% while hybrid and EVs vehicles increased 60% over the previous year. Patents are seen as an indicator of successful innovation and research.
General Motors claimed first place, overtaking last year’s leader Honda by registering 135 patents. The automaker’s inventions covered hybrid electric vehicles, fuel cells, and solar power. For example, GM patented a multi-injection combustion cycle system for spark-ignition direct-injection engines to improve fuel and air mixing. General Motors also patented a method of operating a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle heater to preheat the battery, improving electric driving range. GE finished fifth, and Ford Motors took the eighth spot in the annual tally. See the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index release and the GM press release.
Purdue’s IN Home Rallies for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011
One of the newest teams to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon this year is Purdue University. The fresh team has joined this year to rally against many of its Big Ten competitors and prove that even without an architecture program, Purdue can succeed on the National Mall. Starting with just four students in 2009, Purdue’s team has grown to a group of 200 people planning, designing, engineering, and building the last two years. To get the inside scoop, we spoke with Project Manager Kevin Rodgers about Purdue’s Net-Zero IN Home (Indiana Home).
Purdue’s Solar Decathlon team is using three words to describe the IN Home: efficiency, practical, and essential. “We are going with a home that is very realistic but appealing to a specific Midwestern style to fit in most neighborhoods,” said Rodgers, who also works as a mechanical engineering technology research assistant. See the Energy Blog post.
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