Paving the Way: DOE Announces Grants for Biorefinery Projects

The holidays came a bit early for 19 biorefinery projects, in the form of a whopping $564 million in federal grant funds. Additional private investments are expected to pour another $700 million into these initiatives.

In early December, the U.S. departments of Energy and Agriculture announced the recipients of Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for advanced biofuels and biorefineries. The refineries, spread across 15 states, will use the grants to support projects for algae, cellulosic biofuels and renewable chemicals.

“The funding could not come at a better time,” says Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section. By providing the funding during the demonstration and pre-production phase, the government will help foster this budding industry, he points out. This funding will also give these companies a leg up in attracting additional investments down the road.

Erickson also says the grants are a boon for efforts that add to biofuels because some of the projects tackle other biotechnology R&D, too. “Along with biofuels, renewable chemicals, plastics and polymers are critical to the development of a sustainable domestic manufacturing sector,” he says, and all will benefit from the new grants.

Job Boost

The investments drew strong praise from governors and local officials nationwide as the prospect for new jobs in their states became a reality because of the funding. For instance, the plant that Myriant Technologies will build along the Mississippi River in Lake Providence, La., to produce succinic acid will create more than 250 construction and full-time jobs.

“These are the types of investments we must make today in order to strengthen our economy, our environment and our national security in the long run,” says Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, whose state will also see new jobs when Solazyme builds an integrated biorefinery in Riverside to produce algal fuel.

DOE is funding 18 projects — 14 pilot projects and four demonstration programs — for the first time with $483 million of the funds. The other $81 million will go to a project that DOE had previously funded.

The funds lay the foundation for full commercial-scale development of a biomass industry in the United States, says Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “These projects will help establish a domestic industry that will create jobs here at home and open new markets across rural America.”

Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of BIO, says the new funds will help the biofuels industry keep pace. “These are precisely the kind of projects the Recovery Act should be funding — creating jobs while helping the country move to a more sustainable industrial future.”