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US DOE unveils plan to back algae biomass projects

The US' Department of Energy (DOE) has announced plans to issue funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) to support the development of bio-based hydrocarbon fuels and algae biomass.

According to the DOE, the FOA for algae biomass aims to support projects to develop technologies that are likely to succeed in producing 3,700 gallons (16,820 litres) of biofuel intermediate, or equivalent dry weight basis, per acre per year on an annualized basis through multiple batch campaigns or on a semi-continuous or continuous basis, in an outdoor test environment by 2020.

Applicants for the algae biomass FOA must address at least one of three main priority areas, including strain/productivity improvement, improvements in pre-processing technologies, or integration of cultivation with pre-processing technologies. Pre-processing technologies include harvesting, dewatering, and extraction, along with equivalent processes.

The FOA for algae biomass is expected to be posted to the EERE Exchange in mid-January.

In late December 2015, the DOE announced its intent to issue a FOA titled "MEGA-BIO: Bioproducts to Enable Biomass," on behalf of the Bioenergy Technologies Office. According to the DOE, the FOA supports BETO's goal of meeting its 2020 cost target of $3/gallon gasoline equivalent for the production of hydrocarbon fuels from lignocellulosic biomass.

According to the DOE, an approach previously taken by the BETO has focused on conversion pathways to produce biofuels, with little or no emphasis on coproducing bioproducts. As the BETO increasingly focuses on hydrocarbon fuels, it is examining strategies that capitalize on revenue from bioproducts as part of cost-competitive biofuel production.

In a statement, the DOE said that the intent of the MEGA-BIO FOA is to identify research and development projects that develop biomass to hydrocarbon biofuels conversion pathways that can produce viable amounts of fuels and products based on external factors, such as market demand. The pathways could consist of a route to a platform chemical that can be converted into products or fuels, or a route that coproduces chemicals and fuels.

The DOE anticipates the FOA may include research and development to optimise one unit of operation of the proposed conversion facility. Alternatively, it may include research and development to optimize and integrate multiple unit operations of the proposed conversion pathway.