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DOE funds cleantech, but will it last?

Lanzatech, Global Algae Innovations among awardees for small-scale, biobased projects

by Melody M. Bomgardner
January 9, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 2

This image shows an aerial view of Global Algae Innovations’ large u-shaped algae ponds and buildings.
Credit: Global Algae Innovations
Global Algae Innovations grows algae in high-tech ponds on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

In the waning days of 2016, the bioenergy technologies office of the U.S. Department of Energy announced six awards totaling just under $13 million to companies planning pilot- and demonstration-scale biorefinery projects.

DOE said it anticipates awarding an additional phase of funding in 2018 to help firms construct and operate the facilities. However, President-elect Trump has stated that he does not support subsidies for new energy projects. In a 2012 Twitter comment, he criticized a DOE loan that was given to the solar firm Solyndra, which went bankrupt.

Under the current DOE program, LanzaTech will receive $4 million to expand the use of a demonstration facility in Soperton, Ga., that makes jet fuel and diesel from ethanol. The company uses microbes to make ethanol from industrial waste gases and converts it to fuel using a process it developed with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The new funds will allow LanzaTech to plan an expansion from 15,000 L per year of fuels output to more than 11 million L. In addition, the company will convert ethanol made from gasified biomass in a process developed by the company Aemetis.

Biobased jet fuel is also being targeted by Avapco, which will get $3.7 million for a Thomaston, Ga., biorefinery that uses woody biomass. The firm will also produce cellulosic diesel and other products with biobased chemicals developer Genomatica.

Global Algae Innovations, meanwhile, was awarded $1.2 million to make improvements to its algae production processes. The company is planning a pilot-scale algae biofuel facility in Hawaii that will use high-productivity cultivation and energy-efficient harvesting technologies.

Even after President Trump takes office, DOE is not likely to cancel the second phase of the grant program for successful awardees, says Victor Oh, an analyst at Lux Research, “But during Donald Trump’s four-year term, I can’t imagine a lot of new support for the types of early-stage technologies that had been getting funding under the Obama Administration,” Oh predicts.



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