DOE Awards Grants to Biofuel, Chemical Biorefineries

Last month, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced 19 biomass projects that would receive renewable energy grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The list included 14 pilot, 4 demonstration, and 1 commercial-scale project, receiving a total of $561 million in grants ranging in size from $2.5 million to $81 million. The projects will be located in 15 different states.

Additionally, Vilsack announced a $54.5 million Biorefinery Assistance Program loan guarantee for Sapphire Energy, one of the projects that received a grant to turn algae into jet fuel and diesel. The project will be constructed in Columbus, New Mexico.

Most interesting about the list is that it is not limited to liquid transportation biofuels. Many of the projects will co-produce renewable chemicals — specifically mentioned are plans to produce potassium acetate, ethyl acrylate, and succinic acid.

The grants are intended to underwrite an equal share of private investment in the projects. That may confound the prediction of Seeking Alpha’s Neil Dikeman, who predicts, “The last petal of the last bloom off the biofuel rose falls by the anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2010.” While small biofuels producers may not have “the horsepower, expertise, or balance sheet” to compete against the oil giants, the production of renewable and specialty chemicals may provide a handhold in the market.

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