The US Department of Energy Jan. 26 awarded universities and private companies a combined total of $118 million to pursue 17 projects aimed at boosting the production of biofuels seen as key to reducing emissions in the transportation and manufacturing sectors.
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The projects focus on advancing biorefinery development in an effort to make energy-dense, advanced biofuels more plentiful in the US and cost-competitive with traditional fuels used to power heavy-duty vehicles, ships, trains, and airplanes.
Transportation overtook the electric power industry as the highest-emitting sector in 2017 and continues to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, with the movement of passengers and freight accounting for about 27% of US GHG emissions in 2020.
"Financing for novel biorefinery process systems can be a barrier to commercializing advanced biofuels, and this funding will reduce technological uncertainties and enable industry deployment," the DOE said in a statement.
The nine pre-pilot, two pilot, and two demonstration projects selected are expected to help scale up existing biomass facilities so they can eventually annually produce millions of gallons of low-carbon fuel. Another four projects will focus on corn ethanol emission reduction.
The projects span nine states and Washington and use a host of technologies including anaerobic digestion, conversion of cellulosic sugars to sustainable aviation fuel, and catalytic biorefining, to name a few.
The projects align with renewable fuels goals laid out in a national blueprint the Biden administration unveiled Jan. 10 for decarbonizing the transportation sector by 2050. The departments of Energy, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, along with the Environmental Protection Agency outlined three strategies for reducing transportation's carbon footprint that will be followed up with more detailed action plans implemented at the state and local levels.
The newly awarded projects are also expected to support the SAF Grand Challenge. That initiative aims to boost SAF production to at least 3 billion gallons/year by 2030 and wean the sector off petroleum-based jet fuel completely by producing 35 billion gallons/year of SAF by 2050.
About 11% of the transportation sector's emissions come from non-military flights within and departing from the US.