View from the USA: Getting the Bio-based Industry Ready for BRDI Grants
Published August 31, 2016
As Summer draws to a close, Michele Jalbert, Chief Operating Officer, and Corinne Young, Chief Advocate, of the Renewable Chemical and Materials Alliance (re:chem) examine in our latest Stateside update, a cross-agency federal program geared toward developing sustainable sources of biomass in the US.
What do the projects “Biomass Gasification for Chemicals Production Using Chemical Looping Techniques” and “Conversion of Poplar to Ethanol and Polyurethane via Pretreatment and Lignin Polymer Synthesis” have in common? Both were funded through the 2015 US Biomass Research & Development Initiative (BRDI) grants, with awards to Ohio State University and University of California-Riverside, respectively. These are just two of last year’s BRDI awards – and between 2009 and 2012, BRDI grants totaling $118M supported 25 biomass projects.
BRDI is a robust US program that has operated for more than 15 years to focus strategic planning and leverage federal funding assistance to promote the use of bio-based industrial products, originally fuels. BRDI grants are the funding mechanism of a broader US government cross-agency initiative to help develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass. We expect the next round of funding within six months, and renewable chemical companies should be thinking ahead about whether this program may be a good fit for their US operations.
For the last several years, at the Renewable Chemicals & Advanced Materials Alliance (re:chem),we have worked closely with BRDI leaders to broaden the funding portfolio to include more renewable chemicals and bio-based products. As many in the biofuels sector have discovered, revenue streams of these higher value products are vital to cross-subsidize the development of the bio-economy – to help stand up projects and build value chains. As re:chem’s policy work continues to open access to BRDI and other funding program for diverse bio-products and renewable chemicals, our consulting practices continue to help companies capture and monetize these incentives to facilitate deal flow. Given the competitive landscape, we strongly encourage companies to engage early – before the BRDI funding opportunity announcement is issued – to determine the best way to position projects for funding within the prescribed technical areas.
Along the path from concept to commercialization, BRDI funding is clearly focused on the research and development, as well as demonstration phases. The program targets three technical areas:
1.Feedstock Development – this includes research, development and demonstration activities related to feedstocks and feedstock logistics (including the harvest, handling, transport, preprocessing, and storage) relevant to the production of raw materials for conversion to biofuels and bio-based products.
2.Bio-fuels and Bio-based Products Development – this includes research, development and demonstration activities to support:
•the development of diverse cost-effective technologies for the use of cellulosic biomass in the production of biofuels and/or bio-based products
•product diversification through technologies relevant to the production of a range of bio-based products (including chemicals, animal feeds, and cogeneration power) that can potentially increase the feasibility of fuel production in a bio-refinery.
3.Bio-fuels Development Analysis – including a number of areas such as: •The development of analysis that provides strategic guidance for the application of renewable biomass technologies to improve sustainability and environmental quality, cost effectiveness, security and rural economic development.
•The development of systematic evaluations of the impact of expanded biofuel production on the environment (including forest land) and on the food supply for humans
and animals, including the improvement and development of tools for life cycle analysis of current and potential biofuels.
•Assessments of the potential of Federal land resources to increase the production of feedstocks for biofuels and bio-based products, consistent with the integrity of
soil and water resources and with other environmental considerations.
The cross-agency BRDI program is structured with some projects funded through the US Department of Energy (DOE) and some through the US Department of Agriculture, the lead federal agencies which co-chair the initiative. Last year, BRDI awarded seven grants through DOE and USDA — out of more than 400 applicants — ranging from $900,000 to $1.9M. Given the competitive landscape, interested companies should get started now, prepositioning their projects for success.