USDA announces funding to boost production of biobased fuels, products

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, July 16, 2015 - USDA said it's now accepting applications for funding under a program that supports the production of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturing.

The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program, formerly the Biorefinery Assistance Program, provides loan guarantees of up to $250 million to build or retrofit commercial scale biorefineries and develop renewable chemicals and biobased product manufacturing facilities. The funding was made available through the 2014 farm bill.

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“This critical financing will enhance our efforts to build a robust, rural bioeconomy by helping to expand the availability of biobased products and to increase the number of commercial-scale biorefineries in the country,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. Besides announcing the available funding, Vilsack said USDA has “significantly improved” the biorefinery program to “help create lasting job opportunities in rural America.”

For example, USDA said biorefineries are now able to receive funding to produce more renewable chemicals and other biobased products in addition to advanced biofuels, and biobased product manufacturing facilities are now eligible to convert renewable chemicals and other biobased outputs into “end-user” products. Further, USDA said it has streamlined the application process.

Two funding cycles are being held. Applications for round one are due Oct. 1. Applications for the second round are due April 1, 2016. Click here for information from the Federal Register on how to apply. USDA also scheduled a stakeholder forum today at its Washington headquarters to explain changes in the program under the new farm bill. Click here to sign up for a webcast of the forum, which was set to begin at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time.

According to a USDA report released June 17, the U.S. biobased industry contributed 4 million jobs and nearly $370 billion to the American economy in 2013 alone.

USDA pointed to a company called Sapphire Energy and its “Green Crude Farm” in Columbus, New Mexico, as an example of how government funding and partnerships with the private sector are helping to support development of biorefineries.

In 2011, USDA provided Sapphire Energy a $54.5 million loan guarantee to build a refined algal oil commercial facility. The plant opened in May 2012 and is producing renewable algal oil that can be further refined to replace petroleum-derived diesel and jet fuel. According to the company, more than 600 jobs were created throughout the first phase of construction at the facility, and 30 full-time employees currently operate the plant. After Sapphire received additional equity from private investors, it repaid the remaining balance on its USDA-backed loan in 2013.

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