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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a CRS report, updated on September 19, 2022, entitled The Bioeconomy: A Primer. The report provides an overview of the bioeconomy, details the efforts of the United States and other selected nations pertaining to the bioeconomy, and offers policy considerations for strengthening the role of the United States in the global bioeconomy. The report does not examine the policies and programs of individual sectors that contribute to the bioeconomy (e.g., biofuels, biomanufacturing, pharmaceuticals, or agriculture), but instead discusses the bioeconomy from a macro level perspective.
 
According to the report, issues for consideration regarding advancement of the U.S. bioeconomy that could be pursued by Congress include:

  • Development and Implementation of a National Strategy: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and others have recommended that the federal government develop and regularly update a national bioeconomy strategy. As reported in our September 13, 2022, blog item, on September 12, 2022, President Joseph Biden signed Executive Order (EO) 14081 “to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing towards innovative solutions in health, climate change, energy, food security, agriculture, supply chain resilience, and national and economic security.” According to the report, the policies and activities included in the EO appear to respond to NASEM’s recommendation for a more comprehensive vision and approach to advancing the U.S. bioeconomy. If Congress is interested in further supporting the U.S. bioeconomy, it may consider codifying some of the efforts initiated under the EO or establishing an alternative high-level coordination body tasked with developing, implementing, and evaluating a comprehensive U.S. bioeconomy strategy. It could also continue to support a more decentralized framework that encourages sector specific programs and activities related to the bioeconomy. The report states that “[r]egardless of the approach, sustainment of bioeconomy policies and programs across presidential Administrations and Congresses will likely be necessary for maintaining U.S. leadership in the future bioeconomy.” The report acknowledges that ensuring long-term engagement, including the provision of sufficient resources, “is often challenging.”
     
  • Investment in Research and Development (R&D): According to the report, many experts call for increased federal investment in R&D to maintain U.S. leadership in the bioeconomy. In general, experts highlight the life sciences, computing and information sciences, engineering, and biotechnology for increased support, and many also emphasize the convergence of such disciplines. Beyond investments in basic and applied research in areas deemed critical to advancing the bioeconomy, some call for improvements in bioeconomy-related R&D infrastructure, including biomanufacturing platforms and pilot facilities. The report states that Congress may find that a more holistic view of its investments in and oversight of biological research, infrastructure, and data is necessary. At least 25 federal agencies and departments support biological R&D, and the jurisdiction of such agencies spans multiple congressional committees, making coordination, oversight, and coherence of bioeconomy policies and investments more challenging.
     
  • Promotion of Regional Efforts: The report states that to have ready access to biological resources (e.g., crops, forests), implementation of many aspects of the bioeconomy will occur at the regional scale and involve rural communities. According to the report, policies to encourage the development of bioeconomy clusters and regions, including resources for planning and the creation of networks that facilitate collaboration between diverse stakeholders, including firms from divergent sectors and small businesses, are common. The report notes that it is unclear if existing programs and efforts to support regional innovation and technology-based economic development, including in rural areas, are sufficient to advance the bioeconomy. Congress may examine the size, scope, effectiveness, and synergy of existing programs, in addition to creating new programs or modifying existing programs to promote regional bioeconomy efforts.
     
  • Creating a Market for Biobased Products: The report states that an analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that bioeconomy-related policies focus primarily on supply-side or technology push measures (i.e., support for R&D and demonstration efforts). According to the report, OECD emphasized the importance of public procurement in helping to create a market for biobased products and recognized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) BioPreferred Program “as the most advanced effort in this regard.” Despite the relative success of the program, NASEM identified some areas for improvement, including updating the reporting mechanisms involved in the federal procurement of biobased products, setting procurement targets, and increasing funding for the program to enable increased awareness and standardized reporting.
     
  • Developing a Bioeconomy Workforce: According to the report, “[t]here is broad consensus that access to a skilled workforce is essential to advancing the bioeconomy,” and “it is also clear that bioeconomy education and training should be multidisciplinary in nature.” As noted by OECD, “the long-standing conundrum of multidisciplinary education is the need for both breadth and depth to graduate people with problem-solving abilities,” however. Additionally, according to OECD, the bioeconomy workforce needs more undergraduates than doctorates. The report states that Congress may examine federal investments in bioeconomy training, education, and workforce development and the progress of the federal government in attaining the goals outlined in its strategic plan on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
     
  • Public Engagement and Acceptance: The report states that due to the significance of public acceptance, a number of countries are pursuing public engagement and awareness activities and policies. In a 2017 study, NASEM recommended that federal agencies invest in new methods of understanding the ethical, legal, and societal implications (ELSI) of future biotechnology products. Congress may conduct additional oversight on federal efforts to enhance public awareness and acceptance of biobased products and services and may also consider the level of resources allocated toward ELSI-related research across federal agencies, as well as the coordination of such efforts.
     
  • International Collaboration: According to the report, most bioeconomy-related policies and strategies are focused at the national level with some exceptions (e.g., the European Union (EU)). In the United States, some states, such as Maine and Michigan, have engaged in bilateral collaborations. The report states that Congress “may examine the state of international collaboration on the bioeconomy and the need for congressional direction in this regard.”
     
  • Sustainability and Creating a Circular Economy: A number of nations, especially those in the EU, are increasingly connecting their bioeconomy strategies and policies to action plans associated with creating a more sustainable and circular economy. Many countries see a connection between the bioeconomy and a circular economy as a means to address a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Congress may consider the degree to which U.S. bioeconomy policies and activities can or should be tied to and aligned with achieving the SDGs. Additionally, while the use of waste material as a feedstock is central to a circular economy, there are often challenges to its use. Congress may examine any regulatory impediments or other barriers to creating a circular economy.

The crosscutting nature of the bioeconomy, in addition to the diversity of potential benefits associated with its growth and advancement, offer a number of reasons for increased congressional interest in bioeconomy policies. The crosscutting nature of the bioeconomy also poses potential challenges to effective policymaking, including the harmonization of policies and coherent governance. Moreover, it likely means that the growth and success of the U.S. bioeconomy will depend, in part, on effective public-private partnerships in research, innovation, education, and workforce development. Transitioning to a biobased economy would take sustained commitment, including balancing short-term actions and long-term planning, removing barriers to such a transition, and creating the opportunity for radical innovation. Congress may decide there is no need to reorganize or group together federal activities, including some long-standing efforts, under a bioeconomy framework. It may decide to pursue bioeconomy-related policies through new or existing sector-specific focused efforts, or it may decide current policies and activities are sufficient. Regardless, other countries are adopting policies and strategies to advance their bioeconomies. Such efforts have the potential to challenge U.S. leadership in biotechnology and other bioeconomy-related sectors that many view as critical to national security and economic competitiveness.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On August 25, 2022, Natural Resources Canada (NRC) announced a call for project proposals to support the establishment of biomass supply chains to ensure that a steady and usable supply of sustainable feedstock is available to clean fuel production facilities across Canada. According to NRC, as a component of the Clean Fuels Fund, this dedicated biomass call includes three project streams that are expected to enable emissions reductions while benefiting communities, leveraging private sector investments, creating jobs, and providing opportunities for Indigenous-led businesses and communities. Application is open to legal entities validly incorporated or registered in Canada, including not-for-profit and for-profit organizations such as:

  • Electricity or gas utilities;
  • Private sector companies;
  • Industry associations;
  • Research associations;
  • Standards organizations;
  • Indigenous and community groups;
  • Canadian academic institutions; and
  • Provincial, territorial, regional, or municipal governments, or their departments or agencies where applicable.

Eligible projects include:

  • Capital biomass supply chain projects that use technologies in advanced stages of technological readiness (TRL-9) and that are designed for commercial deployment; and
  • Feasibility studies, basic engineering studies, and detailed front-end engineering studies to assess the new build or expansion of low carbon fuel production facilities. In addition, feasibility studies to assess the feasibility of establishing a regional biomass supply chain risk rating.

All projects must be completed by March 31, 2026. Projects could receive up to 50 percent of eligible costs to a maximum of $5 million in funding. Applications will be accepted until November 23, 2022, for non-Indigenous applicants. Indigenous applications will be received on a continuous intake basis until funding is no longer available.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on August 23, 2022, that USDA is accepting applications for $100 million in grants to increase the sale and use of biofuels derived from U.S. agricultural products. 87 Fed. Reg. 51641. The funding is available through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP). The program seeks to market higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel by sharing the costs to build and retrofit biofuel-related infrastructure such as pumps, dispensers, and storage tanks. Applications are due by 4:30 p.m. (EST) on November 21, 2022.
 
Under HBIIP, USDA provides grants to transportation fueling and distribution facilities. These grants lower the out-of-pocket costs for businesses to install and upgrade infrastructure and related equipment. The $100 million will support a variety of fueling operations, including filling stations, convenience stores, and larger retail stores that also sell fuel. The funds will also support fleet facilities, including rail and marine, and fuel distribution facilities, such as fuel terminal operations, midstream operations, and distribution facilities, as well as home heating oil distribution centers.
 
The grants will cover up to 50 percent of total eligible project costs -- but not more than $5 million -- to help owners of transportation fueling and fuel distribution facilities convert to higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel. These higher-blend fuels must be greater than ten percent for ethanol and greater than five percent for biodiesel.
 


 

 By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on August 11, 2022, that a research team from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory investigated how potassium in biomass feedstocks poisons a catalyst. The researchers focused their study on potassium, a common alkali metal found in biomass feedstocks, since previous analysis of deactivated catalysts after catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) of woody biomass feedstock revealed potassium accumulation on the catalysts’ surface.
 
The research team simulated catalyst poisoning at different potassium levels to trigger deactivation during industrial operations. They then analyzed the catalysts and conducted kinetic measurements to determine how the catalysts’ ability to catalyze chemical reaction changed with the introduction of potassium. According to BETO, the team found potassium poisoning could be substantially mitigated with a developed regeneration method -- a water washing process -- that can successfully remove most of the loaded potassium, restoring more than 90 percent of the catalytic activities.
 
BETO states that the results of these studies provide new insights for the bioenergy industry that will foster improved catalyst design and regeneration for longer lasting catalysts. The studies also created “a solid knowledge base for developers of biomass conversion technologies to continue to build upon, making new and innovative conversion technologies less risky to research and develop.” According to BETO, the work “also supports accelerated process development that can help industry convert biomass feedstocks commercially, leading to more effective and inexpensive production of biofuels.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On July 26, 2022, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced the bipartisan and bicameral Next Generation Fuels Act (S. 4621), which would aim to leverage higher-octane fuels to improve engine efficiency and performance. According to Grassley’s July 26, 2022, press release, allowing the sale of fuels with greater octane levels would increase the amount of ethanol that can be used in the fuel supply, in turn lowering prices at the pump for consumers. The press release states that due to ethanol’s high-octane rating, greater ethanol blends result in both additional fuel efficiency and significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction. Ethanol is also priced lower than gasoline, making it the most cost-effective octane source. Under the bill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be required to carry out a study of the emissions effects of ethanol-blended fuels in light-duty vehicles and light-duty trucks, for the purpose of updating the Motor Vehicle Emission Simulator modeling system. The bill would establish a minimum research octane number (RON) standard of 98 for gasoline, which is higher than the typical octane rating of 91 RON today. It would also require sources of the added octane value to reduce carbon emissions by at least 40 percent compared to baseline gasoline. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on July 26, 2022, that it “has achieved a significant milestone in decreasing the minimum fuel selling price (MFSP) of drop-in biofuels, which are fuels made from biomass and other waste carbon sources, and that are compatible with existing petroleum fuel infrastructure and conventional vehicles.” BETO partnered with T2C-Energy, LLC (T2C) to validate pilot-scale production of drop-in biofuels with a price of $3 per gallon of gas equivalent (GGE) and at least 60 percent lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than petroleum, using T2C’s TRIFTS® process.
 
According to BETO, the TRIFTS process converts anaerobic digestor produced biogas (or landfill gas) to liquid transportation fuels. TRIFTS has allowed drop-in renewable diesel fuel to reach an MFSP of $2.91/GGE without the use of credits from the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), California Low Carbon Fuels Standard, or other carbon credits while reducing GHG emissions by 130 percent when compared to traditional petroleum diesel fuel.

Tags: DOE, BETO, Biofuel

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on August 1, 2022, a 15-day public comment period on two additional peer review candidates for the external peer review of the Biofuels and the Environment: Third Triennial Report to Congress (RtC3). 87 Fed. Reg. 46958. EPA previously requested comment on an initial pool of 20 candidates announced in a May 9, 2022, Federal Register notice. EPA states that after considering public comments and the balance and collective expertise of the reviewers, it asked ERG, the independent contractor organizing the peer review, to identify additional candidates to strengthen expertise gaps and allow a more balanced panel. EPA seeks public comment on additional peer review candidates to strengthen underrepresented areas of expertise, specifically economics, water quality, and ecology disciplines. According to EPA, ERG will ensure the peer reviewers’ combined expertise best spans the following disciplines: economics, engineering, agronomics, land use change, remote sensing, air quality, biogeochemistry, water quality, hydrology, conservation biology, limnology, and ecology. Comments are due August 16, 2022.
 
The first report to Congress (RtC1), completed in 2011, provided an assessment of the environmental and resource conservation impacts associated with increased biofuel production and use. The second report to Congress (RtC2) was completed in 2018 and reaffirmed the overarching conclusions of RtC1. RtC3 builds on the previous two reports and provides an update on the impacts to date of the RFS Program on the environment. It assesses air, water, and soil quality; ecosystem health and biodiversity; and other effects. RtC3 also includes new analyses not previously included in RtC1 and RtC2.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On June 1, 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) titled “Scale-Up of Integrated Biorefineries.” The FOA states that $59 million is available to expand the production of biofuels and bioproducts. In alignment with a broader DOE strategy to support biorefinery projects for the transportation sector, the FOA aims to reduce emissions in hard-to-decarbonize sectors and create jobs in rural areas of the United States. DOE is focused on applied research, development, and deployment of such products to improve the performance and cost of biofuel production technologies and scale-up production systems in partnership with industry.

U.S. Secretary of Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm, stated, “[e]nergy harnessed from plants and waste presents a huge opportunity to reduce emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as aviation, rail, and shipping, while supporting high-quality jobs across rural America. DOE’s investment in biofuels is a key component of the Biden Administration’s effort to support clean energy technologies that increase our energy independence and move us closer to a net-zero carbon economy.”

To be eligible for funding, applicants must submit a concept paper to DOE by 5:00 p.m. (EDT), July 8, 2022. Concept papers and applications must be submitted through DOE’s online application portal.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On April 18, 2022, EPA announced the opportunity for public comment on its proposed analysis of the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with biofuels produced from canola/rapeseed oil. EPA’s assessment considers diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, naphtha, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) produced from canola/rapeseed oil through a hydrotreating process. EPA is proposing to find that these pathways would meet the lifecycle GHG emissions reduction threshold of 50 percent required for advanced biofuels and biomass-based diesel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. Based on its analyses, EPA is also proposing to approve these fuel pathways, making them eligible to generate Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN) if they meet the definitional and RIN generation criteria for renewable fuel specified in the RFS regulations.

Comments must be submitted by May 18, 2022.

Tags: EPA, GHG, Biofuel, RFS, RIN

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On April 12, 2022, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, announced steps that USDA is taking to implement President Biden’s plan to enable energy independence by boosting homegrown biofuels. President Biden’s plan aims to reduce energy prices and tackle the rising consumer prices caused by “Putin’s Price Hike.” As part of USDA’s measures to help the Biden Administration to achieve its goals, USDA is making the following investments:

  • $5.6 million in funding for seven states to build infrastructure for renewable fuels through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program;
     
  • $700 million for biofuels producers through USDA’s new Biofuel Producer Program;
     
  • $100 million for biofuels infrastructure grants; and
     
  • Billions of dollars to support a new market in sustainable aviation fuels by partnering with the federal government to advance the use of cleaner and more sustainable fuels in the United States.

According to USDA, these investments will assist in the development, transportation, and distribution of low-carbon fuels, more affordable and cleaner fuels for consumers, and better market access for producers.


 
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