11 University- and Industry-Led Projects will Develop Biomass Resources to Convert to Low-Carbon Fuel for Planes and Ships  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced nearly $34 million in funding for 11 projects that will support high-impact research and development to improve and produce biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts. These biomass resources, otherwise known as feedstocks, can be produced by municipal solid waste (MSW) streams and algae and converted into low-carbon fuels that can significantly contribute to the decarbonization of transportation sectors that face barriers to electrification, like aviation and marine. By lowering the carbon footprint of the transportation sector, biofuels will play an important role in reaching the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

“From food waste to yard trimmings, biomass technology is converting our everyday trash into low-carbon fuel for planes and ships while cutting costs and supporting our critical transportation sector,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “The companies and universities leading these projects will ensure that our cutting-edge biofuel technologies reduce carbon emissions, create new jobs up and down the supply chain, and are made in America by American workers.”  

Transportation accounts for approximately 30% of total U.S. energy consumption and generates the largest share of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Biofuels serve as a low-carbon alternative to petroleum and can also be used in the production of carbon-heavy products like plastics, fertilizers, lubricants, and industrial chemicals.  

“We need transformational, innovative technology to mitigate the most severe impacts of climate change,” said U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI). “Global Algae Innovations on Kauai is at work on technology that would create energy from algae, and this new federal funding will help this local company continue its groundbreaking work.” 

“The University of Toledo is a nationally-recognized leader in the research of biofuel energies and environmental resilience,” said U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. “This vital partnership is recognition of the important role the University of Toledo plays, and will help advance the critical technology breakthroughs necessary to power our cleaner, greener energy future.” 

“I was thrilled to learn that North Carolina State University in my district was awarded this crucial funding from the Department of Energy,” said U.S. Representative Deborah Ross (NC-02). “I am so proud of the work that NC State and its partners are doing to find novel ways to reduce municipal solid waste and explore alternative fuel sources. This award will go a long way in helping them expand their innovative research. This effort is just another example of the ingenuity the universities, startups, and small businesses in North Carolina’s 2nd district deploy to tackle our country’s greatest problems.”  

The selected projects will: 

  • Research and develop waste for energy conversion ($15M) – Awardees across five projects will expand understanding of the potential for municipal solid waste (which typically consists of a complex mixture of food waste, glass, metals, yard trimmings, woody waste materials, non-recyclable paper and plastic, construction and demolition waste, rags, and sludge from wastewater treatment) to become biofuel energy. The process of converting waste into biofuel has significant potential to divert large volumes of garbage from the landfills to the refinery.
  • Improve algae farming practices to increase production ($18.7M) – Awardees across six projects will look into diverse strains and farming practices of algae and explore new ways to improve their growth. Algae uses sunlight and nutrients to grow, and then can be converted to a variety of biofuels and products. 

"The ABO is thrilled to see continued support for algae programs that have significant potential to push the bioenergy industry forward,” said Dr. Rebecca White, Executive Director of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO). “DOE has a long history of supporting work that yields discoveries and innovation in algae production. These projects will examine a diverse portfolio of algae strains that will advance the use of algae products across market sectors and significantly contribute to reducing carbon emissions." 

“Converting waste into resources relies on continued scientific advancement and innovation to overcome the technological and economic limitations that stand in the way of lasting change,” said Dr. Bryan Staley, President & CEO of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation. “Through these projects, DOE’s significant commitment to waste conversion will move the needle substantially.” 

“Airlines for America applauds Secretary Granholm and the DOE for their continued and vital support for the development and production of environmentally friendly sustainable aviation fuel (SAF),” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio. “SAF currently results in an emissions savings of up to 80 percent, compared to conventional jet fuel, and it can be made from a wide array of feedstocks, ranging from woody waste to used cooking oil to municipal solid waste. Projects like these will help to further advance SAF as the U.S. airline industry works toward its goals of making 2 billion gallons of SAF available for carriers to use in 2030 and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.” 

The White House and multiple Federal Agencies, including DOE, USDA, FAA, and NASA, plan to hold a virtual roundtable with public and private sectors leaders discussing the path to decarbonizing the aviation sector, incorporating technologies like sustainable aviation fuels.  The event will include stakeholders from the aviation, manufacturing, fuel, labor and agricultural sectors to emphasize the importance of collaboration across the government and industry to put aviation on a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050 in line with broader climate commitments of the Biden-Harris Administration.  

More information about how DOE is working to develop industrially relevant, transformative, and revolutionary bioenergy technologies can be found on DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) website. BETO is part of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).