Projects Align with Administration’s New Goal of Decarbonizing the Aviation Sector by 2050

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of a White House roundtable to launch the Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) Grand Challenge to decarbonize the aviation sector by 2050, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced $64.7 million in funding for projects focused on producing cost-effective, low-carbon biofuels. These investments will advance technologies to create replacements for petroleum fuels used in heavy-duty forms of transportation, like airplanes and ships, and accelerate America’s path to a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.  

“Decarbonizing transportation – particularly planes and ships that are difficult to electrify – is an essential part of the path to a net-zero carbon future,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These investments mobilize industries to join this effort, which will create new, good-paying jobs across the biofuels, chemical, and agricultural supply chains and boost economic activity in rural economies.” 

As part of the SAF Grand Challenge, DOE also signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Agriculture to collaborate on the needed research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to reach the goals of supplying at least 3 billion gallons of SAF per year by 2030 and sufficient SAF to meet 100% of aviation fuel demand – currently 35 billion gallons per year – by 2050. 

These efforts seek to cut carbon emissions from the aviation and shipping industries, which – because of their size – are more challenging to electrify. Biofuels, which are produced by converting the renewable carbon from recently living organic materials like crop waste, food waste, and algae into a liquid fuel, can serve as a low-carbon equivalent to fossil-based fuels such as gasoline, jet, and diesel fuel.  

“I’m thrilled that the Department of Energy has awarded a grant to Lignolix, a company with roots in Professor Thomas Epps’ lab at the University of Delaware, to support their work to transform plant waste into clean fuels and sustainable materials – another success story out of Delaware's entrepreneurship community,” said U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE). 

“We must cut emissions in aviation and commercial shipping if we’re going to meet our net-zero goals,” said U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper (CO). “This DOE research grant will put Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Research Lab at the center of those efforts and at the forefront of biofuel research.”  

“I am proud that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), located in my district, is helping lead the way to reduce emissions from the aviation industry. NREL’s work will help lower the price of cellulosic sugars, which can be used to make sustainable aviation fuel or other biofuels and bioproducts,” said U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter (CO-07). “By reducing the price of biofuels, we can incentivize the use of more sustainable options in the aviation industry and help accelerate our path to a cleaner future.” 

“Biofuels are a critical component of our nation’s energy portfolio and our agriculture economy,” said U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (IL-13). “They help reduce emissions while promoting American energy independence. This DOE grant will assist ADM and others in developing new innovations in the biofuels sector. I look forward to watching ADM utilize this grant and continuing to partner with industry stakeholders to further promote the production and use of biofuels.” 

The 22 selected projects target high-impact bioenergy technology RD&D to bolster foundational knowledge and scale up systems to produce low-carbon biofuels at lower costs. Among the projects are: 

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, CO) will lower the cost and carbon intensity of producing a highly fermentable sugar from corn stover. (Award amount: $2,800,000) 
  • Archer Daniels Midland (Decatur, IL) will couple isobutanol (a precursor for sustainable aviation fuel) fermentation with a membrane separations system – reducing energy used in the separation process by 50%. (Award amount: $3,466,844) 
  • Alder Energy (Charleston, SC) will convert miscanthus, a highly promising biomass crop, to SAF through their advanced pyrolysis oil technology, a process that utilizes heat, pressure, and solvents to deconstruct the miscanthus into oils for conversion to SAF. (Award amount: $3,000,000) 
  • D3MAX (Grand Forks, ND) will design a pilot plant to validate technology for first generation ethanol plants to produce ethanol from corn stover, which is then converted to SAF. (Award amount: $499,988) 
  • T2C Energy (Pinellas Park, FL) was selected to design a demonstration scale plant that converts waste landfill gas to SAF or renewable diesel. (Award amount: $533,619) 
  • AVAPCO (Thomaston, GA) will demonstrate a production process for clean, affordable cellulosic sugars, which are derived from agricultural or woody waste residues and can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a variety of products including SAF, bioplastics, and biopolymers. (Award amount: $2,800,000) 
  • Quasar Energy Group (Independence, OH) will use an anaerobic digestor to convert food waste to SAF precursors. The microbes that digest the food waste produce a type of chemical called a volatile fatty acid, which can be converted to SAF. (Award amount: $3,500,000) 

These investments are administered by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), which is focused on developing technologies that convert domestic biomass and other waste resources into low-carbon biofuels and bioproducts. BETO is increasing its emphasis on partnering with industry to demonstrate technologies at large scale in recognition of the urgent need to reduce risks and scale-up SAF production. 

For more information about the selected projects, visit BETO’s website.