News and Events July 06, 2012
The Energy Department announced on June 27 that it will award new funding to 104 small businesses nationwide. The grants, totaling more than $102 million, will support businesses in 26 states, helping companies to develop promising technologies with a strong potential for commercialization and job creation.
Funded through the Energy Department’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, the selections are for Phase II work. In Phase II, companies will build on the conceptual work undertaken in Phase I and pursue the next steps in bringing the technologies to market. The Phase II awards are up to $1 million for work over two years. The awards support developing technologies in areas ranging from large wind turbine towers to more energy-efficient data centers. For example, the Xunlight 26 Solar company of Toledo, Ohio, will work on transparent, flexible cadmium telluride modules for photovoltaics. See the DOE press release, the list of awards, and the SBIR and STTR website.
The Energy Department announced on June 27 that its State Energy Program has awarded $14 million to state-led energy efficiency projects in 22 states. The funds will allow the government agencies to conduct energy efficiency upgrades to public facilities and develop local policies and programs to help reduce energy waste and save taxpayer money. These investments are part of the Energy Department’s strategy to create jobs, boost domestic manufacturing in energy-saving technologies, and help Americans save money.
The state-led projects will conduct whole-building energy efficiency upgrades across hundreds of public buildings, saving millions of dollars for state and local governments and creating new local jobs for energy auditors, architects, engineers and construction workers. The states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. The projects fall under two broad categories, including advancing energy efficiency in public buildings and deploying fee-based self-funded public facilities energy retrofit programs. In addtion, two states will be taking energy efficiency policy action to encourage cost-effective energy efficiency investments and establish or increase statewide energy savings goals by 2015. See the DOE press release and the complete list of projects.
The Energy Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Navy on July 2 announced $30 million in federal funding to match private investments in commercial-scale advanced drop-in biofuels. Drop-in biofuels are fuels that can serve as direct replacements or supplements to existing gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels, without any changes to existing fuel distribution networks or engines—and have the potential to significantly reduce U.S. reliance on oil imports. DOE is also offering a total of $32 million in new investments for earlier-stage research that will continue to drive technological breakthroughs and additional cost reductions in the industry.
In his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future released in March 2011, President Obama set a goal of reducing oil imports by one-third by 2025, increasing energy efficiency, and speeding development of biofuels and other alternatives. As part of that effort, the blueprint directed the DOE, the Navy, and the USDA to collaborate to support commercialization of drop-in biofuel substitutes for diesel and jet fuel, which lead to the current Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). This FOA has a two-phased approach, with government and industry sharing in the cost. In Phase 1, applicants will submit a design package and comprehensive business plan for a commercial-scale biorefinery, identify and secure project sites, and take additional required steps spelled out in the announcement. Awardees selected to continue into Phase 2 will submit additional information for the construction or retrofit of a biorefinery. Applications are due by August 13, 2012. See the funding opportunity announcement, and the Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future.
In addition, DOE offered new investments in earlier-stage biofuels research that complement the commercial-scale efforts announced by the Navy and USDA. These early-stage, pre-commercial investments are the latest steps in the Obama Administration’s efforts to advance biofuels technologies to continue to lower costs, improve performance, and identify new effective, non-food feedstocks and processing technologies.
The funding announced by DOE includes $20 million to support innovative pilot-scale and demonstration-scale biorefineries that could produce renewable biofuels that meet military specifications for jet fuel and shipboard diesel using a variety of non-food biomass feedstocks, waste-based materials, and algae. These projects may support new plant construction, retrofits on existing U.S. biorefineries, or operations at plants ready to begin production at the pilot- or pre-commercial scale. This investment will also help federal and local governments, private developers, and industry collect accurate data on the cost of producing fuels made from biomass and waste feedstocks. See the full funding solicitation. Applications are due August 13, 2012.
Also, DOE announced $12 million to support up to eight projects focused on researching ways to develop biobased transportation fuels and products using synthetic biological processing. Synthetic biological processing offers an innovative technique to enable efficient, cost-saving conversion of non-food biomass to biofuels. These projects will develop novel biological systems that can enhance the breakdown of raw biomass feedstocks and assist in converting feedstocks into transportation fuels.
The projects—which will be led by small businesses, universities, national laboratories, and industry—will seek to overcome technical and scientific barriers to cost-competitive advanced biofuels and bioproducts. Applications are due July 10, 2012. See the full funding opportunity announcement, and the DOE press release.
The Obama Administration announced on June 26 that 36 new members have joined the Better Buildings Challenge. These new commitments, from four states—Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, and North Carolina—local governments, and school districts, total nearly 300 million square feet in job-creating building energy upgrades, which is equivalent to more than 130 Empire State Buildings. In addition, new public tax guidance issued at the same time by the U.S. Department of the Treasury will make it easier for state and local governments to access more than $2 billion in existing low-cost financing to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through qualified energy conservation bonds. These bonds (QECBs) provide state and local governments with access to low-cost financing to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
The challenge is part of the Better Buildings Initiative launched in February 2011 to support job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial and industrial building energy upgrades. The initiative is spearheaded by former President Clinton and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness with the goal of making U.S. buildings 20% more efficient over the next decade, which will help reduce U.S. energy costs by nearly $40 billion. Last year, commercial buildings consumed roughly 20% of all the energy used by the U.S. economy. See the Energy Department press release and the Better Buildings Challenge website.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced on July 2 that two major wind energy initiatives have completed important environmental reviews in three states—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Wyoming—clearing the way for public comment and final review.
DOI announced the release of final environmental impact statements for a proposed wind power complex in Wyoming that would generate up to 3,000 megawatts of power, making it the largest wind farm facility in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The proposed Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Farm would include up to 1,000 turbines and generate enough power for as many as 1 million homes. The project would be built on public, private, and state land in Carbon County, Wyoming. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is reviewing the proposed wind project, as well as a proposed amendment to the Rawlins Resource Management Plan to accommodate the facility.
Also, DOI announced the publication of an environmental assessment for commercial wind leases and site assessment activities on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This step positions DOI to offer the area as one of the nation’s first offshore competitive lease sales before the end of the year. The environmental assessment for the Rhode Island/Massachusetts Wind Energy Area will be used by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to inform future leasing decisions as part of the Obama Administration’s “Smart from the Start” offshore wind energy initiative. The Wind Energy Area comprises approximately 164,750 acres within the area of mutual interest identified by the two states. BOEM leadership will host public information sessions on July 16 and 17 to further engage stakeholders and consider public comments on the environmental assessment. See the DOI press release.
Between 1980 and 2009, the global demand for lithium has tripled. This metal is a key material in a number of growing industries, including advanced vehicle batteries and consumer electronics. But more specifically, lithium-ion batteries are a vital component in electric vehicles and other rechargeable batteries for consumer electronics and are used to produce the plug-in electric vehicles on the market today. These batteries also have a major impact on energy storage infrastructure and are helping integrate renewable energy sources into the electricity grid.
After leading the world in lithium production in the early 1990s, America now imports the majority of its lithium materials and compounds from South America.
The Energy Department is hoping to bring lithium production leadership back to the United States with a $28.4 million federal investment in the communities of Silver Peak, Nevada, and Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Read the complete story in the Energy Blog.