The US Department of Agriculture has made available $181 million to develop commercial-scale biorefineries or retrofit existing facilities with appropriate technology to develop advanced biofuels.
Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack says the financing is intended to expand the number of commercial biorefineries in the US that are producing advanced biofuels from non-food sources.
The Biorefinery Assistance Program was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA Rural Development. It provides loan guarantees to viable commercial-scale facilities to develop new and emerging technologies for advanced biofuels. Eligible entities include Indian tribes, State or local governments, corporations, farmer co-ops, agricultural producer associations, higher education institutions, rural electric co-ops, public power entities or consortiums of any of the above.
USDA points to Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm, in Columbus, N.M., as an example of how this program is supporting the development of advanced biofuels. In 2011, USDA provided Sapphire Energy a $54.5 million loan guarantee to build a refined algal oil commercial facility. In continuous operation since May 2012, the plant 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. The company expects to produce 100 barrels of refined algal oil per day by 2015, and to be at commercial-scale production by 2018. After receiving additional equity from private investors, Sapphire was able to repay the remaining balance on its USDA-backed loan earlier this year.
Additionally, in 2011 USDA issued a $12.8 million loan guarantee to Fremont Community Digester for construction of an anaerobic digester in Fremont, Mich. The digester, which began commercial operations late last year, is the largest commercial-scale anaerobic digester in the US. It has the capacity to process more than 100,000 tons of food waste annually to produce biogas and electricity. Biogas from the digester runs generators that total 2.85 MW in capacity. The electricity produced is sold to a local utility and is providing power for about 1,500 local homes.
In August, Sapphire Energy received $5 million investments from the Energy Department, part of some $22 million in new investments by the agency to help develop cost-competitive algae fuels and streamline the biomass feedstock supply chain for advanced biofuels.