It is no secret that low oil prices have disrupted the bioeconomy, making it harder than ever to finance innovative bioenergy projects and especially produce cost-competitive advanced biofuels. Despite the gloominess that has surrounded the industry trying to commercialize biobased products and fuels since 2014, attractive federal funding opportunities for both research and development (R&D) and commercialization activities remain available and well-funded. Furthermore, federal and state policy frameworks remain in place to create a market for advanced biofuels including the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), the latter of which has subsequently been adopted by Oregon and Washington States. For industry that has recently raised capital and has a viable path forward, these hard times may come with the silver lining of reducing competition for the federal dollars that remain available. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) continues to release millions in relevant R&D funding opportunity announcements (FOA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to gain momentum with its loan guarantee program for biofuels, biobased products, and renewable chemicals. What follows is an overview of the first notable federal funding opportunities in calendar year (CY) 2016 for today's bioeconomy.

1. DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office's "MEGA-BIO: Bioproducts to enable biofuels" FOA

Up to $11.3 million in funding will be made available for between 1-10 awards with a range of $1 to 8 million each.

The Bioenergy Technologies Office's (BETO) MEGA-BIO FOA aims to develop biomass conversion pathways capable of flexibly and cost-competitively producing biofuels and biobased products. Biobased products and renewable chemicals have the potential to incentivize the de-risking of front-end processes (from feedstock logistics through deconstruction) that are also necessary for fuel production. DOE welcomes project proposals that co-produce fuels and products or projects where the conversion platform can be readily retooled for fuels or products.

Key dates:

  • Informational Webinar: 2/16/16, 3:00pm ET
  • Concept Papers due: 2/26/16, 5:00pm ET
  • Full Applications due: 4/15/16, 5:00pm ET

For more information and to apply online, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's website.

2. USDA's Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance (Loan Guarantee) Program

USDA has opened its second application window under its Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (the "9003 Program"), following its program revamp last summer to include projects that entail renewable chemical production (with a minimal biofuels component) or biobased product development. Of the $130 million appropriated for the 9003 Program in the 2014 Farm Bill, which is leveraged to approximately $600 million in loan funding authority, we estimate that $300 million remains (given the historical funds-to-loan authority ratio and potential left over funding from prior rounds). Moreover, the loan guarantee program passed a significant milestone last week when the agency approved its first-ever Phase One renewable chemicals project worth more than $100 million.

The applicant Biosynthetic Technologies, LLC (BT) – which has utilized Holland & Knight energy advisors throughout the process – aims to construct a full-scale commercial manufacturing facility for the production of very high-performance biobased oils used in automotive and industrial applications. Following this approval, USDA now enters into the Phase Two of the loan guarantee process where it must come to an agreement with BT and its lender of record prior to the close of the loan. Passing this major milestone underscores the agency's increasing momentum in attracting competitive applications and issuing loan commitments especially for renewable chemical and biobased product projects.

Key dates:

  • Letter of Intent due: 3/2/16, 4:30pm ET
  • Phase 1 Applications due: 4/1/16, 4:30pm ET