The Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), in the Office of Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy (EERE), released its updated strategic plan in January. Revised every five years, the strategic plan refreshes and updates BETO’s strategy out to 2040, to assure it is in-line with EERE’s overall vision to foster “a strong and prosperous America powered by clean, affordable, and secure energy.”
With ethanol production at record levels, and 88 million gallons of cellulosic fuels produced in 2015, BETO is turning its attention increasingly towards the whole barrel of oil, to capitalize on “the opportunity to replace the whole barrel of petroleum with a wide range of renewable fuels and products.” According to BETO, “Diversifying and providing biobased alternatives to products from the entire barrel of oil are critical – not only to increasing U.S. energy security, but also to developing a clean energy economy and creating domestic jobs.” According to the 2016 Billion Ton Study, growing the U.S. bioeconomy could create an additional 1.1 million direct jobs and keep $250 billion in the U.S. economy.
The origins of the Bioenergy Technologies Office at DOE go back to the Alternative Motor Fuels Act of 1988, which incentivized automotive manufacturers to produce vehicles capable of handling alternative motor fuels. Then, the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 1992 targeted the replacement of fuels for light-duty vehicles with alternatives like ethanol, and in 1994, the DOE was charged to focus on biofuels, to “reduce harmful emissions from the transportation sector and increase American energy independence.”
For the next 20 years, through research funding and public-private partnerships, BETO, along with other federal agencies such as U.S. Department of Agriculture, helped drive the research, development and deployment of biofuels, through the supply of feedstocks, their conversion to fuels, the distribution and end uses of these fuels. Along the way, the 2005 Energy Policy Act, signed by President George W. Bush, established the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which required the blending of commercially available biofuels into the U.S. fuel supply.
In 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act expanded the volumes for the RFS and the scope of fuels and feedstocks. While the last ten years have been a difficult time for the bioeconomy, due to low oil prices, high domestic oil production and less capital in the bioeconomy, the United States produced the first 88 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2015, a renewable fuel that must contain 60 percent less GHG emissions than an equivalent gallon of gasoline. Looking forward, BETO, along with other federal partners seeks to continue the U.S. leadership role in the development of bio-based fuels, chemicals and products.
BETO’s bread and butter will continue to be the cost-effective production of domestic biofuels for automotive, aviation and marine applications. However, BETO is looking towards producing industrial products from renewable biomass which include “intermediates that displace petroleum in adhesives, carbon fiber, and polymers for plastics.” Just as fuel is the lowest value product of an oil refinery, renewable chemical intermediates will fetch a much higher value than the renewable fuel.
Other key areas of expanded focus for BETO include cultivating end-use markets and customers and expanding stakeholder engagement and collaboration.
For more information see:
Strategic Plan for a Thriving and Sustainable Bioeconomy, U.S. DOE EERE