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USDA awards $44.6 million for biofuel projects

Projects funded include those utilizing ethanol, biodiesel, and landfill gas made from a variety of renewable biomass resources.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week it has set aside $44.6 million to fund a variety of advanced biofuel production projects in over 38 states.

The 156 projects, it should be noted, are not aimed at achieving research breakthroughs. Instead, the money will help expand existing facilities using established technologies to produce fuel from renewable biomass.

The funding is coming via the USDA's Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels and includes projects of all types, producing things like ethanol and biodiesel, and even harnessing landfill and sewage waste treatment gas. The projects include biomass resources like cellulose, yard waste, vegetable oil, and crop residue. To qualify, any ethanol projects must be producing from sources other than corn kernel starch.

The largest awards went to projects in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.

Most of those awards over $1 million went to projects conducting biodiesel transesterification, the process in which oils are transformed via an acid or a base catalyst. In particular, the Renewable Energy Group in Iowa received over $3 million, Ag Processing in Nebraska received over $2 million, High Plains Bioenergy in Oklahoma received over $2 million, and the Archer Daniels Midland Company and Inobrasa Industries, both Illinois-based, each received over $1 million.

Big awards also went to biofuel made from waste products, including over $2 million to the Louis Dreyfus Agricultural Industries, and over $1 million to E Biofuels, both of which are based in Indiana.

"This funding will help local producers increase the production and availability of renewable energy and thus help our nation begin to reduce its reliance on foreign oil," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The biofuels funding program is part of the USDA's Rural Development mission to use federal funding to assist rural communities and businesses in retaining jobs in the area.

Western Dubuque Biodiesel in Iowa, which received $487,871, says the money granted from the USDA will directly save 18 jobs. The company produces over 30 million gallons of biofuel, annually, made from soybean oil, canola oil, and feedstock.

The USDA announcement closely follows a much publicized study from the National Research Council, part of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The October report warned that the U.S. is unlikely to reach its goal of "mandated consumption of 16 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent cellulosic biofuels" by 2022. The report raised ire among several biofuel groups and Vilsack himself even issued a response to the report.

"The study overlooks many of our recent efforts, including new investments in research and technologies to develop non-food feedstocks," he said at the time.