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Biofuels in North America

United States

Please note, additional information on research activities in the US is also included on the individual pages covering Second Generation biofuels technology (such as algal biofuels, biocrude, cellulosic ethanol, etc) and end uses (aviation, hybrid vehicles, etc).

Biofuels Development in the US

On 21 October 2013 the U.S. government announced $181 million in new loan guarantees to support the development of new commercial-scale biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels, either through development of new facilties or retrofitting of existing plants. Applications for the latest round of funding should be submitted due by 30 January 2014. This is the latest round of support provided by the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA Rural Development.

In September 2013, E2 published the latest edition of its report Advanced Biofuel Market Report 2013 covering production capacity in the US and Canada through 2016. This shows that 160 advanced biofuels produciton facilities are under development.

Support for advanced biofuels in the US - presentation from EBTP SPM5 February 2013

Daniel Nibarger, International Economist, Biofuels Group, Global Policy Analysis Division, USDA FAS-Office of Global Analysis (OGA)

In September 2012, EPA set a minimum volume for 2013 of 1.28 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel (under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007).

In August 2012, eight Trade Assocaitions in the US formed the Biofuels Producers Coordinating Council to jointly advocate policies in support of biofuels. The Council includes representatives of the Advanced Biofuels Association, Advanced Ethanol Council, Algal Biomass Organization, American Coalition for Ethanol, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, National Biodiesel Board, and Renewable Fuels Association.

The Farm Bill, passed by the US Senate in June 2012, includes significant support for biofuels. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program receives $38.6m per annum (2013 -17). However, there is no funding for algae. The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Program will receive $100m in 2013 and $58m per annum in 2014-15. The Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels will receive $20m per annum (2013-17).

In June 2012 , the DOE announced $40m funding initiative for “Innovative Pilot and demonstration-scale production of advanced biofuels” for aviation and military applications.

“The intent of this FOA is to identify, evaluate, and select innovative pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefineries that can produce hydrocarbon fuels that meet military specifications for JP-5 (jet fuel primarily for the Navy), JP-8 (jet fuel primarily for the Air Force), or F-76 (diesel).”

In May 2012 the US Senate voted to prohibit the use of DOD funds for the production or sole purchase of an alternative fuel if the cost exceeds the cost of traditional fossil fuels used for the same purpose. This was seen as a set-back for biofuels companies involved in developing fuels in co-operation with the US military. However, following pressure from the the Coalition of Military Biofuel Supporters an amendment was made to the National Defense Authorization Act on 29 November 2012, favouring the adoption of advanced 'drop in' biofuels.

The US military is committed to the use of advanced biofuels to support secuirty of energy supply. The Air Force aims to use biofuels to meet 50% of aviation fuel requirements on home soil by 2016, and the US Navy aims to draw 50% of energy from non-fossil sources by 2020. This is partly driven by the rising price of fossil fuel, which eats into US military budgets. A study by Environmental Entrepreneurs suggests that use of biofuels by the military could add $10 billion to the US economy and create around 15,000 jobs by 2020. Around 800,000 jobs could be created in the advanced biofuels industry by 2022 (see below).

In March 2012, $35m funding for biomass R&D was announced. DOE will provide $10m for 1-3 projects. USDA NIFA will provide $25m for 5-10 projects. Projects must address three key technical areas - feedstock development, biofuels and biobased products development and biofuels development analysis.

On March 13 2012, Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC broke ground on the site of the $250m 'Project Liberty' cellulosic ethanol facility. The plant will produce 20 MMgy per year of cellulosic ethanol from corn stover and cob, and will share infrastructure with the adjacent 50 MMgy ethanol plant.

In January 2011, the USDA announced that "Coskata, Inc. has received a letter of intent for a $250 million loan guarantee to construct and operate a cellulosic ethanol biorefinery facility. Enerkem Corporation has been selected to receive an $80 million loan guarantee to build and operate a biorefinery producing 10 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year from MSW. INEOS New Planet BioEnergy, LLC. has been selected to receive a $75 million loan guarantee to construct and operate a biorefinery capable of producing 8 million gallons-per-year of cellulosic ethanol and gross electricity production capacity of 6 MW. The feedstock for the process will include primarily vegetative waste (citrus and agricultural wastes), yard wastes, wood waste, etc.." [Source: USDA].

In October 2010, USDA published a final rule to implement the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Under the BCAP final rule, USDA will resume making payments to eligible producers. The program had operated as a pilot, pending publication of the final rule. Authorized in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, BCAP is designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption.

Domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, is seen as a national imperative the USDA aims to help develop a thriving biofuels industry in every part of the US. A recent USDA report indicated that the initiative will will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on oil imports and boost the economy [Source: USDA].

pdf icon View SPM4 Presentation by Paul Grabowski on United States DoE Bioenergy program

pdf icon Integrated Biorefineries Portfoilo Overview (1.3 Mb PDF)

The United States is currently the world's biggest producer of fuel ethanol (producing an estimated 9000 million gallons in 2008, according to the US Renewable Fuels Association). It is making substantial investments to bring second generation biofuels to market, particularly cellulosic ethanol, as outlined in the National Biofuels Action Plan (PDF 5.0 Mb).

In January 2010, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced the investment of nearly $80 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for advanced biofuels research and fueling infrastructure that will help support the development of a clean sustainable transportation sector. 

The two consortia selected for funding were:

National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB) ($44 million) - Led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (St. Louis, MO), NAABB will develop a systems approach for sustainable commercialization of algal biofuel (such as renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) and bioproducts.

National Advanced Biofuels Consortium (NABC) (up to $33.8 million) - Led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, NABC will conduct cutting-edge research to develop infrastructure compatible, biomass-based hydrocarbon fuels. The R&D strategy includes investigating six process options:

  • fermentation
  • catalytic conversion
  • catalytic fast pyrolysis
  • hydropyrolysis
  • hydrothermal liquefaction
  • low-cost one-step syngas to distillates

Venture Capital also plays an important role, as outlined in the presentation on Private Equity funding of advanced biofuels technologies: a European and North American outlook (271 Kb PDF) by New Energy Finance given at the EBTP Second Stakeholder PLenary Meeting (SPM2) in January 2008.

The Report US Economic Impact of Advanced Biofuels Production: Perspectives to 2030 (pdf) analyzes how growth of an advanced biofuels industry will impact four areas critical to U.S. economic recovery, including job creation, economic output, energy security and investment opportunity. The report suggested that the advanced biofuels industry could create 29,000 new jobs and create $5.5 billion in economic growth over the next three years and could ultimatelty create 800,000 new jobs by 2022 with a positive effect on output of $148.7 billion. In this scenario, the cumulative total of avoided petroleum imports over the period 2010–2022 would exceed $350 billion.

Biofuel Sustainability in the US

As in Europe, sustainability of biofuels is becoming increasingly important, and is addressed by the EPA and groups such as California Low Carbon Fuel Standards Sustainability Work Group.

US-EC Research Cooperation

The EC-US task force on biotechnology research includes a Bio-based Products working group. The joint working group was established in 2004 to facilitate and coordinate collaborative (EU-US) research in molecular biology to create or improve biobased products and biofuels.

In February 2009, India and the US exchanged a memorandum for cooperation on biofuels development, covering the production, utilization, distribution and marketing of biofuels in India.

US Renewable Fuel Standard Program

The Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2): Final Rule was signed on February 3 2010. This includes thresholds for different biofuel types and GHG reduction. RFS2, as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, ensures that transportation fuel sold in the United States contains a minimum volume of renewable fuel. The new requirements increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel to 36 billion gallons by 2022. The rule was developed in collaboration with refiners, renewable fuel producers, and many other stakeholders.

Ethanol production in the USA – with an emphasis on development related to cellulosic ethanol

In the USA, where ethanol is the preferred biofuel used at a 10% blend, the rise in oil prices generated an ever increasing interest in ethanol production in early 2008. This reflected an initial increased optimism following the passing of the Energy Independence & Security Act of December 2007. This comprehensive energy legislation amends the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) of 2005, and anticipates bioethanol production in the US reaching 36 billion gallons in 2022. Of this, 16 billion gallons are expected to come from cellulosic feedstocks. By 2016, the total renewable fuels produced will be around 20 billion gallons. From then on, all of the increase in the RFS target must be met by advanced biofuels. These are defined as cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels derived from feedstock excluding corn starch.

At the same time the 2008 Farm Bill, passed in May, reduces the 51¢ per-gallon incentive for ethanol to 45¢ per gallon for calendar year 2009 and thereafter. This links to the Energy Bill in providing for a new, temporary cellulosic biofuels production tax credit for up to $1.01 per gallon to help get these fuels to commercial viability. The credit would be available to December 31, 2012.

These developments led to a buoyant position for the fuel ethanol business in early 2008, with reports of over 100 new ethanol projects having been initiated or developed further. Of these a significant number expected to use cellulosic feedstocks such as wood waste, MSW, baggase and crop residiues as well as possible energy crops such as switchgrass. A precise figure is difficult to obtain since some proposed plant do not declare feedstock, whilst other list several options.

For those using raw materials other than potential food crops, a range of conversion technologies are proposed. These include enzyme-based and acid-based lignocellulose hydrolysis as well as gasification followed by either catalytic synthesis of hydrocarbons, or the use of anaerobic bacteria to produce ethanol. These processes are at various stages of development, ranging from pilot to demonstration scale. However, at present there does not appear to be a commercial scale facility producing bioethanol from lignocellulose operating in the USA. A number are under development and could begin production anytime from this year onwards, with several anticipating start-up in 2009 through 2011.

However, as a result of a downturn in the US economy, difficulties in the loans market, increasing grain prices and mounting opposition from environmentalists concerning sustainability and an ever increasing public concern reflecting the ‘fuel vs food’ debate an increasing number of projects have been postponed or cancelled. Another problem in providing a definitive list of processes, companies that have developed processes and companies that expect to build production plant is the inherent complexity of the market place as well as the ‘hype’ attached to some organisation looking to attract investors.

A quick search of the worldwide web provides over 100 such companies, though in a number of cases new companies have emerged based on technology previous associated with or marketed under a different name. Of these, 11 have been quoted as having established plans for cellulosic ethanol projects. The leaders include Abengoa and Verenium with demonstration plant due to come on stream in 2008 (see list below).

US Companies with plans for CE plants:

Other companies developing cellulosic ethanol trechnology include:

Verenium (Vercipia). In September 2010 BP Biofuels acquired the Verenium demonstration faclities in Jennings, LA, as well as cellulosic biofuels technology.

DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol LLC


ZeaChem Operates an existing 250,000 GPY integrated demonstration biorefinery, at thePort of Morrow, near Boardman, and hasin February 2012 received $12 from USDA to further develop/demonstrate its biorefinery systems.


BlueFire Ethanol Has developed commercial Concentrated Acid Hydrolyisis technology for conversion of cellulosic feedstock to sugars. BlueFire is currently in the process of developing two cellulosic ethanol facilities in Lancaster, California and Fulton, Mississippi.

Abengoa Bioenergy

In addition to the organisations listed above, a number of cellulosic ethanol plants and pilots operating or under construction in the US, were summarised by Gas2.0 in March 2009 [Sources: Biotechnology Industry Organization, individual companies].

ARPA-E PETRO Program - PLants Engineered to Replace Oil

The 10 projects that comprise ARPA-E’s PETRO program, short for “Plants Engineered to Replace Oil,” aim to develop non-food crops that directly produce transportation fuel. These crops can help supply the transportation sector with agriculturally derived fuels that are cost-competitive with petroleum and do not affect U.S. food supply. PETRO aims to redirect the processes for energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) capture in plants toward fuel production.

See also:

US Government Biomass Energy information

National Renewable Energy laboratory

Forest Service Research & Development

Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The National Biodiesel Board




In Canada, the NextGen Biofuels Fund™, aims to bring biodiesel and cellulosic etahnol projects to market sooner by helping them bridge the high CAPEX (capital expenditure) gap to scale-up their technology solution to a large, demonstration-scale plant. 

A Shell service station in Canada was the first in the world to sell Gasoline blended with 10% Cellulosic Ethanol from Wheat Straw. For one month starting June 10 2009, the regular gasoline purchased at a Shell service station in Ottawa, Ontario contained 10% cellulosic ethanol. The biofuel was produced locally from non-food raw materials at Iogen Energy Corporation’s demonstration plant, using advanced conversion processes. Iogen and Shell are partners in the plant, which now produces 40,000 litres of fuel per month.

Further information on development of Cellulosic ethanol in Canada

Canada is also a world leader in pyrolysis of lignocellulosic materials.