US Government Helps Advance Renewable Energy from Waste

Departments - Critical Thinking

<i>REW</i> Columnist Harvey Gershman discusses how federal support has benefitted R&D programs for renewable energy.

August 12, 2013
Harvey Gershman

With growing demand for energy independence and renewable sources, research and development of waste-to-energy (WTE) has benefitted from government support during the past decade. Federal programs have been established to invest in advancing technologies and developing full-scale projects. Although more could be done with national resource recovery legislation, several federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Energy (DoE) and Department of Defense (DoD) significantly support the development of renewable energy technologies.

USDA Rural Development provides grants and loan guarantees to promising projects. Through its BioRefinery Assistance Program, $320 million has been appropriated, equivalent to $960 million in loan guarantee authority. The maximum USDA participation in an eligible project for fiscal year 2013 is 80 percent or a loan guarantee of up to $250 million. The loan guarantee will be provided once the remaining project financing is complete. Interestingly, since 2009, 40 percent of the program’s funding has been awarded to renewable-energy-from-waste projects. The first table below shows the companies supported by the USDA.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 created the DoE’s Loan Guarantee Program for large-scale energy projects. By investing (through the placement of loans) in these projects, the DoE has aimed to accelerate the development of a variety of technologies. The second table below presents three waste-to-ethanol projects considered under this program for awards supported by the DoE.

The Near Term Energy Efficient Technologies (NTEET) Program has allocated $300 million for DoD research and development in areas such as resource conservation and waste reduction. The DoD has a history of supporting WTE and renewable energy developments: examples include Aberdeen Proving Ground (Maryland), Norfolk Naval Shipyard (Virginia) and Hill Air Force Base (Utah), which have been purchasing steam and electricity from publicly developed mass burn WTE facilities for many years. In addition to NTEET, the DoD supports development of facilities of emerging technologies for energy independence by providing land. The Air Force Research Laboratory at Tyndall Air Force Base (Florida), Siemens Building Technologies at Dyess Air Force Base (Texas), Pyrogenesis at Hurlburt Air Force Base (Florida) and others are advancing technologies to best serve the military’s autonomous waste disposal and renewable energy needs. Sierra Energy demonstrated its gasifier at the DoD’s Renewable Energy Testing Center at McClellan Park, Calif., and is participating in the U.S. Army’s development of pilot integrated net-zero installations.

The USDA, DoE and DoD continue to lend support for renewable energy and sustainability initiatives as they allocate land, funding (as available) and executive assistance to WTE. If the facilities supported by these divisions are successfully commissioned, it can help pave the way for other developers looking to commercialize technologies and strengthen the market for higher-value municipal-solid-waste-derived fuel and chemical products.

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