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USDA Pushes Advanced Biofuels Loans

USDA Pushes Advanced Biofuels Loans

Agency says funding is part of rural economy advancement efforts

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Wednesday announced the availability of $181 million to develop commercial-scale biorefineries or retrofit existing facilities to develop advanced biofuels.

Vilsack, who noted the funding was part of an effort to advance the rural economy, said it would expand the number of facilities producing biofuel from non-food sources and the number of available jobs in rural areas.

The grants, part of the Biorefinery Assistance Program, are loan guarantees to commercial-scale facilities to develop new and emerging technologies for advanced biofuels.

USDA-funded projects expand advanced biofuels projects that later generate electricity or are used to fuel aircraft, for example.

 Eligible entities include Indian tribes, State or local governments, corporations, farmer co-ops, agricultural producer associations, higher education institutions, rural electric co-ops, public power entities or consortiums of any of the above.

Two examples of the funding in action include Sapphire Energy's "Green Crude Farm" in Columbus, N.M., and Fremont Community Digester in Fremont, Mich.

The Sapphire Energy project was a a $54.5 million loan guarantee in 2011 to build a refined alga oil commercial facility. In continuous operation since May 2012, the plant is producing renewable algal oil that can be further refined to replace petroleum-derived diesel and jet fuel.

According to the company, more than 600 jobs were created throughout the first phase of construction at the facility, and 30 full-time employees currently operate the plant.

The Fremont project was a $12.8 million loan guarantee to for construction of an anaerobic digester -- the largest commercial-scale digester in the United States.

Biogas derived from food waste runs generators that total 2.85 megawatts in capacity. The electricity produced is sold to a local utility and is providing power for about 1,500 local homes.

Applications for biorefinery assistance are due by January 30, 2014. More information about how to apply is available by contacting the USDA Rural Development National Office.

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