Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program Fact Sheet

Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program Fact Sheet

Energy & Natural Resources,  | Analysis
Aug 14, 2017  | 13 min read | Print Article

The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (formerly the Biorefinery Assistance Program), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development office, is intended to provide grants and loan guarantees to producers of advanced biofuels or heat and power from various bioenergy crops and feedstocks.

Companies can use the taxpayer-backed loans to develop, construct, or retrofit biorefineries and energy systems. As of the 2014 farm bill, the program also provides taxpayer dollars to renewable chemical and biobased product manufacturers that can create end-user products.[1] Feedstocks eligible for taxpayer support include the following:

  • cellulosic materials (perennial grasses or agricultural residues, for instance)
  • sugar and starches (other than corn starch)
  • waste materials, vegetable oil, animal fats, and biogas (from landfill gas or sewage treatment plants)

Though the program was designed to spur the development of biofuels and bioenergy produced from non-food “second generation” crops, funding data suggests that at least one biodiesel facility using corn and soybean oil feedstocks has been considered for a loan guarantee. Several types of biofuels crops are also being subsidized by taxpayer dollars even though commercial production of cellulosic biofuels is still in its infancy and highly unlikely to meet federal mandates set in the 2007 energy bill. The 2014 farm bill provided mandatory funding for loan guarantees of $100 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, $50 million in FY2015 and FY2016, and $75 million of discretionary funding annually in FY2014-18.[2]

Background

The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program is funded though the energy title of the farm bill. The farm bill, renewed approximately every five years, is a wide ranging piece of legislation that funds everything from nutrition assistance programs and broadband internet to agricultural subsidies for the production of crops such as corn and soybeans. Specifically, the energy title of the farm bill, first introduced in 2002, provides grants, loans, and other subsidies to energy efficiency, biofuels, and bioenergy (heat and power) projects. In total, the 2014 farm bill energy title’s programs are projected to cost taxpayers $879 million from FY14-23.[3]

The farm bill energy title support a range of projects, from universities research on new uses of biomass sources, to established corn ethanol and soy biodiesel for annual production of biofuel. Other energy title projects funded by taxpayers include:

  •  the collection, storage, harvest, and transportation of biomass sources to bioenergy or biofuels facilities
  • anaerobic digesters that create heat and power from animal waste
  • grants and loans to individuals or companies installing wind, solar, and geothermal systems
  • federally backed loan guarantees for “next generation” biofuels facilities that produce biofuels other than corn ethanol (through the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program)

While intended to support the next generation of biofuels derived from non-food sources and other renewable forms of energy, the farm bill energy title has also spent taxpayer dollars on the mature corn ethanol industry, supporting biomass sources with numerous unintended consequences. Energy title programs have even payed for updates to farmers’ irrigation equipment and grain dryers.

Taxpayer-Backed Loans for Biofuels Companies

Since 2009, about $1.2 billion in treasury-backed loan guarantees for 14 companies were finalized or conditionally approved. Some loan guarantee recipients have filed for bankruptcy since then, leaving taxpayers holding the bag for millions in losses. For instance, after receiving an $80 million government-backed loan guarantee, Range Fuels, a cellulosic ethanol facility planning to use woody biomass as a feedstock, shut down in Jan. 2011 without producing any fuel. Taxpayers lost millions of dollars when the company went into bankruptcy. Table 1 includes a list of companies receiving a final loan guarantee or a conditional loan commitment from USDA.

Table 1:  Recipients and Conditional Offers for Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program Loan Guarantees, 2009-16

Name

Loan Guarantee Amount

Feedstock

State

Date Announced

Status

Coskata

$250,000,000

Woody biomass

AL

Jan-11

Finalized

ZeaChem Boardman Biorefinery, LLC

$232,500,000

Wheat straw, corn stover, woody biomass from poplar trees

OR

Jan-12

Conditional loan

Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels, LLC

$105,000,000

Municipal solid waste

NV

Aug-12

Finalized

Chemtex International, Inc.

$99,000,000

Miscanthus and switchgrass

NC

Aug-12

Finalized

Cool Planet

$91,000,000

Woody biomass

LA

Oct-14

Finalized

Range Fuels, Inc.

$80,000,000

Woody biomass

GA

Mar-10

Finalized but project failed, costing taxpayers millions

Enerkem

$80,000,000

Municipal solid waste

MS

Jan-11

Finalized

INEOS New Planet Energy, LLC

$75,000,000

Municipal solid waste

FL

Jan-11

Finalized

Ensyn

$70,000,000

Woody biomass

GA

Dec-15

Conditional loan

Sapphire Energy, Inc.

$54,500,000

Algae

NM

Nov-11

Finalized

Fiberight, LLC

$25,000,000

Municipal solid waste, seed corn waste

IA

Jan-12

Conditional loan

SoyMor

$25,000,000

Corn or soybean oil

MN

Jun-09

Finalized

Fremont Community Digester

$12,825,000

Organic waste, agricultural residues

MI

May-11

Finalized

Novus Energy, LLC

$11,000,000

Waste from onion and potatoes, dairy manure, seasonal plant by-products and other waste

OR

Feb-16

USDA hopes to finalize loan by 2016

TOTAL

$1,210,825,000

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Types of Facilities Receiving Taxpayer-Backed Loans

About two-thirds of the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program loans provide guarantees to just five facilities (conditional loan in the case of ZeaChem), four of which were announced in 2011 or 2012. Nearly half a billion dollars would be dedicated to woody biomass facilities, while another $300 million would go toward municipal solid waste and other organic waste facilities. Two projects plan to use agricultural residues, and the other feedstocks rounding out the last three loan guarantees would use perennial grasses, algae, and corn/soybean oil. Table 2 summarizes the feedstocks used in facilities qualifying for taxpayer-backed loan guarantees (or those with conditional offers) within USDA’s Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program.

Table 2:  Types of Projects Receiving Loan Guarantees and Conditional Loans in the Biorefinery Assistance Program, 2009-16

Types of Feedstocks

Number of
Projects

Loan Guarantee
Amount

Percentage
of Total

Running
Percentage

Woody biomass

4

$491,000,000

41%

41%

Municipal solid waste or
other organic waste

5

$297,825,000

25%

66%

Agriculture residues (wheat straw, corn stover) and woody biomass from poplar trees

2

$243,500,000

20%

86%

Perennial grasses

1

$99,000,000

8%

94%

Algae

1

$54,500,000

4%

98%

Corn or soybean oil

1

$25,000,000

2%

100%

TOTAL

14

$1,210,825,000


Support for Corn Ethanol

As stated above, even though corn ethanol facilities are not eligible to receive taxpayer-backed loan guarantees through this program, a facility using corn and soybean oil for biodiesel production still received a $25 million taxpayer-backed loan. This support is on top of an already expensive and generous list of taxpayer subsidies for corn ethanol and biodiesel production. Although the ethanol tax credit and tariff expired at the end of 2011, corn ethanol continues to receive special interest loan guarantees and subsidies through the tax code, several farm bill energy, crop insurance, and commodity programs – not to mention a federal mandate for the use of 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol from 2015 through 2022. Subsidies are also available for the production of biodiesel from various sources, including corn and soybeans.

Support for Woody Biomass

Wood residues, fast-growing trees, and other forms of woody biomass have received $491 million in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees (including one conditional offer) through the energy title’s Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. Woody biomass is another biofuel and bioenergy feedstock that is eligible for generous subsidies through several other government programs, including at least eight of the 15 farm bill energy title programs. As noted, one of the two loans for cellulosic biofuel derived from woody biomass was provided to Range Fuels, a failed project that left taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in losses. The same month that Range Fuels defaulted on their loan, the government awarded Coskata a loan guarantee of $250 million to utilize woody biomass, the largest sum of taxpayer money that had ever been promised to one company through this program.

Conclusion

The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program puts taxpayer dollars toward potentially risky projects that are unlikely to ever lead to large commercial production of next-generation biofuels. The program also sent taxpayer dollars to corn-based biofuels, a mature industry that has received federal subsidies for more than 40 years. While the largest ethanol subsidy – the ethanol tax credit known as VEETC – expired at the end of 2011, corn ethanol production is still mandated through a federal biofuels mandate and receives various other subsidies through the Dept. of Energy, USDA energy programs, and federal tax code. Since millions of taxpayer dollars were already lost with the failure of cellulosic ethanol producer Range Fuels, additional dollars should not be put at risk toward future Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program projects.

For more information, contact Taxpayers for Common Sense at 202-546-8500.

References in Tables 1 and 2:

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110120006425/en/Coskata-Supported-Biorefinery-Selected-Receive-250-Million http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2012/01/0026.xml

https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2014/09/04/usda-announces-loan-guarantee-help-innovative-company-turn-waste

https://www.eenews.net/stories/1059944251

https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2012/01/20/agriculture-secretary-vilsack-announces-support-new-advanced

http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/mi/Press%20Room/Fremont3.htm

http://www.fedspending.org/faads/faads.php?agency_code=12E4&cfda_program_num=10.865&sortp=u&detail=0&datype=T& reptype=l&database=faads&fiscal_year=&submit=GO

http://www.ers.usda.gov/FarmBill/2008/Titles/TitleIXEnergy.htm#ruralAmerica

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-04/range-fuels-sells-government-backed-biofuel-plant-to-lanzatech.html

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2012/08/0263.xml&navid=NEWS_RELEASE&navtype=RT&parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&edeployment_action=retrievecontent

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdamediafb?contentid=2009/06/0223.xml&printable=true&contentidonly=true

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2012/08/0280.xml&navid=NEWS_RELEASE&navtype=RT&parentnav= LATEST_RELEASES&edeployment_action=retrievecontent

https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2015/12/10/usda-provides-loan-guarantee-conditional-commitment-build-georgia

http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/04/f14/d_and_d_workshop_crooks.pdf

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-biofuels-loans-idUSTRE70K3AH20110121?feedType=RSS&feedName=GCA-GreenBusiness&WT.tsrc=Social%20Media&WT.z_smid=twtr-ReutersGreenBiz&WT.z_smid_dest=Twitter

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-enerkem-idUSTRE70J6OL20110120


[1] http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20140127/CRPT-113hrpt-HR2642-SOM.pdf

[2] http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20140127/CRPT-113hrpt-HR2642-SOM.pdf

[3] http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/hr2642LucasLtr.pdf