U.S. Department of Energy releases SBIR and STTR funding opportunities

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In Washington, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science announced a funding opportunity under its SBIR and STTR programs. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are highly competitive programs that encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development with the potential for commercialization.

BIOENERGY

The Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has a mission to help transform the Nation’s renewable and abundant biomass resources into cost-competitive, high-performance biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. BETO is focused on forming partnerships with key stakeholders to develop technologies for advanced biofuels production from lignocellulosic and algal biomass as well as waste resources. In FY 2021, BETO is focusing on broadening participation-related topics (see below).

All applications to this topic must:

  • Include projections for price and/or performance improvements that are tied to a baseline (i.e. MYPP
    and/or state of the art products or practices);
  • Propose a tightly structured program which includes technical milestones that demonstrate clear
    progress, are aggressive but achievable, and are quantitative;
  • Explicitly and thoroughly differentiate the proposed innovation with respect to existing commercially
    available products or solutions;
  • Include a preliminary cost analysis;
  • Provide a path to scale up in potential Phase II follow on work;
  • Fully justify all performance claims with thoughtful theoretical predictions or experimental data; and
  • Be based on sound scientific principles (i.e. abides by the law of thermodynamics).

Grant applications are sought only in the following subtopics. Please note that while proposals are being requested in these subtopics, distribution of awards across these subtopics will be based on the quantity and quality of proposals received.

Note: In addition to the subtopics below, BETO is considering proposals in response to Topic 11 – Joint Topic: Polymers Upcycling and Recycling.

Small Business Bioenergy Technologies Increasing Community Partnerships

This subtopic encourages submission of innovative research proposals from bioenergy small businesses to develop a community-scale preliminary design package of their products and/or processes and engage community stakeholders to assess desirability and feasibility of the small business’ proposed design.

Bioenergy feedstock development and deployment can strengthen economic growth, national energy security, and environmental benefits through optimizing domestic biomass resources to produce biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. Public perception and knowledge of bioenergy is highly variable [1], so despite the benefits, local communities may be unaware or uncertain about the available opportunities. Bioenergy small businesses are uniquely positioned to develop community-scale technologies and technological processes. Examples include small-scale solutions to recover nutrients and energy from waste, such as urban food waste; use of energy crops on marginal lands to manage fertilizer runoff; or use of algae to abate costs of wastewater treatment.

Maximum Phase I Award Amount: $200,000 Maximum Phase II Award Amount: $1,100,000
Accepting SBIR Phase I Applications: YES Accepting STTR Phase I Applications: YES

The preliminary design package should include identification and siting of appropriate feedstock(s), lab- scale testing of potential feedstock(s), relevant products (biofuel, bioproduct, and/or biopower), outreach to potential community stakeholder partner(s), and an education and outreach plan for the community, based on the bioenergy project.

Proposers are strongly encouraged to develop partnerships with local stakeholders in underserved communities such as those within Federally-designated Opportunity Zones [2]. Community stakeholders could include schools, hospitals, local restaurants and other businesses, non-profits, local government, or other local organizations. Applicants that propose partnerships with entities that operate at higher levels, like state or regional, should emphasize how their project will deliver measurable impact at the community level.

Appropriate projects could include, but are not limited to, a preliminary design package proposing:

  • A conversion process treating local sources of biomass.
  • Opportunities for use of the resulting product or products within the community
  • Cultivating energy crops to reduce fertilizer runoff to improve local water quality.
  • Integration of the small business’ technologies into complementary, existing local infrastructure.
  • Small business’ processes’ ability to meet local regulatory needs (e.g., recycling rates or waste
    diversion goals).
  • Replicability of the process in other communities.
    Applications must:
  • meaningfully include plans/methodology for local stakeholders’ input in the development of their
    preliminary design package.
  • include an education and outreach plan to demonstrate the planned benefits for the community.

Applications that propose the following will not be considered for award under this subtopic:

  • Use versions of technologies that already exist at the community scale.

The main objective of a Phase I award is developing a preliminary design package of their technology, product, or process deployed at the community scale and derived from stakeholder input. In Phase I the majority of research emphasis is placed on evaluating and testing unknowns of integrating the technology at the community scale with their specific stakeholder group(s) rather than on developing a new technology. Some unknowns include technology performance parameters to better support the local economy and public acceptance of the technology.

Phase II of this topic involves deployment of the proposed technology into the community at a pilot scale.

Questions – Contact: Devinn Lambert, Devinn.Lambert@ee.doe.gov.

Cultivating a More Competitive Bioeconomy Through Strengthening Small Business Workforces

This subtopic solicits proposals that pilot a research-driven workforce development program or tool that can be widely applicable for the bioeconomy, establishing a partnership with business experts in bioenergy and/or inclusive workforce development.

Because biomass exists across geographically diverse regions (i.e., agricultural crops, forestry residues, Municipal Solid Waste, algae), people living in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the country could all benefit from careers and opportunities in the bioenergy industry. Increasing representation and inclusivity within the bioenergy industry will support a more competitive domestic science and engineering workforce to lead the way on innovation in the global economy.

The research project should investigate questions related to the representation and inclusivity within the business’ workplace in relation to technical and operational challenges that could be inhibiting its commercial objectives in the bioeconomy. The overall outcome is to create a workforce development program or tool through this research that improves the commercialization potential of the business partner. Ideally outcomes of this R&D are scalable mechanisms, platforms, and technologies for increasing and improving diverse representation and equality within the bioeconomy’s workforce. This could include, but is not limited to, demonstrated success in increasing recruitment of trained professionals with parallel skills from job sectors that have declined domestically, improving workplace retention from underrepresented backgrounds in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and/or leadership positions; and correlating their project with these improvements.

Specific areas of interest under this subtopic include, but are not limited to:

  • Development of software to foster experiential learning mediated by employer-educator
    partnerships that will ensure the alignment of bioenergy curriculum with workplace demands. This software or technology should address barriers associated with urban and rural areas as well as engaging people with underrepresented backgrounds within bioenergy R&D and deployment.
  • Research to identify gaps in workforce development, recruitment, and retention within bioenergy fields of future workers/employees from underrepresented backgrounds and implementation of a multi-year data-driven program to address these gaps at the small business. The multi-year data- driven program will provide a roadmap for other small businesses.
  • Development of artificial intelligence or other data-driven platforms that identify the impact of lacking or underdeveloped inclusive operational and/or commercial practices on workforce development that, if addressed, can improve business success and expansion.
    Applications must include a robust evaluation plan to track and demonstrate the success of the workforce development program proposed.
    Applications that propose the following will not be considered for award under this subtopic:
  • Development of traditional curricula or courses on bioenergy topics.
  • Conventional internship and training programs.
    Phase I of this topic includes completion of research and beta-testing of the workforce development program or tool. Phase II includes the deployment of this technology at the bioeconomy business and scaling the tool to other businesses.

Questions – Contact: Devinn Lambert, Devinn.Lambert@ee.doe.gov.

JOINT TOPIC: POLYMERS UPCYCLING AND RECYCLING

This topic supports the objectives of the Plastics Innovation Challenge to focus resources from across the DOE to create a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations that will dramatically reduce plastic waste in oceans and landfills and position the U.S as global leaders in advanced plastics recycling technologies and in the manufacture of new plastics that are recyclable by design.

Plastic production is energy intensive, and the bulk of this energy (and inherent value) is lost as post-use plastic is discarded. Plastics recycling is an extremely complicated challenge, in part due to the diversity of plastics that make up modern waste streams. As such, modern recycling technologies currently require plastics to be sorted into high purity, contaminant-free streams to create value in the recycling process.

This is a joint topic sponsored by the following EERE Technology Offices: Advanced Manufacturing and Bioenergy Technologies. The Vehicles Technology Office is also supporting a complementary subtopic supporting the objectives of the Polymers Upcycling and Recycling activity. Please see Subtopic c of Topic 17 for more information.

All applications to this topic must:

  • Include projections for price and/or performance improvements that are tied to a baseline (i.e. internal
    baseline and/or published state of the art products or practices);
  • Propose a tightly structured program which includes technical milestones that demonstrate clear
    progress, are aggressive but achievable, and are quantitative;
  • Explicitly and thoroughly differentiate the proposed innovation with respect to existing commercially
    available products or solutions;
  • Include a preliminary cost analysis;
  • Provide a path to scale up in potential Phase II follow on work;
  • Fully justify all performance claims with thoughtful theoretical predictions or experimental data;
  • Be based on sound scientific principles (i.e. abides by the law of thermodynamics).
    Grant applications are sought only in the following subtopic:
Maximum Phase I Award Amount: $200,000 Maximum Phase II Award Amount: $1,100,000
Accepting SBIR Phase I Applications: YES Accepting STTR Phase I Applications: YES

Improving Plastics Compatibilization for More Efficient Recycling

This subtopic seeks proposals to develop new compatibilizers that may enable processing of plastic resins and the downstream recycling or upcycling of a mixed plastic stream. The scope of this work may span fundamental research investigating novel approaches to improve miscibility to applied approaches to characterize resins generated through processing with compatibilizers at scale.

Compatibilizers are materials or molecules that promote miscibility between disparate plastic resins, allowing for the direct recycling of mixed plastic. Traditionally, compatibilized post-consumer resins are most commonly downcycled for application as durable goods. The robust and scalable compatibilization of disparate plastic chemistries into a valuable same-cycled or even upcycled resin would dramatically improve the economics for materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and the deployment of recycling compatibilizers. In recent years, application of tailored copolymers has allowed for highly effectively compatibilization of disparate polymer chemistries to a resin of equal or improved properties [1, 2, 3]. Innovations targeting all moderate to high volume plastics will be considered for this topic, including polyamides, and copolymers such as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). However, preference will be given to applications that apply to plastics often prioritized by MRFs, specifically polyolefins, polyesters, and polystyrene, since broader collection infrastructure is most advanced for these materials. The resulting mixed resins must possess mechanical and optical properties that allow for same cycling or displacement of virgin material.

Areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Demonstration of a compatibilizing technology that can be applied to two or more commonly
    discarded plastics into a product of performance commensurate with virgin feedstock.
  • Application of a novel compatibilizer material, including but not limited to tailored copolymers, bio-
    based feedstocks, or inorganics.
  • Application of a novel compatibilization process.
  • An improvement in the energy efficiency of the recycling process.
  • Development of a mixed polymer resin that is capable of substituting virgin polymer in any moderate or high-volume application.

Questions – Contact: Melissa Klembara, Melissa.Klembara@ee.doe.gov or Gayle Bentley,
Gayle.Bentley@ee.doe.gov

Download the entire PDF document outlining the funding opportunity at the U.S. Department of Energy website here.

 



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