New Question Release: Funding for Biofuels, Algae-Based Fuels, and Renewable Energy

Zev Burton
Sep 06, 2022 04:20PM UTC
INFER just launched our first four questions within the topic, Synthetic Biology in the Energy Sector (see how we decomposed this topic to develop each forecast question here):

By 31 December 2022, how much money will the U.S. appropriate to the Department of Educations’ STEAM and Computer Science Grants for FY23? + By 31 December 2022, how much money will the U.S. appropriate to the Biological Systems Science Division for FY23?

A diverse bioeconomy workforce – which requires education, a budget, and workforce development – is essential for U.S. competitiveness in the fuel industry. Unlike speeches or campaign promises, governments' funding for specific programs and grants are tangible commitments toward a particular policy or belief. For these two questions, we are asking forecasters to predict the scope of that commitment by using funding as a proxy. On a broader level, the reason for additional funding is apparent. The U.S. allocated $82 million for STEAM and computer science grants during FY22. The House bill includes $87 million for FY23, but the Senate version released does not allocate any funding for this program. For the Biological Systems Science Division, the House appropriation bill includes $405 million for FY23; the Senate bill has yet to be passed by the appropriations committee.

When will ExxonMobil next positively mention algae-based biofuels in its quarterly financial report?

The private sector's interest in synthetic biology could be decisive in guiding the field’s future development. This question allows us to examine consumer demand for biofuels -- a specific application of synthetic biology -- by looking at how a major global oil company is prioritizing the development of this capability. In a 2018 quarterly report, ExxonMobil and Viridos (then "Synthetic Genomics") announced "a new phase in their joint algae biofuel research program that could lead to the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuel per day by 2025." This report was the most recent time that ExxonMobil mentioned algae-based biofuels. The question now becomes if and when algae-based biofuels will re-emerge as a priority.

What percentage of the U.S.’s renewable energy consumption will come from biofuels in 2023?

The use of synthetic biology techniques can have several benefits for the production of biofuels, including time and cost savings, an increase in production, and the ability to create new and improved biofuels. Additionally, if biofuels become a more significant proportion of renewable energy consumption, the next step in the evolution of the bioeconomy is to look at the fuel economy broadly. The question is whether the U.S. renewable energy sector will adopt these new technologies, and if so, at what level? The past few years have seen a dramatic increase in the use of biofuels in renewable energy, but we need to know if this increase will continue or stall. 

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