Federal Grants for Biodiesel Being Revoked?

Last week I received an email from the grant administrator for a Department of Energy (DOE) grant we had been awarded in 2009.  The grant was awarded in June of 2009 but was being held up because of a new review process to determine if the funds were going to legitimate plants that were meeting federal requirements for fuel quality.  Fair enough.  However, almost 9 months later, I still have received no funds.  Hard to plan equipment purchases, contracting, and employee hiring under those circumstances, eh?

But the latest email I received last week told me that upon further review, we were not being awarded the grant money after all because we did not meet the criteria for renewable energy and sustainability.  What?!  We’re a biodiesel plant.  We take waste cooking oil, and turn it into a fuel you can burn in your truck.  How is THAT not renewable?  How is THAT not sustainable?

Rest assured, I was told, we were not the only applicant to be denied.  The other 4 biofuel plants in NC were also denied under similar circumstances.  Well, at least I wasn’t being singled out…

So what does that tell us?  It tells us that there is a policy shift going on somewhere in Washington.  Either they don’t actually have the money to fund the grants, and are delaying the awards until they do; or somebody somewhere decided that grant funds should be going to a different group than biofuels.

Regardless, I was encouraged to “repurpose” my grant application and resubmit it, which I quickly did; hoping that it will be received and accepted under whatever ethereal guidelines determine its worthiness.  Fingers crossed.

Oddly enough, I am in the middle of drafting a grant proposal for 2010 funds that will fall under the very same guidelines.   Wonder what will happen to this one.  For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t until I was knee deep in this process), writing a grant proposal is not a trivial process.  It has a certain structure, must meet certain criteria, takes time to write, requires money for subconsultants and engineers to develop your grant proposal basis (in my case energy and thermal calculations), and time and effort to get quotes from installation contractors and equipment suppliers.  All of this effort for something you may not even get awarded to you.  Couple that, with the review process taking longer than expected (which means the vendor quotes you got, which are typically only good for 90 days, are no longer valid), and it makes it very difficult indeed to use grant money to fund anything that is critical (or maybe even useful) for business operations.

So, the trick is to write a grant proposal for something that is nice to have, but not something you absolutely need to have, unless you are a patient person (which I am not).   Unfortunately, we’re still in the “need to have” phase.  We need these funds in order to expand.  We are able to grow.  Other plants are going out of business, and I’m trying to expand, in the worse economic period in recent history.

We have a government that pledges it will support biofuels, and says it wants to support small business.  Great.

So it creates grants to provide funding but doesn’t ever award them, provides stimulus money to banks that won’t lend it to consumers, and won’t renew tax incentives for biofuels to encourage producers to make it and consumers to buy it (see other rants here in my blog about that one).

It is not yet clear what is going on in Washington around biofuels.  I’m in a microcosm.  I really only follow politics related to stuff that affects my bottom line.  Maybe EVERYBODY is dealing with this because as a country we’re broke.  I don’t know.  But hopefully there will be a change here soon so that we can get back to business.

We have the ability to make a domestic product right here in the USA.  Not many of us factories left here.  I want to add jobs.  We make a renewable product from a waste stream.  We make a product that burns 80% cleaner than petroleum.  We have a plant that is making this product right now, right here, using existing technology.  This isn’t a “pilot” project, or a “theoretical model”.  It’s here, now.

Just exactly what else would we need to be in order to be more attractive to government policy makers?

Biodiesel Pump

Biodiesel Pump