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The U.S. Department of Argiculture today awarded $405 million in loan guarantees for biofuel refineries.

All three recipients, Coskata, Enerkem and Ineos Bio, make biofuels by using waste as a feedstock, which is considered an advantage in the crowded biofuels market. It’s also a sign of good news for the industry, where biofuels makers have struggled to bring technologies to commercial scale production.

The Department of Energy’s loan chief hinted to us last year that the government would be looking to invest more in biofuels, since loan guarantee programs aim to help promising companies get to commercial scale production of renewable energies. The government sets mandates for how much ethanol must be blended with petroleum each year in order to meet national renewable fuels standards. The mandates essentially guarantee biofuels makers a market; however, producers haven’t been able to meet the high goals — in part because financial markets collapsed in 2008, Coskata executive Wes Bolson told me last year. (Pictured is the company’s semi-commercial facility in Pennsylvania).

The loan guarantees announced today went to:

Coskata — The company  received the largest biofuels plant loan guarantee ever, $250 million for a cellulosic ethanol facility in Green County, Ala. with an annual capacity of 55 million gallons per year. Coskata is backed by Khosla Ventures, Blackstone Group and GM, among others. It uses woody biomass as feedstock.

Enerkem — Enerkem earned an $80 million loan guarantee for a 10 million gallon-per-year plant in Pontotoc, Miss. that will use municipal solid waste as a feedstock to turn into biofuels. The company also received a $50 million award from the Department of Energy for the same plant in 2009. The Montreal-based company broke ground last year on a Canada plant with a capacity of 10 million gallons per year. Enerkem’s investors include Rho Ventures, Braemar Ventures and Waste Management.

Ineos Bio — The company received a $75 million loan guarantee for a biorefinery in Vero Beach, Fla. capable of producing 8 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol, using vegetative waste like citrus, agricultural, yard, wood and municipal solid waste. Ineos is a spinoff from a its parent company, chemicals player Ineos.

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