Frequently Asked Questions
Below are questions submitted by grant
applicants (in writing) to the VSJF Biofuels Initiative. All questions, and
their corresponding answers, are entered on this page in a way that protects
the anonymity of the applicant, as well as any proprietary details that may
have been revealed in the process.
Q: Will the version of the grant application that we intend to submit be the same one which goes before the US Dept of Energy (DOE), or is it a preliminary version for VSJF's review? Also, will there be any opportunity for feedback on our proposal prior to the submittal deadline (if this is even an option....)?
A: The application/proposal that you plan to submit to VSJF (by the submittal deadline) should be your full and final proposal. Once an RFP has been issued, opportunities for feedback by VSJF staff are limited to this format (of emailing questions, with answers posted online), prior to the submittal date. Once proposals are submitted, they are reviewed first by VSJF staff. It is possible that applicants will be contacted by staff before the full committee review takes place, to ask clarifying questions. None of the paperwork you submit to VSJF is seen by DOE. For those proposals that are accepted, VSJF translates the goals and tasks into a DOE formatted template and uploads it to their site.
Q: Our question pertains to the issue of “high-end analytical equipment” noted in the budget guidelines (for the Algae Feedstock Analysis grant). We would like to develop a (certain) method, which is used industrially to do things like “x, y and z”. To do this, we would have to purchase a (certain laboratory implement), which runs between $15,000-$20,000. It's not an analytical instrument, rather it used in the “x, y and z” process, which is fundamental to the research we are undertaking. Would VSJF consider the purchase of this implement to be an eligible use of grant funds?
A: Generally speaking, the “high-end analytical equipment” exemption for funding would not pertain to processing implements or equipment as it has been described. Therefore, budgeting for this kind of “laboratory implement” in your proposal is acceptable, provided at least 25% of the cost is paid as cost share. Once the proposal has been submitted, the grant review committee will be the final arbiter to determine whether the “implement” is a justifiable and/or not a disproportionate project expense, as in all cases of DOE/VSJF grant funds being applied to equipment purchases.
Q: If applying for activities that apply to both category 1 and 2 grants on the same farm(s), do separate proposals have to be written, or can one proposal be submitted that describes which part is category 1 and 2 funds?"
A: The RFP is seeking proposals for 2 different kinds of projects;
Category 1 proposals are for feedstock R&D and the application needs to identify specific research that will be undertaken and the corresponding budget to conduct the R&D and analyze the results. And there's a 80/20 match.
Category 2 proposals are for developing commercial oilseed processing enterprises (biodiesel and/or oilseed pressing). The Budget will reflect the 50/50 match requirement for this category.
When the committee reviews grants they will be evaluated in each of the 2 categories, therefore separate applications and budgets will need to be submitted.
You will need to indicate if the 2 projects are mutually exclusive, i.e., they are inseparable in some way and the project as a whole could not succeed if only one category were approved for funding.
Q. For the VSJF oilseed (R&D) grants, does a leased 25-acre plot (previously in hay), qualify as enough acreage in oilseed production/research to be eligible for the grant?
A: There are no minimum or maximum amount of acres that need to go into production to be eligible for this VSJF oilseed and biodiesel grant. Keep in mind though, these crops do best under rotation practices, so you'll want to be thinking in terms of 3-4 year cycles on any given field or plot.
Q: Although an application will list specific equipment required, I would like to know if the equipment specified can be changed after the application has been approved?
A: When VSJF approves a project for funding, we are approving the project objectives and the budget submitted with the application. We also understand that equipment needs, etc., may change from the time proposals are submitted to when funds are available. Therefore, changes to the budget or minor adjustments to the project objectives may be granted, provided the request and justification are made in writing (email) and VSJF provides written approval of the change.
Q: In addition to the VSJF’s support of
oilseed-to-biodiesel production, is VSJF also interested in supporting the
research and development of second-generation biofuels using cellulosic crops
A: Yes, VSJF is very interested in supporting research and development of second-generation biofuels using cellulosic crops as feedstocks, such as switchgrass, big bluestem and other biomass. However, in the context of this RFP for oilseed crops and biodiesel production, those crops fall outside of the purpose of this grant. VSJF will be issuing an RFP this spring to support research and production of perennial grasses in Vermont, so please check back!
Q: Is there interest at VSJF in supporting an analysis of the overall
capability of Vermont to make low carbon biodiesel and cellulosic biofuels that
do not result in direct or indirect land use change or competition with food
A. This sounds like a very interesting and valuable research project. It would be an excellent companion to a Greenhouse Gas calculator tool that VSJF is helping to fund, to be better informed about the life cycle carbon impacts of small-scale oilseed crop production in Vermont. However, like the question posed above (re: cellulosic feedstocks), in the context of this RFP for oilseed crops and biodiesel production, land use change research falls outside of the purpose of this grant.
Q: After the grant decision is announced, does the awardee get the entire sum awarded all at once, 50% upfront and 50% at the end of the course/grant period, or other?
A. All grant fund disbursements are done on a reimbursement basis only. However, grantees may invoice the VSJF as often as necessary over the award period. VSJF can typically provide a reimbursement check to a grantee within 7 - 10 days of receipt of an invoice.
Q: I’m confused about the phrasing of the cost share requirement. Can you explain what you mean by non-federal cash or in-kind?
A: Your cost share requirement must come from non-federal sources or in-kind contributions. That is, you may not use other federal funding (e.g., other DOE grants) as part of the cost share for this project. This is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Energy. You may count staff time, meeting time, etc. as part of your in-kind contribution.
Q: Can we substitute in-kind contributions (time, equipment, etc.) for the matching dollar amount?
A: Yes. The cost share requirement for federally funded grants can be cash from non-federal sources, or ‘in-kind’ contributions such as labor and equipment directly related to the project, or a combination of both. See Form B. Budget and Budget Narrative (or call to request a hard copy if needed). You will need to provide this cost share information in the columns for “Funds from Applicants” and “Funds from Others.” You must enter a dollar amount, but it can be a combination of the value of equipment, labor and/or cash and you will need to provide the details in the Budget Narrative tab.
Q: Do we have to have all matching moneys secured and available by the application deadline, or can loan applications and investor negotiations be in progress when we apply for the grant?
A: When filling out your budget, indicate on the Budget Narrative tab what types of cost share you or others are providing. If it is not all ‘in hand’ by the time the application is due, simply indicate that in the narrative and what the plan is for fully funding the cost share portion of the project.
Q: What are Indirect Costs?
A: Indirect costs, also known as overhead, represent the costs of doing business that are not clearly and easily attributable with a particular project, but are necessary for the general operation of the organization. Expenses like heat, electricity, etc. might be charged directly to different programs, projects, or activities if there were an easy way to track them. However, applying an indirect cost rate is an alternative way to distribute those costs based on a percentage of the direct project costs. An applicant or organization may include indirect costs in their project budgets if they have a federally-approved indirect rate. If you don’t have an approved rate and want to claim administrative or overhead costs, please indicate these line items in the Other Category. Typically, these costs will not exceed 10% of the project budget. For more info: Indirect Cost Supplemental Information.
Q: We will be setting up a new building and will need to apply for building permits. Can we use grant moneys for the permit application process, or should we start this process before we submit the grant application?
A: VSJF highly recommends that the applicant make contact with their Town Office to notify them of their plans, prior to submitting a VSJF Biofuels application. This will give the applicant an opportunity to find out what, if any, permits (i.e., building permit, etc) the Town requires. It is a good idea (but not required) to spend a little time, prior to submitting your application, getting familiar with some of Vermont’s ‘rules and regulations’ pertaining to on-farm energy enterprises – and briefly note this in your application narrative (contact Dan Scruton: dan.scruton(at)state.vt.us or (802) 828-3836 for assistance).
Q: Can you tell me the distinction the RFP is making between “legal name of applicant” and “project manager/principal investigator”? Who needs to sign the application?
A: The Legal Name of Applicant should be the institution or organizational name which will be the entity receiving the funds. The Legal Name of Applicant refers to the entity that is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the grant agreement is carried out. Some institutions have contracting offices that have personnel authorized to sign contracts on behalf of the institution (i.e., the ability to sign as the Legal Name of Applicant). However, it is acceptable for the PI / Project Manager to sign as the Legal Name of Applicant, and the signatures required in the RFP application can all be from the PI / Project Manager. VSJF needs to know whom to make grant award payments to and would expect that it would be to the institution charged with dispersing funds for the salaries / stipend and expenses related to the project. The PI/Project Manager would be the principal(s) actually running the project. If there are more than one individual involved in the project, please list the primary contact person so that VSJF knows whom to contact with questions related to the project.
Q: How does VSJF handle proprietary information?
A: Appropriate procedures to safeguard proprietary or confidential information will be employed by VSJF. Applicants must clearly mark any proprietary information contained in the application. We recommend that you use a colored highlighter to manually highlight the proprietary text or to place a box around the proprietary sections in all copies. Applicants are encouraged to limit the proprietary information to only that which is necessary to adequately assess the technical merits of the proposed concept. Classifying the majority or entire proposal as proprietary is not acceptable and will result in its rejection.
Q: Can existing plant equipment be used as a part of our contribution towards cost share?
A: You may use existing equipment as cost share with the following stipulations: You can only include as cost share an estimated value of the equipment associated with the work for the proposed project. This may be a percentage of the overall use of the equipment. In this case, indicate the value of the existing equipment in its present state and submit that valuation as part of your application. For example, for existing equipment, one could value it by applying the depreciation value (which ever time horizon you normally use -- 7 years or 10 years or 30 years) and then apply this percentage use toward the intended project. Alternatively, if the equipment is already in place because it has been used for another project, but is now going to be used for this project, you could apply a 'usage' fee that would count toward cost share. Again, this usage fee should be based on what it would cost to use the equipment for the intended project only.