In recent months, we've seen the Department of Energy dish out money to alternative transportation programs, renewable energy projects like Iberdrola's Penascal Wind Farm in Texas, and smart grid implementations by the likes of Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) and FPL Group (NYSE:FPL). Last week, biomass grabbed the spotlight with a $564 million round of grants promoting the refining of wood waste, sorghum, and other feedstocks into biofuels or other petroleum substitutes.

Archer-Daniels-Midland (NYSE:ADM) showed up among the grant recipients, which is natural for a company positioning itself for years now as a leader in bioenergy. Last year we saw ADM team up with Deere (NYSE:DE) and Monsanto (NYSE:MON) to develop a corn stover harvesting process. The biorefinery project that just received about $25 million in funding addresses the next link in the chain -- turning this biomass into liquid fuels or energy.

Another high-profile recipient is Amyris Biotechnologies -- one of the rising stars of synthetic biology. The start-up, backed by the cleantechnorati of Silicon Valley, has very recently signed onto two high-profile projects. The company is looking to evaluate renewable jet fuel with General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Embraer, and cane-derived diesel fuel alongside Bunge and Cosan (NYSE:CZZ).

Other familiar faces include Honeywell's UOP and Solazyme, part of another team working on renewable jet fuel. Bill Gates-backed Sapphire Energy also pulled down $50 million for an algae cultivation project in New Mexico.

At the end of the day, biomass does not look like our most compelling renewable energy option, especially when it comes to biofuels. A year ago, a Stanford study that considered factors including human health, water supply, and land use ranked cellulosic "E85" (i.e. 85% ethanol) dead last out of 12 different means of powering our vehicles. Agricultural interests -- like the coal lobby and its award-winning marketing prowess -- have a strong voice in Washington, however, and I expect them to continue to pull in taxpayer money for their projects.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool owns shares of FPL, and has a disclosure policy.