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ARPA-E to issue funding opportunity for advanced technologies for seaweed cultivation for fuels and chemicals

The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA–E) intends to issue a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA ) in November, 2016, for the development of advanced cultivation technologies that enable profitable and energy efficient production of macroalgal-biomass (seaweeds) in the ocean. ARPA–E held a workshop on this topic in February 2016.

These technologies are expected to be deployed and support cultivation of macroalgal-biomass feedstocks at a scale relevant for the production of commodity fuels and chemicals. The primary challenge is to reduce capital and operating cost of macroalgae cultivation dramatically, while significantly increasing the range of deployment by expanding into more exposed, off-shore environments.

ARPA-E is interested in new designs and approaches to macroalgae cultivation and production with integrated harvesting solutions. These systems may leverage new material and engineering solutions, autonomous and/or robotic operations, as well as advanced sensing and monitoring capabilities.

In addition to field-type cultivation, ARPA-E is also interested in unconventional approaches, for example ranching where free-floating macroalgae are harvested at locations predicted/determined by satellite imaging and current/drift modeling.

Given the enormous size and geographic diversity of the US marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the agency expects that there will be different system solutions based on the intended area of deployment, macroalgal species to be cultivated, and downstream processing.

To support and accelerate the development of these advanced cultivation systems, ARPA-E is also interested in hydrodynamic and ocean current models that can predict the mechanical stresses on a cultivation system as well as the flow and distribution of nutrients through a macroalgae field.

Furthermore, to validate the performance of macroalgae cultivation systems, appropriate sensors to measure in situ biomass production and composition as well as nutrient concentrations will be required.

Finally, to complement the new system design approaches, ARPA-E is also looking for advanced breeding tools that can help in the development of new, highly productive macroalgae cultivars.

ARPA-E has determined that, at this time, biomass conversion is not a limiting factor for profitable and wide-spread production of fuels and chemicals from macroalgae, and consequently will not support work in that area at this time. However, an understanding of macroalgae conversion processes are expected to inform and guide the development of cultivation and harvest strategies, or other tools.

Overall, the program will address marine system design/engineering and integration with biomass production, hydrodynamic and ocean modeling, marine spatial planning, sensor technology development, macroalgae breeding tools, and field testing of cultivation systems and sensor technologies. The program will also address emerging markets necessary as stepping stones to a thriving marine macroalgae-to-fuels and chemicals industry.

ARPA–E anticipates that this program will have four areas of interest.

  1. Design and field testing of integrated macroalgae cultivation and harvest systems.

  2. Hydrodynamic and nutrient flux models to support the design, testing, and operation of the above cultivation systems and their integration with marine spatial planning tools to identify appropriate deployment opportunities for macroalgal cultivation.

  3. Sensors/technologies to monitor macroalgal biomass growth, distribution, and composition, as well as nutrient concentrations in the surrounding waters, either as mobile, field (ocean) deployable systems or via remote sensing/satellite imaging; and, sensors/technologies for biosecurity, including disease detection/prevention and herbivory.

  4. Development of advanced breeding tools, by leveraging modern terrestrial breeding methods, such as hybridization and genomic marker identification tools, and adopting them to the unique life cycles of macroalgae.

ARPA-E is now compiling a teaming partner list to facilitate the formation of new project teams. ARPA-E intends to make the list available on ARPA–E eXCHANGE, ARPA–E’s online application portal, this month. Once posted, the Teaming Partner List will be updated periodically, until the close of the Full Application period, to reflect new Teaming Partners who have provided their information.


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