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ARPA-E announces $11M for innovations in energy-water processing and agricultural sensing technologies; fourth, fifth OPEN+ cohorts

The US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $11 million in funding for 7 projects in the fourth and fifth cohorts of the agency’s OPEN+ program: Energy-Water Technologies and Sensors for Bioenergy and Agriculture.

  • Energy-Water cohort teams will develop new, energy-efficient processing technologies for industrial (particularly oil and gas) and municipal wastewater.

  • The Sensors teams will develop ultra-low-energy distributed sensors to improve production efficiency in agriculture, boosting viability for bioenergy crops and reducing the energy and water requirements for agriculture more broadly.

Energy-Water Technologies cohort

  • Columbia University, Expanding the Boundaries of Autotrophic Nitrogen Removal for Energy-Efficient Clean Water Production – $1,620,136.
    Columbia University will produce clean water by removing nitrogen from wastewater streams through a process that uses up to 60% less energy and up to 80% less organic carbon, compared to conventional approaches. The new approach cleanses water through a bacterial process and advanced control solutions. The treated water streams can achieve the most stringent effluent water quality standards in the United States with a new cost-efficient, energy-positive model. The team will work with major public water treatment providers to develop and test its technology.

  • Oregon State University, Freshwater Recovery System for Hydraulic Fracturing (FRESH-Frac) Using a Thermally-Actuated Nozzle-Demister – $2,972,000.
    Oregon State University (OSU) is developing a system for extracting clean irrigation water from hydraulic fracturing wastewater using low-grade solar or industrial waste heat. The system would efficiently separate, condense, and reclaim water vapor from wastewater using a heat-activated swirling nozzle combined with an in-line demister. OSU’s technology would be modular, portable, scalable, and deployable at a fraction of the cost of existing treatment systems.

  • University of Oklahoma, An Innovative Zero-Liquid Discharge Intermediate-Cold-Liquid Eutectic-Freeze Desalination System – $608,333.
    The University of Oklahoma will develop a novel, zero-liquid discharge freeze system to remove dissolved salt from contaminated water, such as is produced by industrial processes like oil and gas production and fracking. The project will take advantage of how salt and water separate as water freezes, using a cooling approach that maximizes efficiency and avoids the need for energy-intensive evaporation methods. The system is constructed of low-cost material, operates under atmospheric pressure, and is suitable for highly concentrated/contaminated water.

Sensors for Bioenergy and Agriculture cohort

  • Geegah LLC, Integrated Gigahertz Ultrasonic Imager for Soil: Towards Targeted Water and Pesticide Delivery for Biomass Productions – $500,000.
    Geegah will develop an inexpensive wireless sensor, using ultrasound from MHz to GHz, that can measure water content, soil chemicals, root growth, and nematode pests (a type of small worm), allowing farmers to improve the output of biofuel crops while reducing water and pesticide use. The reusable device will include a sensor suite and radio interface that can communicate to aboveground farm vehicles. This novel integration of sensing and imaging technologies could provide a low-cost solution to precision sensor-based digital agriculture.

  • Northeastern University, Zero-Power Wireless Infrared Digitizing Sensors for Large Scale Energy-Smart Farm – $1,630,925.
    Northeastern University will develop a maintenance-free sensor network to improve energy and agricultural efficiency by monitoring water content in plants. The team’s zero-power sensors will form distributed networks that can capture, process, and communicate in-field data to help farmers determine how to maximize yield. Specifically, sensors will monitor water stress-related plant characteristics, relaying these data wirelessly to a control center in the irrigation system. The proposed technology does not consume any power in standby mode, eliminating the cost of battery replacements.

  • University of Colorado, Boulder, Precision Agriculture using Networks of Degradable Analytical Sensors (PANDAS) – $1,690,415.
    The University of Colorado, Boulder will develop 3D-printed, biodegradable soil sensors that enable farmers to precisely understand crop water and fertilizer needs. These sensor nodes can be embedded in a field, to accurately and continuously monitor soil and crop health for an entire season before degrading completely and harmlessly into the soil. This approach could enable real-time soil monitoring by farmers, enabling them to reduce agriculture’s energy footprint and water needs and increase soil carbon.

  • University of Utah, Low-Cost Wireless Chemical Sensor Networks for Early Detection of Invasive Parasitics in Biofuel Crops – $2,164,314. The University of Utah will develop low-power sensors to enable the early detection of invasive weeds and/or insects in biomass crop production. This would increase the overall energy efficiency of crop production. Farmers currently lose about 40% of biomass crops due to weeds and insects that ideally need to be removed within a week of detection. Early detection could minimize such a loss even with much smaller applications of pesticides and herbicides, significantly increasing the economic viability of biomass generation.

ARPA-E created OPEN+ cohorts to focus on targeted, high-value opportunities to innovate technologies and create new communities. To date, ARPA-E has announced OPEN+ projects in materials science for nuclear energy; low cost, ultra-durable concrete; and new ways to create high-value carbon and hydrogen from methane.

ARPA-E plans to announce a total of nine OPEN+ cohorts throughout late 2018 and early 2019.


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