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By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.

On September 19, 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced 18 projects from the Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) program will receive $22 million in funding through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).  The MARINER projects aim to develop tools to address the technological challenges to growing and harvesting macroalgae efficiently and cost-effectively for use as a feedstock for biofuels and other bioproducts.  Such tools would support the goal of the United States becoming a leader in the production of macroalgae to improve U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness.  According to Eric Rohlfing, the ARPA-E Acting Director, “the United States has offshore resources capable of producing enough seaweed to handle as much as 10 percent of our demand for transportation fuel.” 

The cross-disciplinary MARINER projects focus on transformative, systems-level improvements and engineering, including advanced research in farm design and autonomous operation, which draw on fields such as cultivation and harvesting systems, advanced components, computer modeling, aquatic monitoring, and advanced breeding and genetics tools. 
The full list of the MARINER projects is available on the ARPA-E website.


In May of 2016, the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) awarded the University of Illinois and the University of Florida $300,000 to continue researching ultra-productive biofuel crops. The research project is called Plants Engineered To Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum (PETROSS), and this is the third round of funding that it will receive from ARPA-E. PETROSS is engineering sugarcane and sorghum to produce 20 percent oil, compared to the 0.05 percent oil that is naturally provided. So far 13 percent oil production has been achieved, with PETROSS continuing work to reach 20 percent yield though improved photosynthesis. The ARPA-E funding will also support a techno-economic analysis of converting the PETROSS oil into jet fuel, and phenotyping the PETROSS sugarcane and DNA.


On June 18, 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $55 million in funding for projects to accelerate biomass development and develop generator technologies under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The funding will be divided between two of ARPA-E's programs, GENerators for Small Electrical and Thermal Systems (GENSETS) and Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA). GENSETS will receive $25 million to support 12 projects to improve generator technologies that will provide more affordable and efficient residential Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems. CHP takes otherwise wasted head and uses it for water and home heating, reducing energy costs. The GENSETS program intends to use the 12 projects to focus on internal combustion engines, Stirling engines, microturbines, and solidstate devices to develop one-kilowatt CHP systems that are energy efficient and affordable for residential homes. TERRA will receive $30 million to support six projects with the goal of improving sorghum varieties for biofuel production by developing improved plant remote sensing, analysis, and breeding methods. The six project teams will identify limitations with the physical and genetic characteristics of the plant, and will create advanced algorithms to analyze data and predict plant growth based on recorded characteristics of the plant. A large public database will also be created with sorghum genotypes and field phenotypes, allowing a greater community of scientists to improve sorghum and bioenergy crops.