ROOTS, REFUEL, MARINER & Algae: DOE invests $100M for 4 Big Shots at liquid transportation fuels & feedstocks

December 18, 2016 |

bd-ts-121916-funding-cover-smIt may be a sign of the times, a sense of worry that R&D for renewable transport fuels may lose all their popularity under the incoming Trump Administration.

Whatever the cause, the biggest set of projects announced in renewable fuels since the days of the Recovery Act have been just announced by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (Energy) and the DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office.

Let’s take you through the need to knows.


MARINER will focus on supporting the development of new approaches to cost-effective and scalable cultivation of macroalgae (seaweeds) in the oceans for the production of fuels and chemicals.

This is a funding opportunity announcement, not an announce of project winners.

On Friday, ARPA-E announced up to $25 million in funding for a new program to significantly expand the opportunities to produce macroalgae as an economically viable, renewable feedstock for biofuel and energy applications.

The MacroAlgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) program will develop innovative cultivation and harvest systems and additional supporting tools necessary to produce macroalgae biomass at a scale required for fuel production and at a cost competitive with land-based biofuel feedstocks. If successful, MARINER is expected to deploy new technologies to help bolster U.S. energy security and diversify U.S. fuel sources.

The MARINER program seeks to increase macroalgae yield and expand into off-shore environments to increase the areas of deployment by two orders of magnitude above current global levels, all while significantly reducing cost. These transformational technologies could potentially enable a U.S.-based macroalgae industry capable of producing up to two quads—approximately 2 percent of U.S. primary energy consumption—of bioenergy by 2050, without competing for freshwater or farmland currently dedicated to food production.

The backstory

Macroalgae, also referred to as seaweed, are a set of exceptionally diverse multicellular, non-vascular marine plants. Beyond the most common applications of direct human consumption and food additives, there are additional opportunities for large-scale use of macroalgae in the production of fuels and chemicals. The current state of macroalgae mariculture, however, is not capable of scaling to support a seaweed-to-fuels industry.

Get the details

Read all about it here.

The deadline to submit a Concept Paper for MARINER is 5 p.m. ET on February 14, 2017.  Additional information, including the full FOA and how to find project teaming partners, is available on ARPA-E’s online application portal, ARPA-E eXCHANGE.


DOE tasks $8M for Algae Biofuels: aimed at doubling algae productivity

Yes, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office announced a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) of up to $8 million, subject to appropriations, for innovative technologies and approaches to help advance bioenergy and bioproducts from algae. The FOA is meant to help develop productivity-enhancing algal biology technologies that can enable doubling the current state of technology for seasonal algal biomass productivities.

This is a funding opportunity announcement, not an announce of project winners.

This FOA, entitled “Productivity Enhanced Algae and Tool-Kits,” has two topic areas: (1) algal strain improvements and (2) algal cultivation biology improvements. This FOA will allow the selection of a variety of projects and approaches that overcome species-specific, ecological, and practical challenges to improved algal productivity and biomass composition—two key metrics in achieving high fuel yields.


Renewable Energy to Fuels Through Utilization of Energy-Dense Liquids

Dr. Grigorii Soloveichik is the ARPA-E-‘er behind this one. It’s about converting renewable power to fuels for storage and back to power again for electric motoring.

The Renewable Energy to Fuels Through Utilization of Energy-Dense Liquids (REFUEL) program seeks to develop scalable technologies for converting electrical energy from renewable sources into energy-dense carbon-neutral liquid fuels (CNLFs) and back into electricity or hydrogen on demand. REFUEL projects will accelerate the shift to domestically produced transportation fuels, improving American economic and energy security and reducing energy emissions.

Innovation Need: 

Carbon-neutral liquid fuels as defined by REFUEL are hydrogen-rich and made by converting molecules in the air (nitrogen or carbon dioxide) and hydrogen from water into an energy-carrying liquid using renewable power. While existing fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) use pure hydrogen as a fuel, the limitations of hydrogen storage and transportation have made it difficult and expensive to build transmission, distribution, and refueling infrastructure for mass adoption of these vehicles. The CNLFs of REFUEL address these challenges by using the infrastructure already in use by traditional liquid fuels. Once the CNLF arrives at its point of use, it can be used to generate electricity in a fuel cell or produce hydrogen on demand, greatly reducing transportation and storage costs.REFUEL projects will aid in the development of energy sources that are readily produced and easily transported, like ammonia, while reducing production costs and environmental impact. Projects will enable new, efficient, scalable and cost-effective energy delivery when and where it is needed.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, developments from REFUEL will enable energy generated from domestic, renewable resources to increase fuel diversity in the transportation sector in a cost-effective and efficient way.

The background

Most liquid fuels used in transportation today are derived from petroleum and burned in internal combustion engines. These energy-dense fuels are currently economical, but they remain partially reliant on imported petroleum and are highly carbon intensive. Alternatives to internal combustion engines, like fuel cells, which convert chemical energy to electricity, have shown promise in vehicle powertrains, but are hindered by inefficiencies in fuel transport and storage.

Get all the details

Further details on the REFUEL program can be found HERE and details on the 16 projects can be found HERE.


Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration

ARPA-E’s Joe Cornelius came up with this one.

The rationale: Keeping carbon in the soil

Conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide to soil organic matter (SOM) via photosynthesis and natural metabolic processes is a unique opportunity to reduce the atmospheric concentrations of important greenhouse gases while creating significant economic value. Current land management practices result in the loss of more than 75 billion tons of topsoil per year, costing the world about $400 billion annually, or about $70 per person per year. The amount of soil carbon can be increased by one of two pathways: increasing the rate of carbon additions to the soil, or reducing the rate of decomposition of organic matter already present in the soil. One potential path to increasing carbon stocks is the development of improved crops that impart more carbon into the soil through their roots or grow deeper root systems. Such plants could be deployed rapidly and at scale.  Advanced root systems that increase SOM can improve soil structure, fertilizer use efficiency, water productivity, crop yield, climate resilience, and mitigate topsoil erosion—all of which provide near-term and sustained economic value. Taken over the 160 million hectares of actively managed U.S. cropland, such advances could mitigate approximately 10 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions annually over a multi-decade period.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, developments from ROOTS projects will produce crops that will greatly increase carbon uptake in soil, helping to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, decrease N2O emissions, and improve agricultural productivity.

America’s soils are a strategic asset critical to national food and energy security. Improving the quality of soil in America’s cropland will enable increased and more efficient production of feedstocks for food, feed and fuel.

The background

America’s vast terrestrial resources (over 520 million hectares of crop, range and forestland) are strategic assets essential for sustainable economic growth. While advances in technology have resulted in a ten-fold increase in crop productivity over the past hundred years, soil quality has declined, incurring a soil carbon debt equivalent to 65 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). The soil carbon debt also increases the need for costly nitrogen fertilizer, which has become the primary source of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, a greenhouse gas. The soil carbon debt also impacts crop water use, increasing susceptibility to drought stress, which threatens future productivity.  Given the scale of domestic (and global) agriculture resources, there is tremendous potential to reverse these trends by harnessing the photosynthetic bridge between atmospheric carbon, plants, microbes and soil. Development of new root-focused plant cultivars could dramatically and economically reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations while improving productivity, resilience and sustainability. To this end, projects in the ARPA-E Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration (ROOTS) program seek to develop advanced technologies and crop cultivars that enable a 50 percent increase in soil carbon accumulation while reducing N2O emissions by 50 percent and increasing water productivity by 25 percent.

Get all the details

Further details on the ROOTS program can be found HERE and details on the 10 projects can be found HERE.

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