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Transportation Fuels

Ocean Era

Blue Fields: Offshore Single Point Mooring Array for Efficient, High-Yield Macroalgal Production

The Ocean Era (formerly Kampachi Farms) team will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design and develop technologies to deliver deep seawater nutrients to a novel macroalgae production farm concept suitable for deployment in tropical and subtropical deep ocean environments. The superstructure of macroalgae farms typically consists of an anchor grid that tethers the farm in a fixed location and orientation. The Ocean Era team aims to disrupt this model by designing a macroalgae array anchored by a single-point mooring, or anchor point. Single-point mooring will allow the farm to align itself with the current, drastically reducing stress loads and improving the efficiency of nutrient dispersal. Additionally, the team has proposed a low-cost upwelling system to deliver nutrients from deeper waters to the macroalgae farm above to solve the issue of low nutrient content surface waters that would slow macroalgae growth. Since the nutrients will always flow downcurrent, and the farm self-aligns itself in that direction, the upwelled nutrients will be more efficiently dispersed across the array. The team believes that these elements, when tested and refined together, can reduce the capital and operating cost of macroalgae cultivation, while increasing the range of deployment into a large swath of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone that is currently inhospitable to commercial macroalgae cultivation because of the high costs to moor arrays and the lack of nutrients in surface waters.

Ohio State University

Bioconversion of Carbon Dioxide to Biofuels by Facultatively Autotrophic Hydrogen Bacteria

The Ohio State University is genetically modifying bacteria to efficiently convert carbon dioxide directly into butanol, an alcohol that can be used directly as a fuel blend or converted to a hydrocarbon, which closely resembles gasoline. Bacteria are typically capable of producing a certain amount of butanol before it becomes too toxic for the bacteria to survive. Ohio State is engineering a new strain of the bacteria that could produce up to 50% more butanol before it becomes too toxic for the bacteria to survive. Finding a way to produce more butanol more efficiently would significantly cut down on biofuel production costs and help make butanol cost competitive with gasoline. Ohio State is also engineering large tanks, or bioreactors, to grow the biofuel-producing bacteria in, and they are developing ways to efficiently recover biofuel from the tanks.

Ohio State University

Pilot Scale Testing of Carbon-Negative, Product-Flexible Syngas Chemical Looping

The Ohio State University has developed an iron-based material and process for converting syngas--a synthetic gas mixture--into electricity, H2, and/or liquid fuel with zero CO2 emissions. Traditional carbon capture methods use chemical solvents or special membranes to separate CO2 from the gas exhaust from coal-fired power plants. Ohio State's technology uses an iron-based oxygen carrier to generate CO2 and H2 from syngas in separate, pure product streams by means of a circulating bed reactor configuration. The end products of the system are H2, electricity, and/or liquid fuel, all of which are useful sources of power that can come from coal or syngas derived from biomass. Ohio State is developing a high-pressure pilot-scale unit to demonstrate this process at the National Carbon Capture Center.

Opus 12 Incorporated

Renewable Electricity-Powered Carbon Dioxide Conversion to Ethanol for Storage and Transportation

Opus 12 will develop a cost effective, modular reactor to electrochemically convert CO2 to ethanol in one step using water, air, and renewable electricity. Electrochemical reduction of CO2 has been demonstrated in laboratories to produce different fuels and chemicals, but these technologies do not provide efficient conversions and can only be executed in non-economical reactors. The Opus 12 team will integrate its novel cathode layer formulation, containing CO2 reducing catalysts and a polymer electrolyte, into an existing proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer architecture. Their unique polymer-electrolyte blend used in the cathode catalyst layer acts to minimize competing reactions by controlling the pH at the active sites. Currently, PEM electrolyzers are limited to hydrogen production, but the team's approach expands their use to include high-efficiency ethanol synthesis. PEM electrolyzers are also a well-established technology and integrating them into an existing reactor architecture reduces system capital costs and scale-up risk. PEM electrolyzers can also ramp quickly, allowing the use of intermittent, low-cost renewable electricity. They operate at high current density, leading to a small footprint, and they are operationally simple, with no need for specialized operators on site. The team's system will operate at less than 80°C and near atmospheric pressure with a coproduct of pure oxygen. The team's pilot reactor will be one of the first examples of a PEM electrolysis system used to generate a liquid fuel directly.

OPX Biotechnologies, Inc.

Novel Biological Conversion of Hydrogen and Carbon Dioxide Directly into Free Fatty Acids

OPX Biotechnologies is engineering a microorganism currently used in industrial biotechnology to directly produce a liquid fuel from hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2). The microorganism has the natural ability to use hydrogen and CO2 for growth. OPX Biotechnologies is modifying the microorganism to divert energy and carbon away from growth and towards the production of liquid fuels in larger, commercially viable quantities. The microbial system will produce a fuel precursor that can be chemically upgraded to various hydrocarbon fuels.

Oregon State University

Bio-Lamina-Plates Bioreactor for Enhanced Mass and Heat Transfer

Oregon State University (OSU) will develop a small-scale bioreactor that can enable high-rate, low cost bioconversion of methane to liquid fuel. Current systems to convert methane using microorganisms can be slow and inefficient due to the low rate at which methane gas and nutrients are transferred to biocatalysts as well as the build-up of toxins that affect the health of biocatalysts. Using an ultra-thin, stacked "Bio-Lamina-Plate" system OSU will attempt to improve the overall rate at which methane is transferred to the biocatalysts. This new reactor design also helps to improve the rate at which oxygen is provided and products are removed from the system. The reactor design improves the amount of surface exposed relative to the volume of biofilm and provides better heat transfer to improve overall reactor efficiency. Unlike reactors build using stainless steel, OSU's reactor may use low-cost materials such as plastic and glass, as well as simple fabrication techniques to reduce the bioreactor manufacturing costs.

Oregon State University

Converting Natural Gas to Liquid Fuels by Low Energy Electrical Corona Discharge Processes

The team led by Oregon State University (OSU) is developing a novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology that utilizes a "corona discharge" plasma to convert methane to higher value chemicals, such as ethylene or liquid fuels. A corona discharge is formed when a high voltage is applied across a gap with a shaped electrode that concentrates the electric field at a tip. At sufficiently high voltage, an electrical discharge (characterized by a faint glow - a corona) is formed, and ionizes the surrounding gas molecules, i.e. split them into positive ions and free electrons. The team will build a reactor consisting of an array of micro-structured conducting surfaces to form corona discharges that ionize methane molecules and recombine the ionized components to form longer chain hydrocarbons with higher value. The key advantages of this technology are the innovative reactor design, which will allow small-scale production, as well as the high energy and conversion efficiencies, resulting in less energy being consumed to convert methane to liquid fuels.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Multi-Resolution, Multi-Scale Modeling for Scalable Macroalgae Production

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will lead a MARINER Category 3 project to develop a set of numerical modeling tools capable of simulating hydrodynamics, mechanical stress, and trajectories of free-floating, unmoored macroalgae production systems. Macroalgae farming systems require significant capital and those investment decisions can be guided by the development of advanced modeling tools to help better understand the nature of macroalgae production. In this project, PNNL will develop modeling tools capable of simulating and predicting macroalgae trajectories for free-floating systems and, supported by biogeochemical modeling processes, macroalgae growth and biomass yields. Importantly, the mechanical stresses on macroalgae from ocean currents and waves will also be simulated. PNNL's set of modeling tools will provide a suite of information essential for the deployment and real-time management of free-floating seaweed production systems in the open ocean. The model will provide new hydrodynamic and nutrient information that will support system design, optimal project siting and risk analysis. Better clarity can also help macroalgae system developers reduce deployment cost, operational risk, and potential impacts on the local marine environment.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Nautical Offshore Macroalgal Autonomous Device

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design, build, and field-test a Nautical Off-shore Macroalgal Autonomous Device (NOMAD), which is a free-floating, sensor-equipped, carbon-fiber longline (5 km) to which macroalgae can be attached for cultivation. The PNNL concept eliminates the significant costs associated with mooring, or anchoring, farms at a precise, invariable location in the ocean. Rather, PNNL proposes to release the NOMADs from a seeding vessel far offshore the United States West Coast and use harvesting boats to collect the free-floating systems after a six month, 1500 km southbound journey along nutrient-rich ocean currents. The NOMADs will be equipped with buoys and GPS sensors to track their positions as well as accelerometers and underwater light sensors to estimate, in real time, the biomass yield to optimize harvesting time. The project will employ state-of-the-art hydrodynamic modeling to identify offshore locations for release and harvest that result in optimum biomass yields as the NOMAD travels in nutrient-rich currents. Fully automated, high-speed seeding and harvesting machines will be designed and deployed to minimize labor costs. The team will also use polyculture farming where two species of kelp will be grown to improved light utilization and potentially achieve higher biomass yields than a single species could achieve alone.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

The Consortium for Advanced Sorghum Phenomics (CASP)

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), along with its partners, will use aerial and ground-based platforms to identify traits required for greater production yield and resistance to drought and salinity stresses to accelerate sorghum breeding for biofuel production. The project will combine plant analysis in both outdoor field and indoor greenhouse environments as each provides unique advantages; and will use robotics and imaging platforms for increased speed and accuracy of data collection. Traditionally aboveground biomass is measured by harvesting, drying, and weighing the plant material. As an alternative approach, the team will develop non-destructive high-throughput methods to measure biomass over time. Drought tolerance will be measured by mapping water stress and using sensors to compare the difference between the canopy temperature and air temperature. The overall goal of the project is to understand the traits related to increasing biomass yield and drought/salinity stress, and to predict those traits in the early stages of plant development, before those traits become apparent using current methods.

Palo Alto Research Center

Electrochemical Ammonia Synthesis with a Nitride Ion Conducting Electrolyte

The Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) will develop an electrochemical ammonia generator capable of using intermittent energy delivered by renewable sources. The team will build an electrochemical device based on a solid-state electrolyte that converts nitrogen from the air and hydrogen to ammonia in a single step at temperatures and pressures far lower than today's dominant ammonia production technology, the Haber-Bosch process. The system will be modular and readily scalable, decoupling production cost from scale and allowing it to produce ammonia for diverse customers, from industry to farms and beyond.

Palo Alto Research Center

High-Throughput Methane Pyrolysis For Low-Cost Hydrogen

Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and its partners will explore a targeted molten metal as a catalyst in a methane pyrolysis mist reactor to convert natural gas into hydrogen and solid carbon at a low cost without carbon dioxide emissions. The technology could augment or replace current H2 production methods, while simultaneously sequestering carbon in high value materials.

Pennsylvania State University

Development of Rhodobacter as a Versatile Platform for Fuels Production

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is genetically engineering bacteria called Rhodobacter to use electricity or electrically generated hydrogen to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels. In collaboration with the University of Kentucky, Penn State is taking genes from oil-producing algae called Botryococcus braunii and putting them into Rhodobacter to produce hydrocarbon molecules, which closely resemble gasoline. Penn State is developing engineered tanks to support microbial fuel production and determining the most economical way to feed the electricity or hydrogen to the bacteria, including using renewable sources of power like solar energy.

Pennsylvania State University

Engineering a Methane-to-Acetate Pathway for Producing Liquid Biofuels

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is engineering a type of bacteria known as Methanosarcina acetivorans to produce acetate from methane gas. Current approaches to methane conversion are energy-intensive and result in substantial waste of carbon dioxide. Penn State will engineer a pathway for converting methane to a chemical called acetate by reversing the natural pathway for acetate to methanol conversion. This new approach is advantageous because it consumes carbon dioxide, produces energy-rich carbon-carbon bonds, and conserves electrons to make the molecules produced reactive and easy to combine with other molecules. The acetate generated can be used to form polymers that can be further processed into liquid fuels.

Pennsylvania State University

Towards Scale Solar Conversion of CO2 and Water Vapor to Hydrocarbon Fuels

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is developing a novel sunlight to chemical fuel conversion system. This innovative technology is based on tuning the properties of nanotube arrays with co-catalysts to achieve efficient solar conversion of CO2 and water vapor to methane and other hydrocarbons. The goal of this project is to build a stand-alone collector which can achieve ~2% sunlight to chemical fuel conversion efficiency via CO2 reduction.

Plant Sensory Systems

Development of High-Output, Low-Input Energy Beets

Plant Sensory Systems (PSS) is developing an enhanced energy beet that will provide an improved fermentable feedstock. A gene that has been shown to increase biomass and soluble sugars in other crop species will be introduced into beets in order produce higher levels of non-food-grade sugars and use both nutrients and water more efficiently. These engineered beets will have a lower cost of production and increased yield of fermentable sugars to help diversify feedstocks for bioproduction of fuel molecules.

Purdue University

Automated Sorghum Phenotyping and Trait Development Platform

Purdue University, along with IBM Research and international partners from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO, Australia) will utilize remote sensing platforms to collect data and develop models for automated phenotyping and predictive plant growth. The team will create a system that combines data streams from ground and airborne mobile platforms for high-throughput automated field phenotyping. The team's custom "phenomobile" will be a mobile, ground-based platform that will carry a sensor package capable of measuring numerous plant traits in a large number of research plots in a single day. In addition, the team will use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with advanced sensors configured to optimize the collection of diverse phenotypic data and complement the data collected from the phenomobile. Advanced image and signal processing methods will be utilized to extract phenotypic information and develop predictive models for plant growth and development. IBM Research will contribute high-performance computing platforms and advanced machine learning approaches to associate these measurements with genomic information to identify genes controlling sorghum performance. International partners from CSIRO will lend their expertise in crop modelling and phenotyping to the effort.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A Novel Hollow Fiber Membrane Reactor for High Purity Hydrogen Generation from Thermal Catalytic Ammonia Decomposition

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) will develop an innovative, hollow fiber membrane reactor that can generate high purity hydrogen from ammonia. The project combines three key components: a low-cost ruthenium (Ru)-based catalyst, a hydrogen-selective membrane, and a catalytic hydrogen burner. Pressurized ammonia vapor is fed into the reactor for high-rate decomposition at the Ru-based catalyst and at a reaction temperature below 450°C. Ceramic hollow fibers at the reactor boundary will extract the high purity hydrogen from the reaction product. Residual hydrogen will be burned with air in the catalytic burner to provide heat for ammonia cracking. Both the high-purity hydrogen and the heated exhaust from the catalytic hydrogen combustion are fed past the ammonia vapor before it enters the reactor, increasing its temperature and improving the overall efficiency of the process. The team seeks to develop a compact and modular membrane reactor prototype that can deliver hydrogen at high rate per volume from ammonia decomposition at relatively low temperatures (<450°C) and high conversion (>99%).

Research Triangle Institute

Catalytic Biocrude Production in a Novel, Short-Contact Time Reactor

Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is developing a new pyrolysis process to convert second-generation biomass into biofuels in one simple step. Pyrolysis is the decomposition of substances by heating--the same process used to render wood into charcoal, caramelize sugar, and dry roast coffee and beans. RTI's catalytic biomass pyrolysis differs from conventional flash pyrolysis in that its end product contains less oxygen, metals, and nitrogen--all of which contribute to corrosion, instability, and inefficiency in the fuel-production process. This technology is expected to easily integrate into the existing domestic petroleum refining infrastructure, making it an economically attractive option for biofuels production.

Research Triangle Institute

Compact, Inexpensive Micro-Reformers for Distributed GTL

Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is leveraging existing engine technology to develop a compact reformer for natural gas conversion. Reformers produce synthesis gas--the first step in the commercial process of converting natural gas to liquid fuels. As a major component of any gas-to-liquid plant, the reformer represents a substantial cost. RTI's re-designed reformer would be compact, inexpensive, and easily integrated with small-scale chemical reactors. RTI's technology allows for significant cost savings by harnessing equipment that is already manufactured and readily available. Unlike other systems that are too large to be deployed remotely, RTI's reformer could be used for small, remote sources of gas.


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