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Transportation Fuels

University of Colorado, Boulder

Low Cost Microtubular ALD-based Reactor System for Catalytic Reforming

The University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) is using nanotechnology to improve the structure of natural gas-to-liquids catalysts. The greatest difficulty in industrial-scale catalyst activity is temperature control, which can only be solved by improving reactor design. CU-Boulder's newly structured catalyst creates a small-scale reactor for converting natural gas to liquid fuels that can operate at moderate temperatures. Additionally, CU-Boulder's small-scale reactors could be located near remote, isolated sources of natural gas, further enabling their use as domestic fuel sources.

University of Delaware

Ammonia Advanced Alkaline Membrane H2/Air Fuel Cell System with Novel Technique for Air CO2

The University of Delaware will build an electrochemical "pump," based on a special membrane, to remove cell-damaging CO2 from ambient air before feeding it along with hydrogen into an HEMFC designed by the team. This method eliminates the need for vehicles using HEMFCs to carry an onboard oxygen supply or scrub carbon dioxide by other more expensive routes. The same principle could be applied to direct carbon capture from air for any system with a similar challenge. If successful, this electrochemical pump-HEMFC unit will meet performance, volume, and cost requirements for passenger vehicles.

University of Delaware

Direct Ammonia Fuel Cells for Transport Applications

The University of Delaware (UD) will develop a direct ammonia fuel cell operating near 100°C that will efficiently convert ammonia to electricity for electric vehicles and other applications. The team will develop new materials, including low-cost, high-performance hydroxide exchange membranes (HEMs) that can maintain stability near 100°C and novel ammonia oxidation catalysts. Proton exchange membranes are traditionally used in fuel cell applications, but HEMs have a number of advantages when ammonia is used as the direct fuel source including reduced side-reactions, prevention of ammonia crossover, and enabling of the use of lower cost catalysts. Finally, the team will target new developments in the full membrane electrode assembly structure and metal hardware fuel cell stack design, optimizing the system's operating conditions for effective water management and minimized fuel crossover. The goal is an ammonia-fed, cost-competitive fuel cell generating high power density, with rapid start-up enabled by the low operating temperature.

University of Delaware

Synthetic Methylotrophy to Liquid Fuel

The University of Delaware (UD) is engineering new metabolic pathways to convert methane into liquid fuel. UD's technology targets high-efficiency activation of methane to methanol without the consumption of additional energy, followed by conversion to butanol. The two-stage technology is envisioned to recapture carbon dioxide --with no carbon dioxide emissions. The team will use metabolic engineering and synthetic biology techniques to enable methanol utilization in organisms that are not natively about to do so. This modification will allow the new organism to grow on methanol, and utilize the available energy to produce butanol. Butanol is a high-energy fuel, with chemical and physical properties that are compatible with the current gasoline-based technologies for transportation.

University of Florida

Solar Thermochemical Fuel Production via a Novel Low Pressure, Magnetically Stabilized, Non-volatile Iron Oxide Looping Process

The University of Florida is developing a windowless high-temperature chemical reactor that converts concentrated solar thermal energy to syngas, which can be used to produce gasoline. The overarching project goal is lowering the cost of the solar thermochemical production of syngas for clean and synthetic hydrocarbon fuels like petroleum. The team will develop processes that rely on water and recycled CO2 as the sole feed-stock, and concentrated solar radiation as the sole energy source, to power the reactor to produce fuel efficiently. Successful large-scale deployment of this solar thermochemical fuel production could substantially improve our national and economic security by replacing imported oil with domestically produced solar fuels.

University of Florida

Commercial Production of Terpene Biofuels in Pine

The University of Florida is working to increase the amount of turpentine in harvested pine from 4% to 20% of its dry weight. While enhanced feedstocks for biofuels have generally focused on fuel production from leafy plants and grasses, the University of Florida is experimenting with enhancing fuel production in a species of pine that is currently used in the paper pulping industry. Pine trees naturally produce around 3-5% terpene content in the wood--terpenes are the energy-dense fuel molecules that are the predominant components of turpentine. The team aims to increase the terpene storage potential and production capacity while improving the terpene composition to a point at which the trees could be tapped while alive, like sugar maples. Growth and production from these trees will take years, but this pioneering technology could have significant impact in making available an economical and domestic source of aviation and diesel biofuels.

University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

Novel Technologies to Solve the Water use Problem of High Yielding C4 Bioenergy and Bioproduct Feedstocks

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) team proposes to increase the water-use efficiency in sorghum production, enabling plants to produce the same yield with 40% less water. By analyzing mathematical models of crop physiology and biophysics, the UIUC team has identified multiple strategies to improve water-use efficiency. In one instance, the team will decrease water loss within plants by shifting photosynthetic activity from leaves at the top of crop canopy where it is drier to lower leaves that operate in higher humidity. To increase photosynthesis in lower leaves, the upper canopy leaves will need to be a lighter shade of green and more vertical to allow more light to penetrate the canopy. Additionally, the team will alter the density and activity of the pores, called stomata, on the leaves that regulate CO2 uptake and water loss for the plant. UIUC will utilize both biotechnology and advanced molecular breeding techniques to implement these strategies. These water-efficient sorghum technologies will open up more than 9.5 million acres of lower quality land in the Midwest for sorghum production without relying on irrigation. Additionally, it will increase yields across current arable, rain-fed land. These techniques could be applied to other agricultural crops, such as corn, sugarcane and Miscanthus. The development of this water-use efficiency biotechnology will advance the efficiency of biomass production, reducing dependence on foreign oil imports and decreasing CO2 emissions.

University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

Engineering Hydrocarbon Biosynthesis and Storage Together with Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency into the Saccharinae

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is working to convert sugarcane and sorghum--already 2 of the most productive crops in the world--into dedicated bio-oil crop systems. Three components will be engineered to produce new crops that have a 50% higher yield, produce easily extractable oils, and have a wider growing range across the U.S. This will be achieved by modifying the crop canopy to better distribute sunlight and increase its cold tolerance. By directly producing oil in the shoots of these plants, these biofuels could be easily extracted with the conventional crushing techniques used today to extract sugar.

University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

TERRA MEPP (Mobile Energy-crop Phenotyping Platform)

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) with partners, Cornell University and Signetron Inc., will develop a small semi-autonomous, ground-based vehicle called TERRA-MEPP (Mobile Energy-Crop Phenotyping Platform). The platform performs high-throughput field-based data collection for bioenergy crops, providing on-the-go measurements of the physical structure of individual plants. TERRA-MEPP will use visual, thermal, and multi-spectral sensors to collect data and create 3-D reconstructions of individual plants. Newly developed software will interpret the data and a model-based data synthesis system will enable breeders to select the most promising sorghum lines for bioenergy production much sooner than currently possible, dramatically increasing the rate of genetic advancements in biomass.

University of Maryland

Electrochemical Compression for Ammonia Storage and Refrigeration System

The University of Maryland (UMD) will develop an electrochemical compression technology for ammonia. Electrochemical (an alternative to mechanical) compression has rarely been considered for ammonia, and the UMD team seeks to develop a new method to raise the compression efficiency from its current rate of 65% to the long term goal of up to 90%. If successful, replacing mechanical ammonia compression processes with electrochemical ones could save up to 10% of electricity consumed by commercial buildings while eliminating related carbon emissions and saving up to $3.5 billion annually for the United States. Using UMD's method, ammonia is electrochemically compressed using a proton exchange membrane electrochemical cell with hydrogen as a carrier gas. Unlike mechanical compression, the team's electrochemical device has no moving parts or lubrication oil and does not produce any noise. The successful demonstration of electrochemical ammonia compression will stimulate more research on the transfer of not only ammonia but other fluids using similar approaches, as well as the exploration of ion exchange membranes for other types of electrochemical gas transfer. The technical goal of Maryland's research is the construction and evaluation of a 50 W electrochemical compression stack that can compress ammonia from 1 atm to 10 atm in a single step with an ammonia flow rate of 0.045 g/s and a compression efficiency of over 70%.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Electrofuels Via Direct Electron Transfer from Electrodes to Microbes

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass Amherst) is feeding renewable electricity to bacteria to provide the microorganisms with the energy they need to turn carbon dioxide (CO2) directly into liquid fuels. UMass Amherst's energy-to-fuels conversion process is anticipated to be more efficient than current biofuels approaches in part because this process will leverage the high efficiency of photovoltaics to convert solar energy into electricity. UMass Amherst is using bacteria already known to produce biofuel from electric current and CO2 and working to increase the amount of electric current those microorganisms will accept and use for biofuels production. In collaboration with scientists at University of California, San Diego, the UMass Amherst team is also investigating the use of hydrogen sulfide as a source of energy to power biofuel production.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Development of a Dedicated, High-Value Biofuels Crop

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass Amherst) is developing an enhanced, biofuels-producing variant of Camelina, a drought-resistant, cold-tolerant oilseed crop that can be grown in many places other plants cannot. The team is working to incorporate several genetic traits into Camelina that increases its natural ability to produce oils and add the production of energy-dense terpene molecules that can be easily converted into liquid fuels. UMass Amherst is also experimenting with translating a component common in algae to Camelina that should allow the plants to absorb higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), which aids in enhancing photosynthesis and fuel conversion. The process will first be demonstrated in tobacco before being applied in Camelina.

University of Michigan

Anaerobic Bioconversion of Methane to Methanol

The University of Michigan team will develop a biological approach to activate methane, the first step in creating a liquid fuel from natural gas. Current approaches to methane activation require the addition of oxygen and energy in the form of heat, which is inefficient and costly. The University of Michigan's multidisciplinary team will engineer a methane-generating microorganism that can activate methane without the need for these additional inputs. The University of Michigan will use computer models to understand the processes on a molecular level and predict the structure of new enzymes and chemical interactions. Once modeled and engineered, the University of Michigan's optimized organism and process would provide a way to produce butanol, a drop-in liquid fuel.

University of Minnesota

Shewanella as an Ideal Platform for Producing Hydrocarbons

The University of Minnesota (UMN) is developing clean-burning, liquid hydrocarbon fuels from bacteria. UMN is finding ways to continuously harvest hydrocarbons from a type of bacteria called Shewanella by using a photosynthetic organism to constantly feed Shewanella the sugar it needs for energy and hydrocarbon production. The two organisms live and work together as a system. Using Shewanella to produce hydrocarbon fuels offers several advantages over traditional biofuel production methods. First, it eliminates many of the time-consuming and costly steps involved in growing plants and harvesting biomass. Second, hydrocarbon biofuels resemble current petroleum-based fuels and would therefore require few changes to the existing fuel refining and distribution infrastructure in the U.S.

University of Minnesota

Solar Fuels via Partial Redox Cycles with Heat Recovery

The University of Minnesota (UMN) is developing a solar thermochemical reactor that will efficiently produce fuel from sunlight, using solar energy to produce heat to break chemical bonds. UMN envisions producing the fuel by using partial redox cycles and ceria-based reactive materials. The team will achieve unprecedented solar-to-fuel conversion efficiencies of more than 10% (where current state-of-the-art efficiency is 1%) by combined efforts and innovations in material development, and reactor design with effective heat recovery mechanisms and demonstration. This new technology will allow for the effective use of vast domestic solar resources to produce precursors to synthetic fuels that could replace gasoline.

University of Minnesota

Small Scale Ammonia Synthesis Using Stranded Wind Energy

The University of Minnesota (UMN) will develop a small-scale ammonia synthesis system using water and air, powered by wind energy. Instead of developing a new catalyst, this team is looking to increase process efficiency by absorbing ammonia at modest pressures as soon as it is formed. The reactor partially converts a feed of nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia, after which the gases leaving the reactor go into a separator, where the ammonia is removed and the unreacted hydrogen and nitrogen are recycled. The ammonia is removed completely by selective absorption, which allows the synthesis to operate at lower pressure. This reduced pressure makes the system suitable for small-scale applications and more compatible with intermittent energy sources. The success of preliminary experiments suggests that this new approach may be fruitful in reducing capital and operating costs of ammonia production.

University of New England

Validated, Finite Element Modeling Tool for Hydrodynamic Loading and Structural Analysis of Ocean-Deployed Macroalgae Farms

The University of New England (UNE) will lead a MARINER Category 3 project to develop a high-resolution, 3D computational modeling tool for simulating hydrodynamic forces on macroalgae cultivation and harvest systems. Advanced modeling tools can help inform decisions about farm structure and the significant capital investment required. UNE's modeling tool will quantify fluid dynamics and mechanical stress at the sub-meter level. The tool will have the capability to evaluate a wide range of offshore macroalgae systems and allow specification of components to withstand storm events, prevent over-engineering, and optimize capital costs. On-shore tank testing and validation at a location in the Gulf of Maine will be used to obtain data necessary to validate the tool's accuracy. The field samples will help quantify the growth as a function of environmental conditions throughout the macroalgae-growing season in the Gulf of Maine. If successful, the completed tool will accelerate the engineering, testing, permitting, and operation of new macroalgae systems.

University of Southern Mississippi

Adjustadepth - Adjustable Depth Seaweed Growth System

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design and develop a novel, robust seaweed growth system capable of deployment across the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. The technology will enable precise positioning of large farm structures to maximize productivity and actively avoid surface hazards such as weather or marine traffic. The seaweed will grow while affixed to support ropes strung between concentric rings. The structure will have automated buoyancy compensation devices to optimize depth minute-by-minute for maximum light intensity and minimum wave impact, as well as automatically lowering during storms or to allow large ships to pass over it. Automated adjustments can include "dives" into deeper, nutrient-rich, zones to access nutrients at depth during the night. If successful, the system will minimize structure cost per dry metric ton and risk by sinking to avoid storm forces, while leaving nothing on the ocean surface to interfere with shipping traffic or other ocean stakeholders. The project team will also investigate autonomous systems capable of returning to its home port for harvesting when not roaming thousands of miles offshore.

University of Southern Mississippi

SeaweedPaddock Pelagic Sargassum Ranching

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design and develop a semi-autonomous enclosure, called a seaweed paddock, to contain and grow mats of free-floating Sargassum, a brown seaweed species native to the eastern Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. One of the major cost drivers for production of macroalgae is the expense of the farming equipment, particularly anchors used to hold the farms in place in a particular spot in the ocean. Unlike most kelps, Sargassum does not require anchoring to a fixed structure, but rather will grow as a floating mat at the ocean surface. By leveraging this feature, the USM team will reduce the equipment and cost required to produce this seaweed. The system's Sargassum mats are enclosed by a floating sea fence that can be dynamically positioned by wave powered drones, operated remotely onshore by a single person to ensure maximum exposure to nutrients while avoiding ships and storms. Ocean health is improved in these areas where the collection of mats use excess nutrients in ocean deadzones, reducing ocean acidification while increasing dissolved oxygen levels from photosynthesis. Over the course of a yearlong mission that never returns to shore, the system could grow over a hundred thousand tons starting from a single ton of seaweed.

University of Tennessee

SynPLASTome 2.0: Synthetic Plastid Genome to Reprogram Chloroplast Function for the Production of Fuels and Chemicals

The University of Tennessee (UT) team proposes to develop a tool that will revolutionize plant metabolic engineering by using a large scale DNA synthesis strategy. The UT team will develop synthetic chloroplast (the part of the plant cell where photosynthesis occurs) genomes, called "synplastomes." Rather than introducing or editing genes individually inside the plant cell, the UT team will synthesize a complete chloroplast genome in the laboratory that can be readily modified and then introduced into the plant. UT's synplastomes will have significant advantages over conventional biotechnology methods. UT's synplastomes are expected to result in an extremely high expression of desired genes and will lack transgene positional effects, meaning improved consistency of trait expression. To ensure broader adoption and utilization of this technology, an editable synplastome will be generated that will feature standard genome editing sites and will allow for modification by researchers using standard, cost-effective techniques. The UT team's work in synthetic biology could significantly advance the field of plant metabolic engineering and help produce a path toward more economical, sustainable bio-based products.

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