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Continuous, High-Yield Kelp Production

Trophic
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$5,202,016
Location: 
Albany, CA
Project Term: 
03/16/2018 to 12/04/2022
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Marine macroalgae, also referred to as seaweeds or kelp, are a group of exceptionally diverse aquatic plants. Macroalgae can be found along nearly all coastlines around the globe and in some cases also in the open ocean. They have traditionally been used for food and feed, as well as fertilizer. In 2016, the world produced approximately 26 million wet metric tons of seaweed, primarily through highly labor-intensive farming techniques. While macroalgae production has increased six-fold over the past quarter-century, the current state of macroalgae "mariculture" is not capable of achieving the scale, efficiency and production costs necessary to support a seaweed-to-fuels industry. Dramatically increasing productivity will require significant advancements in the domestication of macroalgae and new farming technologies. To accelerate the development of critical tools and technologies, the MARINER program is supporting projects in five technical areas: 1) Integrated Cultivation & Harvest System Design, 2) Critical Enabling Components, 3) Computational Modeling, 4) Monitoring Tools, and 5) Breeding & Genomic Tools.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

Trophic, together with Otherlab and the University of New Hampshire, will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design and develop a rugged and resilient offshore seafarm with high yield and low capital cost. The advanced design includes a passive, wave-driven upwelling system that brings nutrient rich seawater to the surface of the ocean, dramatically increasing yields (higher concentrations of nutrients exist in deeper ocean water). A robotic anchoring system will quickly and efficiently deploy environmentally friendly helical anchors into the seafloor with minimal disturbance to the seabed, allowing for high load anchoring capacity with low installation cost. The team has already demonstrated proof of concept for key components and plans to deploy an individual full-scale unit of the larger multi-module system10 km offshore the coast of New Hampshire, in fully exposed ocean conditions. If successful, the system will produce high yields at a cost of less than $80 per dry metric ton.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, MARINER projects strive to develop the tools needed to allow the United States to become a world leader in marine biomass production for multiple important applications, including the production of biofuels.

Security: 

Production of biofuels from domestically produced marine biomass could lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, bolstering energy security.

Environment: 

Growing large amounts of macroalgae would not compete with land-based food crops, requires no fresh water and can be grown without the addition of energy-intensive, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Large-scale macroalgae cultivation may help reduce the negative effects of nutrient overload and ocean acidification in many coastal ocean regions.

Economy: 

A domestic macroalgae industry would not only create a valuable new source of domestic energy, but also create significant new economic and employment opportunities in many waterfront communities along the U.S. coasts from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and the Pacific Islands.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Marc von Keitz
Project Contact: 
Beth Zotter
Partners
Otherlab, Inc.
University of New Hampshire
Release Date: 
9/19/2017