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Modeling for Scalable Macroalgae Production

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

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

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$2,025,984
Location: 
Richland, WA
Project Term: 
03/15/2018 to 03/14/2020
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 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: 

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.

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: 
Dr. Zhaoqing Yang
Partners
Georgia Institute of Technology
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Oregon State University
Release Date: 
9/19/2017