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Modeling Tool for Ocean-Deployed Farms

University of New England (UNE)

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

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$1,323,867
Location: 
Biddeford, ME
Project Term: 
02/06/2018 to 02/05/2021
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 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.

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. Barry Costa-Pierce
Partners
United States Naval Academy
Callentis Consulting Group LLC
University of New England
Release Date: 
9/19/2017