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Radar for Bioenergy Crop Imaging

Texas A&M Agrilife Research
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$4,600,000
Location: 
College Station, TX
Project Term: 
04/13/2016 to 08/31/2019
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

The U.S. transportation system is hugely reliant on petroleum, a resource that accounts for 42% of U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Low- or zero-carbon fuel alternatives, like biofuel, can reduce harmful emissions while diversifying the resources we rely on for transportation. The development of domestic biofuel sources will also further reduce the amount of imported crude oil used in the transportation sector. Development of improved crops for biofuel feedstock is well under way. One important area for plant improvement is the root system, and improvements in this part of the plant have lagged because of difficulties in observing roots directly while they grow underground. Technologies for 3D imaging of soil and root systems could improve genotypic selection in breeding nurseries and help assess management and nutrient practices that promote root growth. The issue is challenging because soil is an extremely diverse substance, and new advances in imaging involving many sensors and data analytics are needed to distinguish roots from their surroundings.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

Texas A&M AgriLife Research will develop ground penetrating radar (GPR) antenna arrays for 3D root and soil organic carbon imaging and quantification. Visualization of root systems with one mm resolution in soils could enable breeders to select climate-resilient bioenergy crops that provide higher yields, require fewer inputs, improve soil health, and promote carbon sequestration. Texas A&M will create a GPR system that will collect real-time measurements using a deployable robotic platform. The GPR system will collect data comparing annual energy sorghum to perennial species, which have great potential to deposit and store carbon in the soil. Texas A&M's primary focus is to complement the selection of high biomass feedstock crops by providing valuable data about the root architecture. This data could improve understanding of the soil ecosystem and ultimately allow for improved bioenergy crop productivity.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, Texas A&M AgriLife Research will advance GPR technology, improving bioenergy feedstock crop production and ulitmately reducing CO2 emissions by generating biofuels.

Security: 

Texas A&M's advances could help improve domestic biofuel production, which would ultimately diversify the resources we rely on for transportation, thus further reducing dependence upon imported crude oil.

Environment: 

This project will help understand and improve soil quality, helping maintain or expand arable land.

Economy: 

Further development of GPR technologies could help create domestic jobs in imaging and biofuel production.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh
Project Contact: 
Dr. Dirk Hays
Partners
IDS North America
Texas A&M University
Geophysical Archaeometry Laboratory
Release Date: 
11/23/2015