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TERRA MEPP (Mobile Energy-crop Phenotyping Platform)

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)

TERRA MEPP (Mobile Energy-crop Phenotyping Platform)

TERRA UIUC
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$5,100,000
Location: 
Champaign, IL
Project Term: 
10/01/2015 to 12/31/2019
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

TERRA project teams will integrate the agriculture, information technology, and engineering communities to design and apply new tools to the development of improved varieties of energy sorghum, a crop used to produce biofuel. Producing the large amounts of biomass needed for biofuels to displace petroleum requires significant improvements to the productivity and efficiency of biofuel crops. The teams will enhance methods for crop phenotyping (identifying and measuring the physical characteristics of plants), which are currently time-intensive and imprecise. The new approaches will include automated methods for observing and recording characteristics of plants and advanced algorithms for analyzing data and predicting plant growth potential. These innovations will accelerate the annual yield gains of traditional plant breeding and support the discovery of new crop traits that improve water productivity and nutrient use efficiency.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

The University of Illinois 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.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, the University Illinois will use its TERRA-MEPP system to make in-field high-throughput data collection accessible to breeders and other scientists at a price far below currently available options. The increased speed of data collection and analysis may lead to significant crop improvements.

Security: 

Improved biofuel crops could lead to increased production of domestic biofuels, reducing dependence on foreign sources of transportation fuels.

Environment: 

Increased use of biofuels could significantly reduce CO2 emissions from transportation, and improved varieties of biofuel crops could use less water and be more resistant to environmental stress.

Economy: 

The University of Illinois team estimates that the TERRA-MEPP platform could be deployed at an economical price point that could encourage adoption of this state-of-the art phenotyping platform by small scale breeders and can help improve bioenergy crop varieties.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joe Cornelius
Project Contact: 
Dr. Stephen Long
Partners
Cornell University
Signetron Inc.
Release Date: 
6/18/2015