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Zero-Power Wireless Infrared Digitizing Sensors for Large Scale Energy-Smart Farm

Northeastern University
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$1,629,629
Location: 
Boston, MA
Project Term: 
03/13/2019 to 03/12/2022
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Mounting planetary challenges of population growth, need for fuel, and climate change make it imperative that agriculture double its productivity and dramatically conserve natural resources within a short time frame. These challenges are key to the DOE mission to influence the energy-water nexus because agriculture is a significant producer (~5 percent of U.S. generation) and consumer (~2 percent of U.S. consumption) of energy. Maximizing crop yield while conserving natural resources could be greatly assisted by the ability to collect comprehensive, granular, and real-time data on plant health and environmental conditions and translate it into appropriate action. However, current state-of-the-art sensor solutions are too expensive and energy inefficient for continuous monitoring of large-scale crop fields.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
Northeastern University will develop a maintenance-free sensor network to improve energy and agricultural efficiency by monitoring water content in biofuel feedstocks. The team's zero-power sensors will form distributed networks that can capture, process, and communicate in-field data to help farmers determine how to maximize yield. Specifically, sensors will monitor water stress-related plant characteristics and relay this data wirelessly to a control center in the irrigation system. The proposed technology does not consume any power in standby mode, eliminating the cost of battery replacements.
Potential Impact: 
The ultimate goal of this project is to initiate development of automated sensing platforms to improve the production yield of farms and reduce their energy cost.
Security: 
Improving production efficiency of bioenergy feedstocks contributes to continued production and buildout of the U.S. bioeconomy.
Environment: 
Agriculture is on par with the power industry in water withdrawals and the dominant sector for water consumption, representing over 80% of fresh water consumed in the U.S. The technology will provide pathways to reduce water use in agriculture, improving energy efficiency and reducing bioenergy feedstock carbon intensity.
Economy: 
The technologies developed in this space can scale and benefit developing economies in addition to established industrialized countries. By increasing productivity and managing energy inputs, there is significant headroom to improve the energy return on investment from agriculture, meaning reduced costs of production for domestically-produced bioenergy products.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. David Babson
Project Contact: 
Prof. Matteo Rinaldi
Release Date: 
11/15/2018