A Validated Finite Element Modeling Tool for Hydrodynamic Loading and Structural Analysis of Ocean-Deployed Macroalgae Farms Using Open-Source Tools

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Scarborough, Maine
Project Term:
12/21/2021 - 12/20/2023

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 sixfold 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:

Kelson will continue developing simulation tools and methods for accurate and efficient design of U.S. macroalgae farms, building on the work done under the University of New England MARINER award. To maximize the impact of this effort, Kelson will implement these simulation methods in an open-source software tool that will be uniquely capable of analyzing the hydro-structural performance of offshore macroalgae farms. The team will extend the tool’s functionality based on macroalgae farmer feedback and demonstrate to stakeholders and regulators how the open-source tool can support a robust macroalgae farm regulatory/classification framework. Kelson has also identified key functionalities to improve the tool, such as implementing unique hydrodynamic formulations for macroalgae, adding seabed friction computations, and improving the flexibility of the code.

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.


Production of biofuels from domestically produced marine biomass could lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, bolstering energy security.


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.


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.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Simon Freeman
Project Contact:
Dr. Tobias Dewhurst
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