The University of New England has been awarded a three-year, nationally competitive research grant for $1.32 million from the United States Department of Energy to develop technologies that will enable the United States to become a leading producer of seaweed. Photo courtesy UNE

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) announced that the University of New England was awarded a three-year, nationally competitive research grant for $1,321,039 from DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). DOE awardees are part of a new program called “Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER)” that aims to develop the tools to enable the United States to become a leading producer of macroalgae, or seaweed, to help improve U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness. Macroalgae can be utilized as a feedstock for domestic transportation fuels, chemicals, foods and other commercial products without competing with food crops for land and water.

“This award will support UNE’s network of eager, young scientists and entrepreneurs in all of our marine programs,” said President James Herbert, Ph.D. “With the help of this funding from the Department of Energy, our students will be part of a movement to pioneer the next generation of marine products.”

The UNE team will develop a high level, fine-tuned 3D modeling tool to simulate hydrodynamic-induced mechanical stresses that seaweed farms face in the open ocean. They will use their modeling expertise to determine the structural performance of new and existing farm designs in the Gulf of Maine. Their model will be capable of simulating hectare-sized farms, which would speed up the engineering, testing and permitting process for new, large scale, seaweed farming systems. They will expand UNE’s experimental seaweed farm from its current small size off Wood Island to four acres in Saco Bay, Maine.

“With this grant, UNE will become a center of expertise, practice, and partnerships for developing Maine’s seaweed and sea vegetable economy offshore,” said Professor Barry Costa-Pierce, Ph.D., director of UNE’s Center for Excellence in the Marine Sciences. “DOE’s investment in UNE will support partnerships with researchers and businesses in nations throughout the Atlantic Ocean, developing Maine as a global leader in research and development in aquaculture, especially in the expanding seaweed bioproducts and food economies.”

This will be a three-year project in partnership with Professor David Fredriksson, Ph.D., of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, who is a co-principal investigator (PI) on the grant. Institutional partner scientists will be Andrew Drach, Ph.D., of the Callentis Consulting Group in Austin, Texas and Tobias Dewhurst, Ph.D., of Maine Marine Composites in Portland, Maine. Adam St. Gelais of UNE will serve as project manager. Over the past three years, UNE and USNA have built a close research relationship under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), and this award is a result of that partnership.