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The United States Department of Energy awarded the University of New England a three-year, nationally competitive research grant for $1.32 million to develop technologies that will enable the United States to become a leading producer of seaweed.
UNE’s award is part of a new program called Mariner, which stands for "Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources.” Besides fostering innovation in seaweed production, the program seeks to improve U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness by using macroalgae 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,” UNE President James Herbert said in a news release. “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.
“With this grant, UNE will become a center of expertise, practice, and partnerships for developing Maine’s seaweed and sea vegetable economy offshore,” said Barry Costa-Pierce, a UNE professor and 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.”
Working as a co-principal investigator on the grant with UNE’s team is David Fredriksson of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Institutional partner scientists will be Andrew Drach of the Callentis Consulting Group in Austin, Texas, and Tobias Dewhurst of Maine Marine Composites in Portland. Adam St. Gelais of UNE will serve as project manager.
Over the past three years, UNE and the U.S. Naval Academy have built a close research relationship under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, and this award is a result of that partnership.
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