ARPA-E opens funding opportunity for feedstock development

By Erin Voegele | October 06, 2014

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy has opened a $30 million funding opportunity that aims to increase energy crop yields. The program, titled the Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture program, aims to rapidly accelerate biomass yields gains through automated, predictive and systems-level approaches to biofuel crop breeding.

According to ARPA-E, the TERRA program seeks to develop technologies that can increase the precision, accuracy and throughput of energy crop breeding to enable predictive algorithms for plant growth, more detailed measurements of plant physiology and more sophisticated bioinformatics for gene discovery and trait association. Up to $30 million is being made available for the program to develop automated, predictive and systems-level approaches to enable the quick and easy identification of traits that can be leveraged to increase biomass yield through accelerated breeding cycles.

The DOE indicates that while recent technological advancements have made it possible to extract large volumes of data from a variety of crops, the data cannot yet be processed into the knowledge needed to predict performance in the field. Increased information and analytics, however, could improve crop yields to help lower the cost of biofuel production.

ARPA-E documentation notes the main objective TERRA program is to develop tools that enable an increase in the rate and extent of genetic improvement of the yield of bioenergy crops grown in the field. If successful, the program is expected to enhance land use efficiency, reduce competition between bioenergy and food crops, improve environmental sustainability and provide a more stable supply of biomass.

The funding opportunity is open to individuals, domestic entities, foreign entities, and consortium entities. According to application materials, APRA-E is expected to make between five and 10 awards under this funding opportunity. The period of performance for funding agreements cannot exceed 48 months. Applications are encouraged for ideas that require proof-of-concept research and development, and for those for which some proof-of-concept demonstration already exists.

According to ARPA-E, it is seeking multidisciplinary teams to leverage advancements in automation, sensor technologies, computational analytics and low-cost nucleotide sequencing. These teams would develop innovative phenotyping systems that enable new predictive algorithms for plant growth and more detailed measurements for plant physiology and more sophisticated bioinformatics pipelines for gene discovery and trait association. “TERRA will enable breeders to evaluate more individual plants, to select appropriate plants for breeding earlier in the growing season, to capture better information about them during their development, and to associate this information with the best genes to propagate,” said the DOE in the program summary.

ARPA-E is an energy development program modeled after the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which aided in the development of transformative technologies such as the internet and GPS. The primary mission of ARPA-E is to fund applied research and development for disruptive, breakthrough energy technologies that are too risky for the private sector, but create the foundation for entirely new industries if successful. The agency does not support technology development over extended periods of time and does not fund basic research. It does, however, support the initial creation of technology.

The deadline for concept papers is set for Nov. 17. ARPA-E has not yet set a deadline for full application packages. Additional information on the funding opportunity is available on the ARPA-E Funding Opportunity Exchange website under DE-FOA-0001211