Robots, Drones to Help Create Biofuels

– by Ryan Bushey, March 16, 2016, R&D

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Graphic: R&D

ARPA-E, a division of the U.S. department of energy, unveiled a new program it funds called the TERRA Project.

TERRA stands for Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture. Six teams are participating in this endeavor where they will implement new technologies like robots and drones to develop next-generation biofuels that are more durable than its predecessor—corn ethanol.

Sorghum is considered as a viable alternative with exciting prospects, according to The Guardian, but the food crop hasn’t been extensively studied yet for use as a biofuel.

Sorghum has multiple genetic varieties with abundant energy potential and doesn’t require a significant amount of water and fertilizer to produce. By contrast, manufacturing corn ethanol requires a heavy amount of farm land, water, and fertilizer to grow.

Researchers taking part in ARPA-E’s venture will equip a batch of drones with sensor and imaging tools to monitor sorghum crops as they grow in order to pinpoint the best breed for fuel purposes. Plus, these robots will collect data to help scientists understand growth patterns in an effort to find cost-effective methods for growing these plants.

There’s no set deadline for this project to be completed, but it’s another example of the agency’s intriguing attempts at identifying new energy technology. A few weeks ago, ARPA-E’s founder Ellen Williams discussed some breakthroughs the agency made in energy-storage products.

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