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FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FUNDING OPPORTUNITY ANNOUNCEMENT Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR

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Agency: Department of Energy
Program/Year: Both / 2014
Solicitation Number: DE-FOA-0000969
Release Date: August 12, 2013
Open Date: August 12, 2013
Close Date: October 15, 2013
Description: Eighty-five percent of our nation's energy results from the burning of fossil fuels from vast reservoirs of coal, oil, and natural gas. These processes add carbon to the atmosphere, principally in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). It is important to understand the fate of this excess CO2 in the global carbon cycle in order to assess contemporary terrestrial carbon sinks, the sensitivity of climate to atmospheric CO2, and future potentials for sequestration of carbon in terrestrial systems. Therefore, improved measurement approaches are needed to quantify the change of CO2 in atmospheric components of the global carbon cycle. There is also interest in innovative approaches for flux and concentration measurements of methane and other greenhouse gas constituents associated with terrestrial systems as well as quantifying root associated belowground processes relevant to carbon cycling. The First State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR) (Reference 1) and the Carbon Cycling and Biosequestration Report: (Reference 2) provides rough estimates of terrestrial carbon sinks for North America. Numerous working papers on carbon sequestration science and technology also describes research needs and technology requirements for sequestering carbon by terrestrial systems(References 3-5). Both documents call for advanced sensor technology and measurement approaches for detecting changes of atmospheric CO2 properties and of carbon quantities of terrestrial systems (including biotic, microbial, and soil components). Such measurement technology would improve the quantification of CO2, as well as carbon stock and flux, in the major sinks identified by the SOCCR report (see Figure ES.1 therein). Furthermore, the report, A U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Plan (Reference 6) provides additional background on critical, overarching research needs related to carbon cycling in terrestrial ecosystems. Grant applications submitted to this topic should (1) demonstrate performance characteristics of proposed measurement systems, and (2) show a capability for deployment at field scales ranging from experimental plot size (meters to hectares of land) to nominal dimensions of ecosystems (hectares to square kilometers). Phase I projects must perform feasibility and-or field tests of proposed measurement systems to assure a high degree of reliability and robustness. Combinations of stationary, remote, and in situ approaches will be considered, and priority will be given to ideas-approaches for verifying biosphere carbon changes. Measurements using aircraft or balloon platforms must be explicitly linked to real-time ground-based measurements. Grant applications based on satellite remote sensing platforms are beyond the scope of this topic and will be declined.
b: Innovation and Improvement for In Situ Root Measurements
Description: Fine roots (generally < 2 mm in diameter) play a critical role in the carbon and nutrient cycles of ecosystems. Their production, distribution within the soil, and turnover must be measured to have a full understanding of how an ecosystem is responding to perturbations such as climate change (Reference 2, 10 and 11). Currently, the best method available for quantifying fine roots is minirhizotrons (Reference 12), which are used to periodically collect images of intact roots with a camera inserted in a transparent tube installed in the soil. Current analysis of the collected images is difficult, labor-intensive, and subject to operator biases. Quantification and analysis is a particular challenge in certain environments such as rocky soils and wetland ecosystems (Reference 13). Grant applications are sought for technology innovation to improve current minirhizotron technologies and produce rapid assessments and measurements of in situ fine root measurements. Improvements should be aimed at developing an integrated high-throughput system that captures and processes images in real time and produces an automated replicable and artifact-free analysis of the images. Key capabilities should include state-of-the-art analytical operations, immediate detection and extraction of features (see item 2 below), and use of image-processing filters for comparing images while keeping pace with the rate of image capture. Specific technology developments should include one or more of the following criteria: (1) Advanced Image Collection System New, low-cost imaging-camera designs and automated acquisition systems with increased versatility in soil imaging and field conditions. Device flexibility of usage and portability are also sought (Reference 13). (2) Automated Image Analysis Software improvements to develop new image-processing algorithms and automated solutions that can reduce the amount of manual intervention required for each image analysis. A reliable, automated minirhizotron image analysis system would make possible more consistency and greater data intensity. An example of a minirhizotron analysis system is RootFly (, but this program has proven inadequate for truly automated analysis, especially in systems where there is little contrast between roots and the background soil matrix. Specific high resolution root parameters that should be captured by automated analysis include, but are not limited to: root length, root diameter, color, turnover rates, and fungal presence. Innovative methods for automated analysis of fine root and fungal dynamics (i.e., production, mortality, and turnover calculate between sampling dates) are also highly desired. (3) Three-dimensional Scaling and Image Analysis Current analysis methods cannot adequately scale 2-dimensional minirhizotron images to three-dimensional data. There is potential for automated analysis of root edge resolution in order to quantify the image depth of field, or whether a particular root was in focus and therefore within a given depth of field (Reference 13). (4) Other Non-Destructive Belowground Assessment Tools Additionally, desired measurement characteristics could include other non-destructive, remote quantification or visualizations of fine roots in soil such as ground penetrating radar (References 15 and 16) microscopic or high-resolution X-ray imaging of roots (Reference 14), and portable X-ray tomography (i.e., Such a system could be deployed using the minirhizotron tubes that have been installed in many experimental sites, or newer, miniaturized approaches that are minimally invasive to the experimental system (e.g. soil environment) could be developed.
c: Improved Real-Time Measurements of Nitrous Oxide Emission from Soils
Description: Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas, resulting primarily from microbial activity in the soil, and is partially regulated by soil chemical and physical properties (for example, soil pH, organic matter availability, soil type, temperature, and moisture). Nitrous oxide emission can be highly variable in both space and time due to nitrogen amendments and other biogeochemical perturbations in soils. As a result, improved, real-time measurements of N2O emission from soils are needed to quantify and eventually model the connection of N2O emissions to environmental conditions. Current methods are inadequate and often require gas samples to be collected manually and analyzed in a laboratory, thus integrating over heterogeneous environmental conditions and potentially introducing sampling bias and limiting the number of samples collected from the field (References 17 and 18). Grant applications are sought for technology innovation to provide high resolution, real-time measurements of nitrous oxide gas emissions from soils. Instrument platforms should be durable and withstand typical field deployment. Gas sampling should be reliable, with repeatable measurement precision of 0.01 to 0.2 ppb at least every 60 seconds. For chamber-based measurements of N2O emissions, the technology should have a response time faster than 1 second. For eddy covariance measurements of N2O emissions, the technology should have a response time faster than 0.1 second. Technologies that utilize trapping-based approaches will not be considered.
d: Innovation and Improvement for In Situ Physical and Chemical of Soil Properties
Description: Quantification and analysis of the physical and chemical properties of the soil are particularly difficult due to the inherent spatial and temporal variability of soils. Current methods require soils to be extracted from the field and transported to a laboratory setting for investigation that could result in artifacts in data analysis (Reference 2, 3, 4, 19 and 20). A number of recent advances have resulted in technologies that provide improved understanding of soil characteristics, many which are minimally destructive. Examples of these technologies include miniature-self contained soil moisture probes, temperature probes, soil nutrient exchange resins, and soil reactivity biotapes. To improve our understanding the role of soil ecology in environmental research, the scientific community needs to quantify a wide variety of soil characteristics which have implications to broader scientific discoveries. Grant applications are sought for technology innovation to improve the temporal and spatial resolution of soil properties including, but not limited to: temperature, moisture, pH, redox potential, microbial activity, oxygen availability, biogeochemical cycling, and chemical-nutrient properties. Sensors should provide a significant improvement over existing technology and be minimally invasive during installation and-or data acquisition. Sensor technology should require minimal power to operate, be rugged enough to be applied in various environmental conditions. Special consideration is given to technologies that could employ wireless or that achieve multiple soil characteristics simultaneously.
e: Other
Description: In addition to the specific subtopics listed above, the Department invites grant applications in other areas that fall within the scope of the topic description above.