DOE to award $30M for research on onboard natural gas storage and at-home refueling; $10M for algal biofuels
24 February 2012
The US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) will make $30 million available for a new research competition in the coming months focused on natural gas vehicles (DE-FOA-0000672). DOE will also make $14 million available (DE-FOA-0000615) to support research and development into biofuels from algae. President Obama announced both new programs during a speech on Thursday at the University of Miami.
Natural gas vehicles. Today’s natural gas vehicle technologies require tanks that can withstand high pressures, are cumbersome and either too large or too expensive to be suitable for passenger vehicles. ARPA-E’s projects under this new program—Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE)—will focus on overcoming these barriers by developing innovative, low-cost natural gas storage technologies and methods to lower pressure in vehicle tanks that will help enable the widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles.
Despite the current natural gas price advantage over gasoline, significant technological and economic barriers limit natural gas use in transportation (Natural gas represents only 2% of US transportation energy). At a fundamental level, these challenges arise from the low volumetric energy density of natural gas—less than 30% of gasoline when compressed to 250 bar (CNG, 3600 psi). Ultimately, the low volumetric energy density of natural gas limits the driving range of vehicles and makes cost effective storage solutions a significant challenge.—ARPA-E FOA
The preliminary objective of the MOVE program is to fund the development of systems-level solutions that could enable natural gas vehicles with on-board storage and at-home refueling with a five-year payback or upfront cost differential of $2,000, which excludes the balance of system and installation costs.
The secondary objective of MOVE is to fund the development of critical components to achieve the overarching systems-level goal. Specific aims include technological advancements in the areas of:
- new sorbent material for low pressure storage of natural gas; and
- new high-strength, low-ost materials and manufacturing processes for conformable tanks capable of high pressure (250 bar) natural gas storage. (Low-pressure approaches inherently reduce the burden (cost) of home refueling.)
- Innovative low-cost high-performance compressor technology for high-pressure approaches.
The announcement begins ARPA-E’s fifth round of funding. To date, ARPA-E has hosted four rounds of competitions and attracted more than 5,000 applications from research teams, resulting in 180 groundbreaking projects worth more than $500 million.
ARPA-E presently has three open Requests for Information (RFI):
- RFI on Draft Open Funding Opportunity Announcement (earlier post)
- RFI on Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) DE-FOA-0000671 for Chemo/electro-autotrophic Synthesis of Liquid Fuels at Scale (earlier post)
- RFI for Advanced Technologies for Robust Control of Energy Storage (earlier post)
Funding to develop homegrown transportation fuels from algae. The objective of the Advancements in Sustainable Algal Production Funding Opportunity Announcement is to support outdoor phototrophic algae research and development in two areas: (1) nutrient and water use in algal production systems and (2) the development of algal technology testbed facilities. This research is to support the Biomass Program’s goals to model pathways for significant (>1 billion gallons per year) volumes of cost-competitive algal biofuels by 2022.
Through the new funding announcement, DOE will seek proposals from small businesses, universities, and national laboratories to modify existing facilities for long-term algae research and test new production processes that could lead to commercial biofuels made from algae.
Specifically, the new projects will establish and operate research test beds for algal biofuels that can facilitate development, test new approaches to algae production, and discover innovative ways to minimize the water and nutrients needed to mass produce algae for commercial biofuels. These advanced research projects will aim to significantly improve the sustainability of algae-based biofuels and accelerate technological breakthroughs. These awards represent the first phase in a total $30-million investment in algal biofuels in fiscal year 2012.
The competitively selected projects will receive up to $14.3 million in fiscal year 2012 funds, with an additional $6.7 million available in fiscal year 2014 funding, subject to Congressional appropriations, for projects that meet rigorous performance criteria. Applications are due on 18 April 2012.
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