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ARPA-E awards $55M to 18 projects in two new programs: TERRA for transportation energy and GENSETS for distributed generation

19 June 2015

The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $55 million in funding for 18 innovative projects as part of ARPA-E’s two newest programs: Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA) and GENerators for Small Electrical and Thermal Systems (GENSETS).

The six TERRA projects will receive a total of $30 million to accelerate energy crop development for the production of renewable transportation fuels from biomass and the 12 GENSETS projects are aimed at developing generator technologies that will improve efficiencies in residential Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generation.

Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA). ARPA-E’s TERRA program uniquely integrates agriculture, information technology and engineering to address major global challenges in developing crops that are sustainable, affordable and yield abundant plant feedstocks for bioenergy.

The program will encourage systems that couple large-scale physical and genetic characterization with advanced algorithms in order to accelerate the year-over-year yield gains of traditional plant breeding and the discovery of crop traits that improve water productivity, nutrient use and our ability to mitigate greenhouse gases.

The TERRA program provides $30 million to support six project teams in the development of improved varieties of sorghum, a crop used to produce biofuel, by developing improved plant remote sensing, analysis and breeding methods.

TERRA project teams will address the limitations surrounding crop phenotyping (identifying and measuring the physical characteristics of plants) and genotyping (decoding the DNA of a plant), which are both manual and time-intensive processes.

Project teams will develop mobile platforms with sensory systems to observe and record the characteristics of plants and create advanced algorithms to analyze data and predict plant growth potential.

Additionally, the TERRA program will fund the creation of a large public database comprised of sorghum genotypes and field phenotypes. This database will provide the greater community of plant physiologists, bioinformaticians and geneticists with the knowledge to improve sorghum and bioenergy crops.

TERRA Awards
Lead organization Description Funding
Clemson University Breeding High Yielding Bioenergy Sorghum for the New Bioenergy Belt
Clemson University, along with the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute and partners, will phenotype an exhaustive set of international germplasm and plant varieties. Researchers will design and build cutting-edge phenotyping platforms that can rapidly collect visual imagery, hyperspectral imagery and 3-D shape data of test crops multiple times daily. The platforms—ground and aerial—will have the ability to directly contact the plant in order to systematically quantify physical characteristics that were previously measured with labor- intensive, low-throughput methods.

The team will use sophisticated cameras and imaging algorithms to develop 3-D models of individual plants and their canopy structure, implement machine-learning techniques to analyze the data gathered and translate this into predictive algorithms for breeding improved biofuel sorghum hybrids.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center A Reference Phenotyping System for Energy Sorghum
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, along with its research partners, will coordinate a national network of test sites in AZ, KS, MO, SC and TX, to provide broad environmental and genetic diversity essential for understanding phenotype behavior. The team will host a state-of-the-art plant phenotyping system, which provides high-resolution evaluation of crops grown under field conditions.

In addition, comprehensive genomic analyses will be conducted to create a high-quality reference dataset of energy sorghum’s physical characteristics and genetic information. The project will ultimately provide data in community-defined formats that will be made available to researchers in a high-performance computing environment and archived for public use.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Consortium for Advanced Sorghum Phenomics (CASP)
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and its research partners will utilize novel phenotyping platforms, predictive modeling techniques and image processing tools to generate maps of plant composition and predict plant growth. The project will focus on simulating drought and salinity stresses in order to develop plant varieties that are more resilient to these environmental challenges. PNNL will perform molecular phenotyping to identify breeding markers for these biotic stresses.

Meanwhile, Blue River Technologies will develop autonomous phenotyping systems that can create 3-D models of individual plants and construct point-cloud data sets used to produce the plant composition maps. Finally, Chromatin Inc. will advance improved commercial seed cultivars.
Purdue University Automated Sorghum Phenotyping and Trait Development Platform
Purdue University’s team, along with IBM Research and partners, will acquire and utilize data to develop predictive models for plant growth and to design and implement sophisticated methods for identifying genes controlling sorghum performance. The team will create a system that combines data streams from ground- based and mobile platforms for automated phenotyping. Advanced image and signal processing methods will extract phenotypic information to produce predictive models for plant growth and development.

The team will also use high-performance computing platforms and prediction algorithms to analyze and identify links between plant characteristics and their underlying genetics. The end goal is to develop a user-friendly system that will enable breeders and other end users to interact with the data and analytics.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research Automated Phenotyping System for Genetic Improvement of Energy Crops
Texas A&M AgriLife Research (TAMU), along with the National Robotics Engineering Center and partners, will develop an advanced phenotyping system consisting of a suite of sensors mounted on a durable, ground- based, field deployable, mobile robotics platform. The system will employ an extendable, mechanical arm that can penetrate the dense plant canopy to capture images and measurements from above, within and below the crop, yielding previously unattainable sensor data. The team will use TAMU’s existing, world-class collection of sorghum varieties and will employ machine vision and learning algorithms to process the data for predictive modeling of plant growth.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Mobile Energy-Crop Phenotyping Platform (MEPP)
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), with its partners Cornell University and Signetron Inc., will develop small-scale, automated ground rovers with the distinct capability to travel within the crops between rows. Phenotyping platforms will measure crop growth via 3-D reconstruction of plants and stands and assess physiological indicators of performance using reflectance and LiDAR (laser light detection and ranging) sensors.

The team will also use sophisticated biophysical growth models and DNA-sequencing technologies to develop innovative methods for accelerating improvement of energy sorghum and identifying key genes that control plant performance.
These projects have been selected for negotiation of awards; final award amounts may vary.

GENerators for Small Electrical and Thermal Systems (GENSETS). The GENSETS program will accelerate the development of generator technologies to enable more affordable and efficient residential Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems. Compared to conventional electricity generation and transmission, CHP captures the otherwise wasted heat and makes it available for useful application.

By making CHP affordable for home use, this heat can be used for water and home heating, reducing the residents’ energy costs. GENSETS project teams will develop advanced generators to produce electricity from piped-in natural gas while using the ‘waste’ heat to reduce the energy used by furnaces and water heaters. Widespread adoption of CHP systems in the residential sector would lead to significant energy savings, along with increased reliability for residential power supply and a large reduction in CO2 emissions.

The program will provide $25 million to support 12 project teams to design, build and test improved natural gas-powered generators for residential use. These generators can supply the majority of a household’s electricity while producing thermal energy for space and water heating.

In order to make small-scale CHP systems more economical and to stimulate widespread adoption, the GENSETS program aims to develop one kilowatt systems that are affordable, efficient and durable. The selected project teams are grouped into four areas of technology focus: internal combustion engines, Stirling engines, microturbines and solid state devices.

Lead organization
Description Funding
Aerodyne Research Inc. Single-Cylinder Two-Stroke Free-Piston Internal Combustion Generator
Aerodyne Research, Inc. and its team will design and build a generator for CHP systems based on a small, single-cylinder, two-stroke free-piston internal combustion engine. The free-piston engine, which does not employ a traditional slider-crank mechanism, reduces friction and improves efficiency. The system will also incorporate low temperature, glow plug-assisted homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI) combustion, which reduces heat loss from the engine and increases efficiency. The team will also incorporate a double-helix spring for energy storage, which allows for high frequency operation—key to producing a system with compact size, low weight and low cost.
Mahle Powertrain Advanced Lean Burn Micro-CHP Genset
Mahle Powertrain and its partners will develop and optimize a CHP generator that uses an internal combustion engine with a turbulent jet ignition (TJI) combustion system. (Earlier post.) TJI incorporates an auxiliary-fueled pre-chamber combustor, enabling the system to operate under ultra-lean conditions and therefore increasing thermal efficiency. The team will further increase the system’s efficiency by using low friction engine components. Team member Oak Ridge National Laboratory will develop a novel low-temperature after-treatment system to reduce exhaust emissions.
Tour Engine High Efficiency Split-Cycle Engine for Residential Generators
Tour Engine Inc. will lead a team to develop an efficient internal combustion engine based on Tour’s existing split-cycle engine technology. (Earlier post.) The split cycle divides the process into a cold cylinder (intake and compression) and a hot cylinder (expansion and exhaust) with improved thermal management. It also allows for independent optimization of the compression and expansion ratios, enabling a higher expansion ratio and therefore increased thermal efficiency. Tour Engine will also further develop its existing innovative crossover valve mechanism, known as the Spool Shuttle Crossover Valve and Combustion Chamber, which enables efficient transfer of working fluid between the cold and hot cylinders.
West Virginia University Research Corporation Oscillating Linear Engine and Alternator
West Virginia University Research Corporation, along with its research partners, will develop a generator for CHP systems based on a crankless, linear, free-piston internal combustion engine that drives a permanent magnet linear electric generator. The free-piston engine is a two-stroke, spark-ignited system. The team will improve the system’s efficiency by using a low-friction free-piston design, managed exhaust gas recirculation operation and resonant tuning of the engine cylinder. The free-piston engine will employ a spring to increase the frequency and stabilize operation.
Wisconsin Engine Research Consultants (WERC) LLC Spark-Assisted HCCI Residential Generator
Wisconsin Engine Research Consultants and its research partners, Briggs and Stratton, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Engine Research Center and Adiabatics Inc., will develop a generator for CHP systems using a low-temperature, high-efficiency internal combustion engine that incorporates an advanced spark- assisted homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI) system. Novel thermal barrier coatings developed by Adiabatics Inc. will be used to reduce heat losses. An optimized combustion chamber and low-friction power cylinder will also be employed to increase efficiency and reduce emissions. Further, a pressure wave supercharger, or novel crankcase-based boosting system, will be used to increase intake air pressure and increased efficiency.
These projects have been selected for negotiation of awards; final award amounts may vary.


GENSETS Stirling Engine Awards
Lead organization Description Funding
Infinia Technology Corporation Sustainable Economic mCHP Stirling (SEmS) Generator
Infinia Technology Corporation (ITC) and its affiliate, Qnergy Inc. will work with their partners to develop a generator that features a free piston Stirling engine powered by an ultra-low emissions natural gas burner. This technology incorporates flexure bearings so that there are no rubbing parts, thereby eliminating the need for maintenance and greatly increasing lifetime. The team will also develop novel materials that enable high-temperature engine operation, further increasing the efficiency of the system. Manufacturing costs will be reduced through use of additive manufacturing and/or investment casting technologies.
Sunpower Inc. Free Piston Stirling Engine Based 1kW Generator
Sunpower Inc. and its research partners will design and build a generator based on a free piston Stirling engine with a high-temperature heater head and gas bearings for non-contact operation. Team member Aerojet Rocketdyne will develop new materials to increase the efficiency of the system by allowing it to operate at high temperatures, and partner Precision Combustion, Inc. will develop an innovative, catalytically assisted recuperated burner to ensure low exhaust emissions and high efficiency operation.
Temple University Advanced Stirling Power Generation System for Combined Heat and Power
Temple University will lead a team in designing and demonstrating an advanced Stirling power generation system for CHP. A highly effective and reliable involute foil regenerator will be developed and used to improve efficiency through enhanced heat transfer and reduced flow losses. The team will use additive manufacturing methods to produce a one-piece Stirling heater-head assembly consisting of a pressure vessel, heat accepter, involute foil regenerator and heat tube-and-shell heat rejecter. Additive manufacturing will also be utilized to produce a system that integrates the burner and Stirling engine heater head so that the burner thermal losses and combustion gas flow losses are minimized.
These projects have been selected for negotiation of awards; final award amounts may vary.


GENSETS Microturbine Awards
Lead organization Description Funding
Brayton Energy 1kW Recuperated Brayton-Cycle Engine Using Positive-Displacement Components
Brayton Energy will lead a team in developing a high efficiency recuperated Brayton-cycle engine. Due to the very small scale of this engine, the system uses a screw compressor and expander, rather than traditional turbomachinery. Brayton will develop a ceramic screw expander, which enables high temperature operation. In addition, Brayton Energy will use its patented intake recuperator and existing ultra-low emissions combustor to increase generator efficiency.
Metis Design Corp Advanced Microturbine Engine for Residential Generation
Metis Design Corp and its partners will develop a generator consisting of an efficient microturbine that incorporates an innovative compression system and a low emissions combustor. The compression system will use a braked rotating vaneless diffuser to reduce viscous and frictional losses and thus improve efficiency. The team will use Mohawk Innovation Technology Inc.’s patented high-temperature foil bearings, a type of non- contact bearings that help enable a long system lifetime. The team will also use Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s ultra-lean low-swirl burner technology to reduce emissions.
These projects have been selected for negotiation of awards; final award amounts may vary.


GENSETS Solid State Devices Awards
Lead organization
Description Funding
Georgia Institute of Technology High Efficiency Generator Based on Sodium Thermo-Electro-Chemical Conversion (Na-TEC)
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology will lead a team in developing a modular CHP system using a reverse flow-type combustor to generate heat, and a thermo-electro-chemical converter to convert the heat to electricity. One of the team’s key innovations is to use a two-stage heat exchanger that allows for improved heat utilization. In addition, this design results in more efficient energy conversion at lower temperatures and increases the lifetime of the system components.
Nanoconversion Technologies High-efficiency Thermoelectric Generator
Nanoconversion Technologies Inc., in conjunction with North Carolina State University and General Electric Appliances, will develop a Concentration-mode Thermoelectric converter (C-TEC) device, which converts heat directly into electricity. The C-TEC uses an array of electrochemical cells to produce electricity in a sodium ion expansion cycle driven by external combustion. The team will build and test a micro-generator combining the C-TEC with an efficient natural gas burner. The superadiabatic gas burner, developed by partner Gas Technology Institute, provides a low-emissions heat source.
These projects have been selected for negotiation of awards; final award amounts may vary.

June 19, 2015 in ARPA-E, Biomass, Engines, Fuels, Power Generation | Permalink | Comments (0)


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