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ARPA-E awards $130M to 66 “OPEN 2012” transformational energy technology projects

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) has selected 66 research projects to receive a total of $130 million in funding through its “OPEN 2012” program. (Earlier post.)

The OPEN 2012 projects will focus on a wide array of technologies, including advanced fuels (13 projects); advanced vehicle design and materials (2 projects); building efficiency (3 projects); carbon capture (4 projects, two of which entail the conversion of CO2 to transportation fuel and chemicals); grid modernization (9 projects); renewable power (10 projects); stationary energy storage (8 projects); stationary generation (3 projects); thermal energy storage (5 projects); transportation energy storage (7 projects); and “other” (2 projects).

The projects were selected through a merit-based process from thousands of concept papers and hundreds of full applications. The projects are based in 24 states, with approximately 47% of the projects led by universities; 29% by small businesses; 15% by large businesses; 7.5% by national labs; and 1.5% by non-profits. This latest announcement brings ARPA-E’s total portfolio of projects to about 285 projects for a total of approximately $770 million in awards.

ARPA-E’s first funding opportunity, “OPEN 2009,” was issued three years ago and was similarly an open call for transformational energy technology solutions. ARPA-E’s previously selected projects have already made major progress, by demonstrating a 400 Wh/kg lithium-ion battery; building a wind turbine, inspired by the design of jet engines, that could deliver 300% more power than existing turbines of the same size and cost; and engineering a high power laser drilling system that can penetrate hard rock formations over long distances and is ten times more economical than conventional drilling technologies.

Select projects in OPEN 2012 include:

ARPA-E OPEN 2012 selections: Advanced Fuels
Lead organization Description Funding
Allylix, Inc. Energy-Dense Aviation Fuels from Biomass. The Allylix project team will develop energy-dense terpenes as high performance liquid aviation fuels. The increased energy density of these terpene-based fuels could outperform existing petroleum fuels by increasing flight range up to 20%. $4,499,256
Bio2Electric, LLC Methane Converter to Electricity and Fuel. Bio2Electric will develop a small-scale reactor that converts natural gas into a liquid transportation fuel by combining fuel cell technology with advanced catalysts. Conventional large-scale gasto-liquid reactors produce waste-heat, reducing the energy efficiency of the process. In contrast, this reactor produces electricity as a byproduct of fuel production. If successful, this small-scale reactor could be deployed in remote locations to provide not only liquid fuel but also electricity, increasing the utility of geographically isolated gas reserves. $601,909
Ceramatec, Inc. Natural Gas Reactor for Remote Chemical Conversion. Ceramatec, Inc. will develop a small-scale membrane reactor to convert natural gas into transportable liquids in one step. Many remote oil wells burn natural gas as a by-product because it is not economical to store or transport. Such natural gas contains energy that equals 20% of annual U.S. electricity production (5 quadrillion BTUs worldwide). Capturing this energy would reduce both waste and greenhouse gas emissions and could be deployed in remote areas to convert otherwise wasted gas into usable chemicals that can be transported to market. $1,734,665
Colorado State University Synthetic Gene Circuits to Enhance Production of Transgenic Bioenergy Crops. Researchers from Colorado State University will develop a system to rapidly introduce new genetic traits into crops that currently cannot be engineered. If successful, this technology would widen the variety of plants that could be improved for biofuel production. $2,090,000
Cornell University High-Density Algae-Fuel Reactor. Cornell University will develop a compact reactor that distributes sunlight more efficiently for use in algae-fuel production. A smaller reactor makes it more economical both to grow engineered algae and to collect fuel the algae produces. The reactor delivers sunlight through low-cost, plastic light-guiding sheets and then collects fuel through tiny porous tubes. By distributing optimal amounts a sunlight, Cornell’s design will increase efficiency and decrease water use compared to conventional algae reactors. $910,000
Gas Technology Institute Methane to Methanol Fuel: A Low Temperature Process The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) will develop a new process to convert natural gas into methanol and hydrogen. Current methods to produce liquid fuels from natural gas require large and expensive facilities that use significant amounts of energy. GTI’s process uses metal oxide catalysts that are continuously regenerated in a reactor, similar to a battery. This process operates at room temperature, is more energy efficient, and less capital-intensive than existing methods. $772,899
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Small and Efficient Reformer for Converting Natural Gas to Liquid Fuels. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will develop a compact reformer for natural gas. Reformers produce synthesis gas, the first step in the commercial process of converting natural gas to liquid fuels. Unlike other systems that are too large to be deployed remotely, MIT’s reformer could be used for small, remote sources of gas. $547,289
Plant Sensory Systems Development of High-Output, Low-Input Energy Beets. Researchers at Plant Sensory Systems will produce an enhanced energy beet, optimized for biofuel production. These beets will be engineered to use fertilizer and water more efficiently and produce higher levels of fermentable sugars than most existing crops. If successful, the new crop would have a lower cost of production and increased yield of biofuels without competing against food-grade sugar. $1,800,000
Pratt & Whitney, Rocketdyne Turbo-POx For Ultra Low-Cost Gasoline. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will develop a system to improve the conversion of natural gas to liquid fuels. Their approach would partially oxidize natural gas in the high-temperature, high-pressure combustor of a natural gas turbine, facilitating its conversion into a liquid fuel. This approach could simultaneously improve the efficiency of gas conversion into fuels and chemicals, generating electricity in the process. $3,796,189
University of Colorado Atomic Layer Deposition for Creating Liquid Fuels from Natural Gas. The University of Colorado Boulder will use nanotechnology to improve the structure of gas-to-liquids catalysts, increasing surface area and improving heat transfer compared to current catalysts. The new structure of these catalysts would be used to create a small-scale reactor, for converting natural gas to liquid fuels, which could be located at remote sources of gas. $380,000
University of Minnesota Flexible Molecular Sieve Membranes. The University of Minnesota will develop an ultra-thin separation membrane to improve the production of biofuels, plastics, and other industrial materials. Today’s separation methods are energy intensive and costly. If fully implemented by industry, such a new class of membranes could reduce US energy consumption by as much as 3%. $1,816,239
University of Tennessee Transformable Single Cell Line for Rapid Assessment of Cell Wall Genes for Biofuels. The University of Tennessee will develop a technology that enables high throughput bioengineering and trait testing in switchgrass. This development will significantly reduce the time required to engineer switchgrass to maximize biofuel production. $441,747
University of Washington Biocatalyst for Small-Scale Conversion of Natural Gas into Diesel Fuel. The University of Washington will develop microbes that convert methane found in natural gas into liquid diesel fuel. These microbes enable small-scale gas-to-liquid conversion at lower cost than current methods, which require infrastructure that is too expensive to deploy at smaller scales. Small-scale conversion would leverage abundant, domestic natural gas resources and reduce US dependence on foreign oil. $4,000,000


ARPA-E OPEN 2012 selections: Advanced Vehicle Design and Materials
Lead organization Description Funding
Electron Energy Corporation Improved Manufacturing for High-Performance Magnets. Electron Energy Corporation will develop a technology to manufacture permanent magnets that are both stronger and lower cost than those available today, based on a friction consolidation extrusion process. If successful, this technology would supply the growing market of wind turbine generators and electric vehicle motors with alternative higher-performance materials compared to the imported rare earth magnets currently used in these machines. $2,904,000
United Technologies Research Additive Manufacturing of Optimized Ultra-High Efficiency Electric Machines. United Technologies Research Center will use additive manufacturing to develop an ultra-high efficiency electric motor for automobiles. Additive manufacturing uses a laser to deposit copper and insulation layer by layer, instead of winding wires. The resulting motors will reduce electricity use and will require less rare earth material. This project will also examine the application of additive manufacturing more widely for energy systems. $2,699,970


ARPA-E OPEN 2012 selections: Carbon Capture
Lead organization Description Funding
Arizona State University Energy-Efficient Electrochemical Capture and Release of CO2. Arizona State University (ASU) will develop an innovative electrochemical technology for the capture of carbon dioxide coming from power plants. ASU’s technology aims to cut both the energy use and the cost, in half, compared to current methods. $612,131
Dioxide Materials, Inc. Enabling Efficient Electrochemical Conversion of Carbon Dioxide into Fuels. Dioxide Materials will develop a technology to produce transportation fuels and industrial chemicals electrochemically from carbon dioxide emitted by power plants. Dioxide Material’s approach would improve conversion efficiency and reduce energy input that would cut costs, greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependency on foreign oil. $3,997,437
University of Massachusetts, Lowell Plasmonic-Enhanced Photocatalysis. The University of Massachusetts will develop a metal catalyst to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into fuel. The catalyst’s microscopic shape focuses sunlight to cause a chemical reaction, producing precursors to transportation fuel. If successful, this process would reduce fossil fuel imports and net CO2 emissions. $3,000,000
University of Pittsburgh Increased Viscosity Carbon Dioxide for Enhanced Oil Recovery and Fracturing. The University of Pittsburgh will develop a compound to thicken liquid carbon dioxide. This higher viscosity CO2 compound could be used to improve the performance of enhanced oil recovery and potentially replace water in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells. $2,400,000


ARPA-E OPEN 2012 selections: Transportation Energy Storage
Lead organization Description Funding
Ceramatec, Inc Mid-Temperature Fuel Cells for Transportation Applications. Ceramatec will develop a solid-state fuel cell that operates at temperature ranges similar to internal combustion engines. Ceramatec’s design would allow for low-cost materials and catalysts that demonstrate high performance without the need for expensive components. The project would engineer a fuel cell stack that performs at lower cost than current automotive designs. $2,119,759
Georgia Institute of Technology High-Performance Supercapacitors using Structurally Modified Graphene. The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) will develop a supercapacitor using graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms, to store energy at ten times greater density than current technologies. Supercapacitors store energy in a manner similar to a battery, yet can charge and discharge much more rapidly. The Georgia Tech team will improve the internal structure of graphene sheets to store more energy at lower cost. $2,115,000
Palo Alto Research Center Printed Integral Batteries. Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) will develop an innovative manufacturing process for lithium-ion batteries that reduces manufacturing costs and improves performance. PARC’s printing process would manufacture narrow stripes within battery layers that could improve the amount of energy storage allowing an extended electric vehicle driving range. $935,196
PolyPlus Battery Company High-Performance, Low-Cost Aqueous Lithium-Sulfur Batteries. PolyPlus Battery Company and Johnson Controls will develop an innovative water-based, lithium-sulfur battery. Today, lithium-sulfur battery technology offers the lightest high-energy batteries that are completely self-contained. New features in these water-based batteries make PolyPlus’s unique, lightweight battery ideal for a variety of military and consumer applications. If successful, this technology would be able to transition to a widespread commercial and military market. $4,500,000
University of California at Santa Barbara High-Energy Electro-Chemical Capacitor. The University of California at Santa Barbara will develop an energy storage device for hybrid electric vehicles that combines the properties of capacitors and batteries into one technology. This energy storage device could charge within minutes, extend driving range, and have a longer life expectancy compared to today’s electric vehicle batteries. $1,600,000
University of Nevada Las Vegas Lithium-Rich Anti-Perovskites as Superionic Solid Electrolytes. The University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) will develop a new, fire-resistant electrolyte to make today’s Lithium-ion (Li-ion) vehicle batteries safer. Today’s Li-ion batteries use a flammable liquid electrolyte that can catch fire when overheated or overcharged. UNLV will replace this flammable electrolyte with a fire-resistant, solid rock-like material called lithium-rich antiperovskite. If successful, this new electrolyte technology would help make vehicle batteries safer in an accident while also increasing performance by extending vehicle range and acceleration. $2,520,429
Vorbeck Materials Corp. Low-Cost, Fast-Charging Batteries for Hybrid Vehicles. Vorbeck Materials Corp. will develop a low-cost, fast-charging storage battery for hybrid vehicles. The battery cells are based on lithium-sulfur chemistries, which have a greater energy density compared to today’s lithium-ion batteries. If successful, the system has the potential to capture more breaking energy, increasing the efficiency of hybrid vehicles by up to 20% while also reducing cost and emissions. $1,500,000



The thickened CO2 scheme for fraccing is very interesting.  Combined with one of the CO2 capture systems, it might allow most of the fraccing fluid to be extracted from the atmosphere at the site of the well.  The possibilities for sequestration bear looking into.


Turbo-POx For Ultra Low-Cost Gasoline. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will develop a system to improve the conversion of natural gas to liquid fuels. Their approach would partially oxidize natural gas in the high-temperature, high-pressure combustor of a natural gas turbine, facilitating its conversion into a liquid fuel. This approach could simultaneously improve the efficiency of gas conversion into fuels and chemicals, generating electricity in the process.


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