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ARPA-E awarding $60M to 23 projects; dry cooling and fusion power

The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) will award $60 million in funding to 23 new projects aimed at creating highly efficient and scalable dry-cooling technologies for thermoelectric power plants and developing prototype technologies to explore new pathways for fusion power.

The projects are funded through ARPA-E’s two newest programs, Advanced Research In Dry cooling (ARID) and Accelerating Low-cost Plasma Heating and Assembly (ALPHA), which both seek to develop low-cost technology solutions. These projects have been selected for negotiation of awards; final award amounts may vary.

Advanced Research In Dry cooling (ARID): $30 Million. ARPA-E’s ARID program will fund transformative new power plant cooling technologies that enable high thermal-to-electric energy conversion efficiency with zero net water dissipation to the atmosphere. The program plans to provide $30 million to support 14 project teams in developing innovative, ultra-high-performance air-cooled heat exchangers, supplemental cooling systems and/or cool-storage systems that can cost-effectively and efficiently reject waste heat.

ARPA-E project teams will work to design kilowatt-scale testing prototypes to help ensure the technologies can scale up to megawatt-cooling capacity without significant performance loss. If successful, these new cooling technologies could significantly reduce water usage at thermoelectric plants without sacrificing a plant’s performance or increasing its cooling costs.

Lead organization
Description Funding
Advanced Cooling Technologies
(University of Missouri, Lehigh University, and Evapco)
Heat-Pipe PCM Based Cool Storage for Air-Cooled Systems
The project team will develop a novel storage system that collects and stores heat rejected from a power plant condenser during the day until the heat waste can be more efficiently rejected during the night at lower ambient temperatures. This technology will utilize an array of heat pipes to transfer heat to the thermal storage unit, and will incorporate self (flow-induced) agitated fins to increase air-side heat transfer by 230%. The team will also tailor the thermal properties of the thermal storage media, which will allow the system to be optimized for use in climates with different daytime and nighttime temperatures.
Applied Research Associates Active Cooling Thermally Induced Vapor-Polymerization Effect (ACTIVE)
Applied Research Associates, Inc. (ARA) will develop a dry cooling system that overcomes the inherent thermodynamic performance penalty of air-cooled systems, particularly under high ambient temperatures. ARA’s ACTIVE cooling technology will use a depolymerization thermochemical cycle to provide supplemental cooling and cool energy storage that can work as a standalone system or be synchronized with air-cooled units in order to cool below the ambient dry bulb temperature. This technology will provide power plant condensers with return water at necessary temperature levels to maintain power production thermal efficiencies at their optimum levels.
Colorado State University Ultra-Efficient Turbo-Compression Cooling
Colorado State University (CSU) will develop a waste heat driven cooling system with team members Barber- Nichols and Modine, which utilizes an ultra-efficient turbo-compressor powered by exhaust flue gas. The high speed turbo-compressor cooling system will enable dry power plant cooling in regions where water resources are severely limited, and allow highly efficient cooling both day and night.
Electric Power Research Institute
(Drexel University, University of Memphis, Evapco, WorleyParsons, and Maulbetsch Consulting)
Indirect Dry Cooling Using Recirculating Encapsulated Phase-Change Materials
The project team will develop, manufacture, and demonstrate a cost- effective, 50 kW indirect dry cooling system that utilizes a recirculating mesh heat exchanger with encapsulated phase-change materials (EPCMs). By continuously circulating the EPCM meshes between the air and water sides, EPRI’s innovation will create a short-duration thermal storage system that effectively rejects heat at the PCM melting temperature. The proposed design is compact, can be optimized for various geographic and weather conditions, and can be integrated into existing power plants through relatively cost-effective retrofitting options.
General Electric Company – GE Global Research A Low-Cost Heat Pump with Advanced Refrigerant/Absorbent Separation
General Electric Company (GE) and its partners will develop and design a low-cost, high performance absorption heat pump enabling supplemental dry cooling for a combined cycle power plant. The proposed heat pump has two key innovations: a new absorbent enabled regenerator that directly separates liquid water refrigerant from a novel liquid absorbent and a tubeless evaporator that directly evaporates a portion of the cooling water through flash atomization. The integration of these two innovations will result in a heat pump system with enhanced performance at a regeneration temperature of 80 °C and a system cost of less than $150 per kilowatt of thermal power.
PARC, a Xerox Company Metamaterials-Enhanced Passive Radiative Cooling Panels
PARC will develop a scalable, low-cost passive radiative cooling structure that can eliminate power plant water consumption while increasing the efficiency by providing supplementary cooling below ambient temperature. PARC’s cooling technology utilizes modules with a two-layer structure of a reflective film atop an ultra-black metamaterial-based emitter. This low-cost structure, which would sit atop water channels, can reflect solar light while simultaneously dissipating heat to the atmosphere and cooling water below ambient temperatures, even in broad daylight.
SRI International Spectrally-Tuned All-Polymer Technology for Inducing Cooling (STATIC) Radiative Cooling for Cold Storage
SRI International will adapt its proprietary spectrally tuned polymer technology for radiative cooling during daytime and nighttime. The polymer structure will cover power plant condenser discharge water and will thus provide cooling while preventing evaporation. The technology is designed to reflect solar energy while allowing the thermal energy in the discharge water to radiate to the cold sky. SRI will produce its STATIC cover using low-cost, scalable processing technologies.
Stony Brook University Condensing Flue Gas Water Vapor for Cool Storage
Stony Brook University will develop a thermosyphon system that condenses water vapor from power plant flue gas by using highly efficient phase-change heat transfer. Heat is rejected to the ambient using an innovative air-cooled polymer heat exchanger with high thermal conductivity. The polymer construction will diminish corrosion effects from the flue gas. The resulting condensate can be stored and used for subsequent evaporative cooling when the ambient temperature exceeds acceptable operating limits.
TDA Research Novel Desiccant Cycle for Flue Gas Water Recovery and Cool Storage
TDA Research, Inc. (TDA) and its partners will develop a novel direct contact condensation and liquid desiccant system for extracting 64% of the water vapor from natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plant flue gas. This water can be used to provide supplemental evaporative cooling to improve the efficiency of power plants that otherwise use dry cooling. The process has been specifically designed to allow the use of low-cost materials of construction, which greatly reduces the capital cost and improves the economic viability.
University of Cincinnati Enhanced Air-Cooling System with Optimized Asynchronously Cooled Thermal Energy Storage
The University of Cincinnati will develop a dry-cooling system that includes two primary components: an ultra- enhanced air-cooled condenser (ACC), and a novel daytime peak-load shifting system that utilizes thermal energy storage (TES). The ultra-enhanced ACC will use a novel swirl-producing and boundary-layer disrupting surface on the air-side that substantially increases the heat transfer coefficients. The ACC is coupled to the daytime peak-load shifting system (PLSS), which reduces the ambient air inlet temperature for air cooling. The PLSS consists of a highly compact, low-cost air pre-cooler that transfers the heat load to a TES system. The TES system will utilize phase change materials that operate over a range of temperatures, and the system will recharge at night by an asynchronous air-cooled enhanced heat exchanger.
University of Colorado at Boulder Radiative Cooled-Cold Storage Modules and Systems (RadiCold)
The University of Colorado at Boulder will develop radiative cool storage modules and a system called RadiCold to enable efficient, low-cost supplementary cooling for power plants. A metal-coated micro-structured thermoplastic polymethylpentene (TPX) surface reflects sunlight and allows radiative cooling for both day- and night-time operation. A passive, single-phase thermosyphon will collect cool water in a local storage unit beneath the RadiCold surface, and a low power-consumption pipe network will collect the cool water from local storage modules into a central storage system. Roll-to-roll manufacturing technology for the micro-structured TPX thin film will enable effective radiative cooling at a low cost.
University of Maryland Novel Microemulsion Absorption Systems for Supplemental Power Plant Cooling
The University of Maryland (UMD) and its partners will utilize a novel microemulsion liquid absorbent, recently invented by researchers at UMD, for use in absorption cooling systems for power plants. These microemulsion absorbents can absorb water vapor (refrigerant), and release the water as liquid during desorption, thus achieving a high coefficient of performance. Waste heat from the power plant flue gas will drive the microemulsion cooling system to provide supplemental cooling below the ambient temperature.
University of Maryland Novel Polymer Composite Heat Exchanger for Dry Cooling of Power Plants
The University of Maryland (UMD) and its partners will develop novel polymer composite heat exchangers for indirect air cooling of power plants that are superior to state-of-the-art metallic heat exchangers in terms of cost, performance, lifetime, and corrosion resistance. The heat exchangers will utilize a UMD proprietary technology in which a low-cost, high-conductivity medium (e.g. aluminum) is encapsulated in a polymeric material with high durability, low cost, and high resistance to corrosion (e.g. polypropylene). Further, onsite production of the developed heat exchangers will be possible via additive manufacturing (3-D printing), allowing for low-cost production and assembly.
University of Wisconsin – Madison
(Oak Ridge National Laboratory)
Optimized Air-Side Heat Transfer Surfaces Via Advanced Additive Manufacturing
The University of Wisconsin and Oak Ridge National Laboratory will develop advanced high thermal conductivity polymer air-cooled heat exchangers with enhanced air-side heat transfer. The team will develop a cost-effective, polymer composite material that is suitable for the Fused Layer Modeling (FLM) additive manufacturing (3-D printing) technique. The optimization of the heat transfer surface structures and the overall design will be achieved by combining dimensional analysis, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and topology optimization with the design freedom enabled by FLM, leading to a substantial improvement in the heat transfer coefficient.

Accelerating Low-cost Plasma Heating and Assembly (ALPHA): $30 Million. ARPA-E’s ALPHA program will develop the tools to build foundations for new pathways toward fusion power. ALPHA is focused on approaches in the intermediate ion density regime between lower density magnetic confinement fusion (MCF) and higher density inertial confinement fusion (ICF).

This intermediate density regime is not as well explored as the more mature MCF and ICF approaches, and it may offer new opportunities for fusion reactors with energy and power requirements that are compatible with low-cost technologies such as pulsed power or piston-driven compression.

The ALPHA program will provide $30 million to support nine project teams in creating technologies designed to explore the intermediate density regime and provide the basis for the development of fusion power at a lower cost than technologies available today.

Lead organization
Description Funding
California Institute of Technology
(Los Alamos National Laboratory)
Prototype Tools to Establish the Viability of the Adiabatic Heating and Compression Mechanisms Required for Magnetized Target Fusion
Caltech, in coordination with Los Alamos National Laboratory, will investigate collisions of plasma jets and targets over a wide range of parameters to characterize the scaling of adiabatic heating and compression of liner-driven magnetized target fusion plasmas. The team will propel fast magnetized plasma jets into stationary heavy gases or metal walls. The resulting collision is equivalent to a fast heavy gas or metal liner impacting a stationary magnetized target in a shifted reference frame and allows the non-destructive and rapid investigation of physical phenomena and scaling laws governing the degree of adiabaticity of liner implosions. This study will provide critical information on the interactions and limitations for a variety of possible driver and plasma target combinations being developed across the ALPHA program portfolio.
Helion Energy Staged Magnetic Compression of FRC Targets to Fusion Conditions
Helion Energy, Inc. will investigate staged magnetic compression of field-reversed configuration (FRC) plasmas, building on past successes to develop a prototype that can attain higher temperatures and fuel density than previously possible. The team will use these results to assess the viability of scaling to a power reactor, which if successful would offer the benefits of simple linear geometry, attractive scaling, and compatibility with modern pulsed power electronics.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory MEMS Based Ion Beam Drivers for Magnetized Target Fusion
Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL), in close collaboration with Cornell University, will develop a scalable ion beam driver based on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. MEMS technology is compatible with massively parallel, low cost batch fabrication and has become widely used in the fabrication of components for consumer electronics. Ion beams are commonly used in research laboratories and manufacturing, but currently available ion accelerator technology cannot deliver the required beam intensities at low enough cost to drive an economical fusion reactor. In the LBNL-Cornell approach, thousands of mini ion “beamlets” will be densely packed on silicon wafers. Ions will be injected and accelerated across gaps formed in stacks of wafers, leading to extremely high current densities for intense ion beams with tunable kinetic energy, suitable for driving a variety of potential plasma targets to fusion conditions.
Los Alamos National Laboratory
(Hyper V Technologies)
Spherically Imploding Plasma Liners as a Standoff Magneto-Inertial-Fusion Driver
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), teamed with Hyper V Technologies and a multi-institutional team, will develop a plasma-liner driver formed by merging supersonic plasma jets produced by an array of coaxial plasma guns. This concept allows “standoff” driver formation far from the fusion burn region (separated by several meters), which avoids destruction of plasma formation and compression hardware in a repetitively pulsed fusion reactor (beyond the ALPHA program). This non-destructive approach may enable rapid, low cost research and development and, by avoiding replacement of solid components on every shot, may help lead to an economically attractive power reactor. This project will seek to demonstrate, for the first time, the formation of a small scale spherically imploding plasma liner in order to obtain critical data on plasma liner uniformity and ram pressure scaling. If successful, this concept will provide a versatile, high-implosion-velocity driver for intermediate fuel density magneto-inertial fusion that is potentially compatible with several plasma targets.
Magneto-Inertial Fusion Technologies
(University of Nevada; the University of California, San Diego; and Voss Scientific LLC)
Staged Z-pinch Target for Fusion
Magneto-Inertial Fusion Technologies, Inc. (MIFTI) will develop a Staged Z-pinch (SZP) to efficiently and stably transfer energy from a radially-imploding liner to a target plasma. The SZP utilizes shock heating to deliver energy to the target and shock stabilization to mitigate instability at the liner-target interface; target implosion proceeds faster than instability can grow on the liner’s surface. If successful, the SZP will demonstrate a target-load design that can scale to high-shot rate and fusion-relevant conditions, characteristics that are necessary for net-power production in a reactor.
(National High Magnetic Field Laboratory)
Stabilized Liner Compressor (SLC) for Low-Cost Fusion
NumerEx, LLC, teamed with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Los Alamos, NM, will develop the Stabilized Liner Compressor (SLC) concept in which a rotating, liquid metal liner is imploded by high pressure gas. Free-piston drive and liner rotation avoid instabilities as the liner compresses and heats a plasma target. If successful, this concept could scale to an attractive fusion reactor with efficient energy recovery, and therefore a low required minimum fusion gain for net energy output. The SLC will address several challenges faced by practical fusion reactors. By surrounding the plasma target with a thick liquid liner, the SLC helps avoid materials degradation associated with a solid plasma-facing first wall. In addition, with an appropriately chosen liner material, the SLC can simultaneously provide a breeding blanket to create more tritium fuel, allow efficient heat transport out of the reactor, and shield solid components of the reactor from high-energy neutrons.
Sandia National Laboratories
(Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester)
Demonstrating Fuel Magnetization and Laser Heating Tools for Low-Cost Fusion Energy
Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester (LLE) will investigate the compression and heating of high energy density, magnetized plasmas at fusion relevant conditions, building on the recent successes of the Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion (MagLIF) concept. SNL and LLE will conduct focused experiments based on the MagLIF approach at both SNL and LLE facilities, targeting key physics challenges in the intermediate density regime. The team will also exploit and enhance a suite of simulation and numerical design tools validated by these experiments. Through this project, the team will provide critical information for improved compression and heating performance as well as insights on loss mechanisms and instabilities for hot, dense, magnetized plasmas. This information will help accelerate the development of the MagLIF concept, and will also inform the continued development of intermediate density approaches across the ALPHA program portfolio.
Swarthmore College
(Bryn Mawr College)
Plasma Accelerator on the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment
Swarthmore College, in collaboration with Bryn Mawr College, will design, develop, and test two flexible, low cost plasma acceleration modules on the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment (SSX). These modules will accelerate non-axisymmetric magnetized plasma plumes, formed by allowing a spheromak plasma to evolve in a large aspect ratio cylindrical chamber. Accelerating and colliding these plumes at high speeds and densities may enable the formation of a new kind of plasma target for magnetized target fusion. The SSX experiments offer a high rate of low-cost experimentation and a mature diagnostic suite, which will enable rapid progress in understanding these plasma plumes and illuminate their potential as new targets in the ALPHA program.
University of Washington
(Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
Development of a Compact Fusion Device based on the Flow Z-Pinch
The University of Washington is partnering with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to advance the shear-flow stabilized Z-pinch concept and assess its potential for scaling to fusion conditions. The Z-pinch is a geometrically simple and elegant approach to fusion, utilizing an electric current to simultaneously magnetically confine, compress, and heat a cylinder of plasma. However, the traditional Z-pinch has been plagued by instabilities that prevent attainment of conditions required for net fusion energy output. Sheared axial flows have been shown to stabilize disruptive Z-pinch instabilities at modest plasma conditions. Through experimental and computational studies, the team will attempt to scale this concept to high current, plasma density, and temperature with a goal of demonstrating a more practical path to a compact, low cost fusion reactor.



Active campaigning by fans of alternative fusion research helped to bring about the ALPHA funding initiative, to try and cast a wider net in the development of fusion technologies than the gargantuan tokamak or laser versions currently getting the lions share of funding from the government. Unfortunately most of ALPHA goes to the big government labs and to technologies that would ultimately only boil water, an inefficient path to generating electricity (the Cornot process). Fusion reactors with direct output of electricity as in a particle beam would be a lot more efficient and versatile, for distributed power networks useful for charging car batteries en mass, for example. Let's hope ARPA-e can come up with another FOA that's more in the spirit...The world still desperately needs a large scale new energy source that is safe and CO2 free.

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