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ARPA-E announces $98M in funding for 40 OPEN projects; two opposed-piston engines projects receive $10M total

The US Department of Energy announced $98 million in funding for 40 new projects as part of OPEN 2018, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) latest open funding opportunity.

OPEN solicitations are an open call to scientists and engineers for transformational technologies across the entire scope of ARPA-E’s energy mission. The selected OPEN 2018 projects are in 21 states and fall into 9 technical categories, including transportation, electricity generation and delivery, and energy efficiency. 

Of those selected, approximately 43% of OPEN 2018 projects will be led by universities, 35% by small businesses, and the remainder by large businesses, non-profit organizations or federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs).

The 40 projects announced are just the beginning, as OPEN applications have seeded other small new program areas that ARPA-E will roll out over the coming weeks.

Transportation. Of the 40 projects, 15 are transportation-related, with total funding of $41.5 million.

The top awardee in this segment is Pinnacle Engines (earlier post), which is receiving $8 million for the design and demonstration of an electrification-enabled full-featured opposed piston 4-stroke engine for hybrid and range extender applications.

Pinnacle Engines will electrify its four-stroke, spark-ignited, opposed-piston engine to improve fuel efficiency and reduce its cost. Electric motor-generators on each crankshaft will improve engine efficiency by modifying the piston dynamics and resulting combustion process.

In addition, Pinnacle will employ high rates of exhaust gas recirculation and a low temperature combustion strategy, which will improve knock tolerance and reduce heat loss, pumping work, and NOx emissions. Pinnacle’s proposed technology will reduce fuel consumption beyond that of state-of-the-art series hybrid electric vehicles.

A second opposed-piston engine project is led by Achates Power (earlier post). Achates Power will develop a highly efficient opposed-piston engine for hybrid vehicles (“HOPE-Hybrid”) using a unique engine design that minimizes energy losses typical in conventional internal combustion engines.

A motor-generator integrated on each engine crankshaft will provide independent control to each piston and eliminate all torque transmitted across the mechanical crankshaft connection, thus reducing engine size, mass, cost, friction, and noise.

The application of high-bandwidth power electronics will further improve engine efficiency through the real-time control of the piston motion and combustion process. If successful, the proposed technology will offer light- and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers a cost-effective solution to improve vehicle fuel efficiency and reduce transportation carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Other transportation projects awarded OPEN funds are:

  • Advanced Magnet Lab, Inc. Homopolar Machines Enabled with Brushless Field Electron Emission Current Transfer – $541,184
    Advanced Magnet Lab (AML) is developing a reliable, contact-free current transfer mechanism from a stationary to a rotating electrode to allow direct current (DC) electrical machines, motors, and generators to achieve unprecedented power and torque density. This technology, a reimagining of the first electric “homopolar” motor invented by Michael Faraday, would provide current transfer without the need for the costly sliding contacts, brushes, and liquids that have limited DC electrical engine efficiency and lifetime. AML’s contact-free current transfer would achieve 99% efficiency in DC electrical motors with 5-10 times the power and torque densities available in existing DC technologies.

  • Georgia Tech Research Corporation. High Power Density Compact Drive Integrated Motor for Electric Transportation – $2,982,389
    Georgia Tech will develop a new approach to internally cool permanent magnet motors. The technology could significantly improve electric motors’ power density and reduce system size and weight. To do so, the team will integrate the motor and drive electronics into a unique system packaging incorporating an embedded advanced thermal management system. They will also develop wide bandgap power electronics packaging to enable high-power density operations at higher temperature. The new design could substantially increase the power and torque density above the state of the art and enable more energy-efficient electric trucks, buses, and, potentially, aircraft.

  • Ecolectro, Inc. Modular Ultrastable Alkaline Exchange Ionomers to Enable High-performance Fuel Cells and Electrolyzer Systems – $1,700,000
    Ecolectro is developing alkaline exchange ionomers (AEIs) to enable low-cost fuel cell and electrolyzer technologies. Ecolectro’s AEIs would be resilient to the harsh operating conditions present in existing alkaline exchange membranes that prevent their widespread adoption in commercial applications. This technology would be simple, cost effective, and well-suited to large-scale processing. Further, Ecolectro’s AEIs would demonstrate comparable durability and improved efficiency over state-of-the-art proton exchange membranes.

  • Ionic Materials, Inc. Novel Polymer-enhanced Rechargeable Aluminum-Alkaline Battery Technology – $2,000,000
    Ionic Materials will develop a more energy dense (by volume and mass) rechargeable battery based on an aluminum-alkaline chemistry. At the center of Ionic Materials’ innovation is a new polymer-based material that suppresses the formation of unwanted chemical products that prevent aluminum-alkaline batteries from recharging. Aluminum is highly abundant in earth’s crust and costs much less than cobalt, nickel, and lithium, key elements in today’s state-of-the-art batteries. Aluminum-alkaline chemistries are also inherently safer than lithium ion, making them appropriate for use in electric vehicle and residential applications.

  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Metal-Supported SOFCS for Ethanol-Fueled Vehicles – $3,170,000
    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is developing a metal-supported solid oxide fuel cell (MS-SOFC) stack that produces electricity from an ethanol-water blend at high efficiency to enable light-duty hybrid passenger vehicles. Current LBNL MS-SOFCs can heat up from room temperature to their ~700°C operating temperature in seconds without thermal expansion cracking and tolerate rapid temperature changes during operation, and are mechanically rugged. However, they currently operate using ethanol fuel, converted into hydrogen and carbon monoxide prior to entering the fuel cell in a process called reforming. The team will adapt these MS- SOFCs to handle liquid ethanol-water fuel directly, while maintaining their high performance and durability, and will tackle challenges around assembly of cells into stacks to increase power output.

  • Sila Nanotechnologies, Inc. Drop-In Replacement Materials from Abundant Resources to Double Energy in EV Batteries – $3,100,000
    Sila Nanotechnologies will develop a class of drop-in cathode replacement materials to double the energy stored in lithium-ion batteries, the most popular battery chemistry used in a wide range of applications, including electric vehicles. The Sila team will replace conventional nickel and cobalt-based cathode materials approaching their theoretical performance limits with new materials in a nanostructured composite that greatly increases the battery’s energy density. Sila Nanotechnologies will pair their new cathode material with a silicon-based anode, enabling the battery to outperform current lithium-ion cells while using existing cell assembly infrastructures to reduce cost and the risk of technology adoption.

  • Los Alamos National Laboratory. Stable Diacid Coordinated Quaternary Ammonium Polymers for 80-230 °C Fuel Cells – $2,900,000
    Los Alamos National Laboratory will develop polymer fuel cells that produce electricity for electric vehicles in the low to intermediate temperature range of 80-230 °C without first warming and humidifying the incoming fuel stream. The team’s concept uses a new polymer-based membrane design that provides high conductivity across a wide temperature range, simplifying the system components necessary to keep the cell running effectively, and streamlining design and reducing costs. Developments from the project may be useful for other energy conversion technologies, such as ammonia production and high-temperature direct liquid fuel cells.

  • University of California, San Diego. Low-Cost, Easy-to-integrate, and Reliable Grid Energy Storage System with 2nd Life Lithium Batteries – $1,894,705
    UC San Diego is developing a universal battery integration system that utilizes second-life batteries from electric vehicles. Over the next decade, millions of electric vehicle batteries will be retired worldwide. These batteries can be utilized in a “second life” to provide inexpensive stationary storage for homes, businesses, and the electricity grid. It is challenging, however, to combine batteries with different ages and usage histories. In this project, UC San Diego will develop a modular power converter matrix to control power flow to connected battery modules. UC San Diego will also incorporate advanced life cycle control modeling and optimization algorithms to condition batteries for resale and create a scalable, low-cost stationary storage system.

  • University of Delaware. Advanced Alkaline Membrane H2/Air Fuel Cell System with Novel Technique for Air CO2 Removal – $1,979,998
    The University of Delaware team will develop a hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cell capable of using the oxygen in ambient air—in addition to hydrogen—as one of its inputs. This method eliminates a significant barrier to using such cells in transportation applications, when carrying oxygen onboard the vehicle or scrubbing carbon dioxide from air is impractical. The team will build an electrochemical “pump,” based on a special membrane, to remove efficiently cell-damaging CO2 from the ambient air stream without limiting system performance. The same principle could be applied to direct carbon capture from air for any system with excess reductant.

  • Vanderbilt University. Bipolar Membranes with an Electrospun 3D Junction – $965,000
    The Vanderbilt University team will develop a new membrane featuring a three-dimensional water splitting or water formation junction region, prepared by an electrospinning process. The team’s membrane will require significantly lower voltages than conventional ones to operate electrochemical cells, and it will increase efficiency thanks to its 3D fiber networks. The membranes will be useful in electrodialysis, electrolysis, and fuel cell applications.

  • Kampachi Farms, LLC. KRUMBS–Kyphosid Ruminant Microbial Bioconversion of Seaweeds – $3,341,894
    Kampachi Farms will develop a new, highly efficient process for the conversion of marine macroalgae seaweeds into a variety of bioproducts, including biofuels. The team will work with its partners to isolate, optimize and deploy microbial consortia and individual microorganisms capable of rapidly digesting macroalgal biomass in a highly scalable way. The technology is intended to leverage domestic marine biomass resources to reduce the need for imported energy and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions relative to traditional petroleum derived fuels and products.

  • University of Maryland. Superstrong, Low-cost Wood for Lightweight Vehicles – $3,600,000
    The University of Maryland will further develop its “super wood” approach to replace steel in the automotive industry. Over three years, the project will improve super wood’s properties to achieve the ability to withstand pressure of 1 gigapascal (or 145,038 pounds per square inch), and meet the requirements of a low-cost automotive structural material. The super wood could reduce vehicle manufacturing costs by 10-20% and manufacturing energy by up to 80% on a component level and by about 28% on a vehicle level.

  • Supercool Metals, LLC. Thermoplastic Forming of Bulk Metallic Glasses for Energy Efficiency in Transportation – $3,323,373
    Supercool Metals LLC will explore manufacturing processes for lightweight structural metal parts to enable more energy-efficient transportation. Lightweighting is a necessity for the automotive and aerospace industries, and increasingly important for the transition to hybrid and fully electric vehicles. Bulk metallic glasses (BMGs), which will be used, are complex alloys with significantly higher mechanical properties (e.g., strength, toughness, corrosion resistance) than conventional alloys. Supercool Metals will explore possibilities for commercial thermoplastic forming-based processes focused on blow molding lightweight BMG. This approach will improve energy efficiency during manufacturing and in service, as BMGs enable lightweighting opportunities and advanced design concepts.


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