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ARPA-E to award up to $20M to accelerate incorporation of AI and machine learning into energy technology

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced up to $20 million in funding (DE-FOA-0002107) for the Design Intelligence for Formidable Energy Reduction Engendering Numerous Totally Impactful Advanced Technology Enhancements (DIFFERENTIATE) program.

DIFFERENTIATE aims to enhance the productivity of energy engineers in helping them to develop next-generation energy technologies. The program seeks to develop machine learning tools that:

  • Enhance the creativity of the hypothesis generation (i.e., conceptual design) process by helping engineers develop new concepts and by enabling the consideration of a larger and more diverse set of design options during the hypothesis generation phase;

  • Enhance the efficiency of the high-fidelity evaluation (i.e., detailed design) process by accelerating the high-fidelity analysis and optimization of the hypothesized solution; and

  • Ultimately reduce (ideally eliminate) design iteration by developing the capability to execute “inverse design” processes in which the product design is effectively expressed as an explicit function of the problem statement.

In order to organize these efforts, DIFFERENTIATE identifies six general mathematical optimization problems that are common to many design processes.

It then conceptualizes several machine learning tools that could help engineers execute and solve these problems in a manner that dramatically accelerates the pace of energy innovation.

These projects will seek to develop enhanced artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. Proposals are expected to explicitly identify a selected challenge problem, an anticipated solution, a data acquisition strategy, major development risks, and an anticipated path to market for the final tool or software utility developed.

Up to $5 million of the $20 million allocated by ARPA-E under this funding opportunity will be made available specifically for small businesses under ARPA-E’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, with the $15 million balance available to all applicants.


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