The US Department of Energy (DOE) today announced $175 million for 68 research and development projects aimed at developing novel advanced energy technologies. Led by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the OPEN 2021 program prioritizes funding high-impact, high-risk technologies that support novel approaches. The selected projects—spanning 22 states and coordinated at universities, national laboratories, and private companies—will advance technologies for a wide range of areas, including electric vehicles, offshore wind, storage and nuclear recycling.
The selected projects will focus on technologies such as revolutionizing fuel cells for light- and heavy-duty vehicles, and technologies to generate less nuclear waste and reduce the cost of fuel. Select OPEN 2021 projects include:
Synteris. Breaking the Board: Bringing Three-Dimensional Packaging and Thermal Management to Power Electronics - $2,746,501. Synteris is developing 3D-printable ceramic packaging for power electronic modules to improve their thermal management, power density, performance, and lifetime. Existing power modules contain flat ceramic substrates that serve as both the electrically insulating component and thermal conductor that transfer the large heat outputs of these devices. Synteris proposes an additive manufacturing process that would replace the traditional insulating metalized substrate, substrate attach, and baseplate/heat exchanger with an additively-manufactured ceramic packaging that acts as both an electrical insulator and heat exchanger for better thermal management. Synteris’ technology would substantially improve the design, manufacturability, and function of power modules used in electric vehicles, aircraft, and other applications.
Cornell University. Field-Focused Load-Leveled Dynamic Wireless Charging System for Electric Vehicles - $1,425,000. Cornell University seeks to develop a breakthrough wireless charging system for stationary and dynamic charging of electric vehicles (EVs), with significant improvements compared with state-of-the-art solutions. Specifically, the project will demonstrate a 50-kW capacitive wireless charging system with 150 kW/m2 power transfer density and 95% efficiency, while meeting fringing-field safety standards and increasing grid reliability by minimizing power pulsations. By enabling effective stationary and dynamic wireless charging of EVs, this project has the potential to drastically reduce the need for expensive and bulky on-board batteries, enable unlimited range, and accelerate EV penetration.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 8" GaN-on-Si Super Junction Devices for Next Generation Power Electronics - $4,521,601. The MIT will develop a new generation of power electronics based on vertical gallium nitride (GaN) superjunction diodes and transistors that can vastly exceed the performance of today’s GaN power devices. The new superjunction structure will surpass the theoretical trade-off between on- resistance and breakdown voltage observed in conventional unipolar GaN, leading to more efficient and cheaper power converters. These new GaN power devices will enable the next generation of low-cost, fast, small, and reliable power electronics, which are key for efficient power conversion in data centers, solar farms, power grids, and electric vehicles.
Stanford University. Additive Manufacturing of Amorphous Metal Soft Magnetic Composites - $1,900,000. The Stanford team seeks to additively manufacture amorphous metal-oxide soft magnetic composites (SMC) with net-shapes, reduced cost, and reduced material waste. SMCs are key to increased energy density and efficiency of electric motors and enable miniaturized electric vehicle chargers, transformers, and power generators. Currently, SMC magnetic cores are expensive and time consuming to manufacture in the complex shapes required for next-generation devices using conventional press and sinter powder metallurgy. If successful, the team’s efforts would result in magnetic cores with 10x lower core loss at frequencies of 500 kHz to 1 MHz at half the price.
Argonne National Laboratory. A Zero-emission Process for Direct Reduction of Iron by Hydrogen Plasma in a Rotary Kiln Reactor - $1,200,000. Argonne National Laboratory seeks to disrupt the steel industry by developing a potentially zero-carbon ironmaking process that eliminates the use of coke or natural gas and requires less energy than current processes. The team’s process will use hydrogen plasma to reduce iron ore in a rotary kiln furnace, which will improve the thermodynamics and kinetics of iron ore reduction, potentially eliminate the need for iron ore pelletizing, and enable the process to run at a lower temperature. The team estimates that the combination hydrogen plasma-rotary kiln process can improve energy efficiency and potentially reduce CO2 emissions in the steel industry by more than one billion tons per year. Energy consumption could be reduced by 45% compared with the blast furnace process and by approximately 15% compared with an H2-direct reduced iron process.
Precision Combustion. Additively Manufactured Electrochemical-Chip Based Scalable Solid Oxide Fuel Cells - $1,540,224. Precision Combustion, Inc. (PCI) will demonstrate a fundamentally new solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) architecture that permits a power dense, lightweight design ideal for transportation applications. The team’s novel approach will include a scalable, electrochemical chip-based SOFC. PCI will combine the unique SOFC architecture with their ultra-compact reforming technology to achieve fast start-up and long-term durability. Addressing the shortcomings of conventional SOFCs for transportation, which include large mass and volume, long startup times, and high cost, will enable low cost, efficient, and sustainable electric power for transportation applications when utilized with net-zero carbon footprint fuels.
The Ohio State University. Vehicle Traction Electric Machines Enabled by Novel Composite Magnetic Powder Material and Electrophoretic Deposition Insulation Material- $2,405,076. The Ohio State University team will transform the design and manufacturing processes of electric machines for electrified vehicles (EVs) through two innovative magnetic and insulation materials: a novel composite magnetic powder (CMP) material and ceramic electrophoretic deposition (EPD) insulation. The team at will develop the CMP material to have high bulk resistivity, permeability, saturation flux density, and low coercivity for the electric machine cores. Their approach removes the need for laminated cores and will not generate any scrap metal in the core manufacturing process. The EPD insulation is 10 times more thermally conductive than the traditional material. Combined, the new materials and manufacturing methods are expected to improve torque density by 40-70% and reduce manufacturing costs.
Carnegie Mellon University. Ionomer-Free Electrodes for Ultrahigh Power Density Fuel Cells - $3,220,310. The CMU team seeks to develop novel ionomer-free electrodes to enable transformative improvements in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology. The project will combine functionalized mixed conductors with advanced ultra-high activity catalysts to move proton conduction functionality to the support surface and remove ionomer from the electrode. This would eliminate the ionomer, which conducts ions, but also poisons catalyst sites and obstructs oxygen transport. Removing the ionomer is also key to accessing the ultra-high oxygen reduction reaction activity of emerging nanostructured platinum-alloy catalysts in PEM fuel cells. The resulting ultra-high-power density would revolutionize PEM fuel cell technology, enabling the deployment of low-cost, high-efficiency fuel cells for light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles.
University of Washington. Harvesting Infrared Light to Improve Photosynthetic Biomass Production - $1,347,122. The University of Washington seeks to develop new photosynthetic systems that use sunlight from previously under-utilized or inaccessible portions of the solar spectrum to produce chemical fuel. The team will use the de novo protein design (a computational approach to design proteins from scratch, rather than using a known protein structure) to modify photosynthetic light harvesting machinery for a broader spectrum, allowing more energy to be translated from light to chemical energy. If successful, this project would enable biofuel and bioproduct generation from near-infrared light in cyanobacteria, algae, and plants, showing that it is feasible to reengineer the light-harvesting and charge-separation reactions that are the foundation of natural photosynthesis.
University of California, Berkeley. Integrated System for Electromicrobial Production of Butanol from Air-Captured CO2 - $1,953,397. UC Berkeley aims to develop a scalable, integrated process to directly capture and convert CO2 from ambient air into butanol, a platform molecule for jet fuels. The system takes three main inputs: ambient air, water, and a sustainable energy source, and produces butanol with high selectivity. The proposed process is projected to have a 35% lower global warming potential and a twelvefold reduction in land use compared with a biotechnological process relying on corn-derived glucose.
Columbia University. High Capacity Electrolyzers Based on Ultrathin Proton-Conducting Oxide Membranes - $3,375,712. Columbia University seeks to lower the production cost of carbon-free, “green hydrogen” through the development of a low-temperature electrolyzer that uses proton-conducting oxide membranes (POM) with the potential to achieve step-change increases in current density and efficiency compared to today’s commercial polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolyzers. The project’s approach of decreasing POM thickness by 2-4 orders of magnitude, and subsequently decreasing its resistance by roughly an order of magnitude, would enable efficient low-temperature water electrolysis at current densities higher than those used by conventional PEM electrolyzers.
Dimensional Energy. 3D-Printed Ceramic Thermocatalytic CO2 Reactor with High Carbon Conversion and Energy Efficiencies - $3,100,104. Dimensional Energy will use additive manufacturing systems to 3D print ceramic components for innovative chemical reactors that can run on low-carbon electricity sources. The ceramic chemical reactors will have enhanced properties and design features that could not be produced using conventional manufacturing processes. Dimensional Energy’s innovative reactors convert carbon dioxide into a feedstock chemical that can be further processed into synthetic jet fuel, thereby providing low-carbon sustainable aviation fuel to the aviation sector that accounts for nearly 3% of global annual emissions.
University of Houston. Lithium- and Transition Metal-Free High-Energy Fast-Charging Batteries - $3,400,000. The University of Houston seeks to create a class of battery that uses magnesium anodes instead of lithium and organic materials in place of transition metal-based cathodes. Early work has shown very fast reaction kinetics, and power capabilities in excess of 5kW/Kg have been demonstrated. The battery would provide a transportation energy storage solution that could be charged very fast and have a comparable energy density with the state-of-the-art lithium ion. Additionally, given growing market pressures in lithium and transition metals, this alternative could enhance the nation’s energy supply chain security. The project team seeks to advance the technology on multiple fronts including electrode material and electrolyte optimization, cycle life extension, practical cell design, and scaling-up material production and cell fabrication.
University of Michigan. Battery Separator for Completely Stopping Dendrite - $950,000. The University of Michigan team aims to develop a new type of battery separator that can effectively prevent rather than block the formation of dendrites. These dendrites can cause battery failure and pose a safety hazard due to internal short-circuit. The new separator will be synthesized through a wet process followed by phase alignment. The resulting dendrite-suppression capability could be the equivalent of several orders of magnitude better than existing separators or solid-state electrolytes. If successful, this mechanism could make high-capacity lithium (Li) metal batteries viable, significantly increase the reliable operational window of current Li-ion batteries, and ensure safe operation of Li-ion batteries even when manufacturing defects are present. The improved batteries would have a wide range of vehicle applications.
University of Maryland. Fast-Charging, Solid-State, Roll-to-Roll Processed Li Metal Batteries Enabled by Intercalated Ions in Cellulose Molecular Channels - $2,600,000. The University of Maryland (UMD) team seeks to fabricate fast-charging batteries in which the electrolyte comprises a cellulose fiber-based ion conductor. The cellulose-based ion conductor overcomes the gap from current solid-state electrolytes to solid-state batteries because they use natural materials, are easy to process, and are compatible with conventional coating processes. UMD’s approach could enable high conductivity at room temperature, high energy density, and roll-to-roll manufacturing of nano-paper batteries with low cost.
Pratt & Whitney. Hydrogen Steam Injected Intercooled Turbine Engine (HySIITE) - $3,822,026. Pratt & Whitney will design a novel, high-efficiency hydrogen-power turbomachine for commercial aviation. The Hydrogen Steam Injected Intercooled Turbine Engine (HySIITE) concept is intended to eliminate carbon emissions and significantly reduce NOx inflight emissions for commercial single-aisle aircraft. The HySIITE engine will burn hydrogen in a Brayton (thermodynamic) cycle engine and use steam injection to dramatically reduce NOx. Via an innovative semi-closed system architecture, HySIITE aims to achieve thermal efficiency greater than fuel cells and reduce total operating cost compared with “drop in” sustainable aviation fuels.
HRL Laboratories. Surface Laser Architected Magnets (SLAM) - $2,661,888. HRL Laboratories will develop novel magnets that improve the operating energy density of the state-of-the-art magnets for increased electric motor efficiency. Surface Laser Architected Magnets (SLAM) is a new magnet architecture that mitigates thermally induced demagnetization while reducing the use of expensive heavy rare earth elements. These magnets will increase motor efficiency, and thereby accelerate the adoption of electric ground and air vehicles, reduce energy demands and greenhouse gases, and reduce the need for non-domestic rare-earth elements.
University of Delaware. Energy Efficient Manufacturing of Lightweight Composite Architected Structures for Transportation Vehicles - $2,500,000. The University of Delaware team seeks to develop a new composite forming route, Composite Architected Materials Processing (CAMP), to offer a rapid economic fabrication process of composite architected structures to achieve high volume cost effective, lightweight, and energy-efficient vehicle structural components. CAMP includes key innovations in composite formation, Localized In-plane Thermal Automation (LITA), and feedstock materials—low-cost, high performance, highly conformable and steerable fiber materials. These innovations coupled with computational geometry optimization will enable the weight-efficient design of composite architected structures for air and ground transportation vehicles. If developed, CAMP would greatly reduce the energy intensity of carbon fiber composites manufacturing, drive down the total cost, and reduce structural weight.
Hinetics. Cryogen-fRee Ultra-high fIeld Superconducting Electric (CRUISE) Motor - $5,761,467. Hinetics will develop and demonstrate a high-power density electric machine to enable electrified aircraft propulsion systems up to 10 MW and beyond. Hinetics’ technology uses a superconducting machine design that eliminates the need for cryogenic auxiliary systems yet maintains low total mass. The concept features a sub-20 K Stirling-cycle cooler integrated with a low-loss rotor, magnetic fields on an order of magnitude higher than conventional machines, and a novel coil suspension and torque transfer system with tensioned fibers that cut the cryogenic heat-load by a factor of 10 to eliminate the need for external coolers. This design could enable a 10 MW, 3000 RPM aircraft propulsion motor weighing less than 250 kilograms that rejects up to 10 times less total heat to the ambient environment (>99% efficiency).
UC Berkeley. Ultra Light-weight Bidirectional DC-DC Converters for Electric Aircraft - $1,195,345. UC Berkeley will develop ultra-light-weight and efficient DC-DC power converters for electric aircraft. UC Berkeley’s design could enable a 12x reduction in weight and a 3-5x reduction in power loss as compared to what is possible today. Through innovations in power electronics research and thermal management, the team will develop key technologies crucial to maintaining U.S. leadership in electric flight. UC Berkeley’s proposed technology has the potential to greatly reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions while reducing noise pollution at airports across the country.
Among the first of billions of dollars for research and development opportunities that DOE announced last year to address the climate crisis, OPEN 2021 is ARPA-E’s latest installment of the OPEN program. The first four iterations—2009, 2012, 2015, and 2018—awarded more than $600 million in funding to 225 projects working to achieve breakthroughs in commercializing a variety of energy solutions, including in the development of transformative solar, geothermal, batteries, biofuels and advanced surface coating technologies.
Since its founding in 2009, ARPA-E has provided $2.93 billion in R&D funding, and ARPA-E projects have attracted more than $7.6 billion in private sector follow-on funding to commercialize clean energy technologies.