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New ARPA-E program to award up to $38M to enable transportation and storage of renewable energy through carbon-containing liquids: GREENWELLS and RtL

The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $38 million in funding (DE-FOA-0003234) to develop sustainable carbon-containing liquids from renewable energy through the Grid-free Renewable Energy Enabling New Ways to Economical Liquids and Long‑term Storage (GREENWELLS) program.

Managed by the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the new program seeks to develop chemical reactor systems that can store energy from sustainable, intermittent sources as low-carbon fuels or chemicals through an approach called renewables-to-liquids (RtL).

The primary objective of the GREENWELLS program is the development of chemical reactors and supporting units that economically store at least 50% of incoming intermittent electrical energy in carbon-containing liquids.

To achieve attractive economics, ARPA-E expects that chemical reactors will need to be dynamically operable to optimize the entire system of renewable energy production, electrolysis capital, and energy storage.

If successful, the GREENWELLS program will provide low-cost carbon-containing liquids that enable the transportation and storage of renewable energy, are suitable as-is or with upgrading for use in the difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, and will speed the development of new renewable energy projects by alleviating requirements for connection to an electric grid.

Technical approaches of interest include but are not limited to:

  1. Dynamic Reactor Design. The main technical feature developed in the GREENWELLS program is a dynamically operable chemical cell. Coupled with an electrolysis unit, the dynamically operable chemical cell provides operational flexibility for chemical manufacturing to diversify feedstocks and capture advantaged grid pricing.

  2. Novel Catalyst Development and Optimization. Current catalyst approaches to CO2 reduction are generally optimized for steady-state operation of commercialized processes such as Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis and Reverse Water-Gas Shift (RWGS). A focus on developing and optimizing catalysts for operation and stability under dynamic conditions will be critical. Areas for catalyst development may include novel reaction pathways; product distribution optimization; stability and durability optimization under dynamic conditions; and high-throughput screening.

  3. Manufacturing of Modular Reaction Systems. The small scale of typical renewable installations (compared to industrial-scale refining and chemical plants) coupled with the distributed nature of such resources means that many small RtL plants will be needed at numerous locations. Design for mass production and modularity (minimizing installation costs), even at the expense of efficiency, may lead to a lower overall cost.

  4. Transient Modelling and Process Optimization. Understanding how dynamic streams impact overall performance through the creation of digital twins or other simulations may speed up development timelines. The optimization of equipment sizing will also be needed to minimize cost.

Greenwells

Black box diagram of system inputs and outputs for the reactor systems in GREENWELLS. DE-FOA-0003234


ARPA-E expects that for RtL to be economical, CAPEX must be minimized, and the system must be modular. For example, ARPA-E estimates that a 100 MW facility producing 400 bbl/d (at 50% capacity) purchasing hydrogen at $2/kg and CO2 at $100/t would likely need to keep CAPEX at or below $40MM for the reactor system to turn a profit without subsidies. Modular construction would also decrease project timelines by allowing the plant to be delivered to site rather than stick-built in place.

ARPA-E anticipates making approximately 12 to 15 awards under this FOA. Individual awards may vary between $1 million and $5 million in Federal share. The period of performance for funding agreements may not exceed 36 months. ARPA-E expects to issue funding agreements in August 2024, or as negotiated.

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