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DOE ARPA-E awarding $15M to 12 projects developing high-energy 1K storage solutions for aircraft, railroads & ships

The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced $15 million for 12 projects across 11 states to advance next-generation, high-energy storage solutions to help accelerate the electrification of the aviation, railroad, and maritime transportation sectors.

Funded through the Pioneering Railroad, Oceanic and Plane ELectrification with 1K energy storage systems (PROPEL-1K) program (earlier post), projects will develop energy storage systems with “1K” technologies capable of achieving or exceeding 1000 Watt-hour per kilogram (Wh/kg) and 1000 Watt-hour per liter (Wh/L)—a greater than four times energy density improvement compared to current technologies.

PROPEL-1K Program Graphic_Final

Managed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the selected 12 project teams will work on high-energy storage solutions, capable of catalyzing broad electrification of aviation, railroad and maritime sectors:

  • And Battery Aero (Palo Alto, CA) and its collaborators are developing battery cells, stacks, and systems using fluorinated electrodes to usher in a new type of battery chemistry for aviation applications. The team will focus on enhancing energy density of the cell design through electrode materials optimization and electrolyte formulation. The proposed approach would also innovate battery pack design to reduce energy density penalty due to packaging. (Award amount: $983,445)

  • Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA) is working on an aluminum air energy storage and power generation system to provide a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution for powering heavy-duty transportation. The technology’s novelty lies in its ability to facilitate aluminum combustion, resulting in the production of hydrogen that powers a solid-oxide fuel cell. The heat and electricity generated by this process are subsequently utilized for propulsion. The system utilizes a platform that separates energy and power, allowing for swappable energy boxes or pumpable fuel, that can be rapidly and seamlessly charged and discharged mechanically from the vehicle. (Award amount: $1,499,375)

  • Georgia Tech Research Corporation (Atlanta, GA) will advance an alkali hydroxide triple phase flow battery (3PFB) to enable reversible operation of ultrahigh energy density battery chemistries. The approach takes inspiration from fuel injectors in internal combustion engines and from conventional flow batteries. The proposed design leverages innovative pumping and handling of molten alkali metal and hydroxide species to maximize the volume of reactants over inactive components and thus increase energy density. (Award amount: $1,317,842)

  • Giner (Newton, MA) will package hydrogen in a paste to power fuel cells, eliminating the need for high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks. The power paste—a mix of magnesium and hydrogen stored in a cartridge—would trigger the release of hydrogen gas when water is added. The paste is not flammable or explosive. The team will also update the system’s fuel cell to operate at lower humidity, making the approach more versatile and lower volume, improving the overall energy density of the design. (Award amount: $1,500,000)

  • Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) (Chicago, IL) focuses on a solid-state lithium-air battery that would overcome previous challenges with lithium-air technologies through several key innovations. IIT’s approach features a composite polymer solid-state electrolyte with no liquid component, a cathode module with a highly active catalyst and oxygen uptake ability, advanced air flow, and a new cell architecture. The inexpensive battery materials in IIT’s technology improves supply chain resilience, and the battery could have up to three to four times greater energy density than current lithium-ion batteries. (Award amount: $1,500,000)

  • Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD) will work on a high-energy-density hydrogen carrier using methylcyclohexane to create a fuel cell (FC) system that holds higher mass-specific energy densities than conventional systems. The proposed hydrogen FC uses closed loop cyclic hydrogen carriers. The FC system can also be rapidly (~10 min) replenished via pumping. (Award amount: $625,000)

  • Precision Combustion (North Haven, CT) and its hybrid fuel-cell battery system features an electrochemical wafer that uses liquid hydrogen as fuel to generate energy, coupled with a high-power lithium-ion battery, to enable peak-power operation. The progressive energy storage system hybridizes a highly efficient advanced electrochemical device and a small rechargeable battery and pairs them with a high-energy-density carbon-free fuel. The process intensified architecture has the potential to deliver significantly more power density than other systems in development. (Award amount: $1,221,058)

  • Propel Aero (Ann Arbor, MI) and its “Redox Engine” technology would provide considerable power performance and deliver the energy density required to meet the demands of electric aircraft. The cost of electricity for the technology would be comparable to jet fuel. Given the low cost and high specific energy, the Redox Engine can address electrification of shipping and trains as well. (Award amount: $1,117,000)

  • University of Maryland (College Park, MD) will develop a rechargeable lithium carbon monofluoride cathode chemistry to meet PROPEL-1K technical targets. This new chemistry builds on previous work at UMD on halogen conversion-intercalation chemistry but targets significantly higher energy through active material, electrolyte, and other cell chemistry modifications. The cell is assembled in the discharged state, significantly lowering cost relative to high-energy Li-metal cells that are built in the charged state (and hence require the use of Li-metal foils). The cell chemistry work will be combined with performance and cost modeling at several scales to demonstrate a path to meet the final system PROPEL-1K targets. (Award amount: $1,483,595)

  • Washington State University (Pullman, WA) and its modular energy system combines ceramic fuel cell technology with an innovative way to package hydrogen in the liquid form. The approach uses a self-pressurizing heat recovery and hydrogen expander module coupled with a proton conducting ceramic fuel cell. The high-temperature system enables energy recovery and significant weight savings through omission of radiative heat exchangers used for cooling. (Award amount: $803,945)

  • Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, MO) will use a Li-Air battery with ionic liquids to deliver efficient, reliable, and durable performance for high-energy and high-power applications. The proposed Li-Air flow battery would feature circulating ionic liquid saturated with oxygen to overcome critical challenges to Li-Air battery development, including achieving power rate capability and specific energy targets. The team will synthesize ionic liquids with high oxygen solubility, low viscosity, ultra-low volatility, and high ionic conductivity. Preliminary experimental results have demonstrated a tenfold increase in capacity using a circulating electrolyte. (Award amount: $1,499,985)

  • Wright Electric (Malta, NY) and Columbia University are developing an aluminum-air flow battery that has swappable aluminum anodes that allow for mechanical recharging. Aluminum air chemistry can achieve high energy density but historically has encountered issues with rechargeability and clogging from reaction products. To overcome these barriers, Wright Electric uses a 3D design instead of a 2D planar chemistry to improve the contact between anode and cathode. The system also circulates the electrolyte, preventing the accumulation of reaction products within the cell structure to remedy limitations of static aluminum-air batteries. (Award amount: $1,499,098)

These selections represent the first phase of an expected two-phase program. Phase 1 is expected to be completed in 18 months following contract completion. If successful, PROPEL-1K technologies will electrify regional flights traveling as far as 1,000 miles with up to 100 people, all North American railroads, and all vessels operating exclusively in US territorial waters.


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