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ARPA-E Puts Another $100 Million on the Table

7 December 2009 12:28 pm
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The Department of Energy's new research agency is offering $100 million for the best ideas in the fields of electrofuels, carbon-capture technologies, and high-density battery storage. This is the second competition held by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), created in 2007.

The first competition, which resulted in 37 awards worth $151 million, was vastly oversubscribed, and DOE officials expect a similar response to today's announcement. It's the second slice of funding made possible by a $400 million appropriation given ARPA-E earlier this year in the $787 billion stimulus package.

A DOE press release describes the research areas as:

Electrofuels. ARPA-E is seeking new ways to make liquid transportation fuels - without using petroleum or biomass - by using microorganisms to harness chemical or electrical energy to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels. Many methods of producing advanced and cellulosic biofuels are under development to lessen our dependence on petroleum and lower carbon emissions. Most of the methods currently under development involve converting biomass or waste, while there are also approaches to directly produce liquid transportation fuels from sunlight and carbon dioxide, typically using photosynthesis. The objective of this topic is to develop an entirely new paradigm for the production of liquid fuels that could overcome the challenges associated with current technologies. Although photosynthetic routes show promise, overall efficiencies remain low. ARPA-E requests innovative proposals which can overcome these challenges through the utilization of metabolic engineering and synthetic biological approaches for the efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to liquid transportation fuels. ARPA-E specifically seeks the development of organisms capable of extracting energy from hydrogen, from reduced earth-abundant metal ions, from robust, inexpensive, readily available organic redox active species, or directly from electric current.  Theoretically such an approach could be 10 times more efficient than current photosynthetic-biomass approaches to liquid fuel production.

Innovative Materials & Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies (IMPACCT). Coal-fired power plants currently generate approximately 50% of the electricity in the United States. While coal is a cheap and abundant resource, the continued reliance upon coal as an energy source could potentially have serious consequences in terms of global warming. The objective of this topic is to fund high risk, high reward research efforts that will revolutionize technologies that capture carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, thereby preventing release into the atmosphere. ARPA-E seeks to complement existing DOE efforts in the field of carbon capture, led by the Office of Fossil Energy and National Energy Technology Laboratory, by accelerating promising ideas from the basic research stage towards large-scale demonstrations and ultimately, commercialization. Areas of interest include: low-cost catalysts to enable systems with superior thermodynamics that are not currently practical due to slow kinetics; robust materials that resist degradation from caustic contaminants in flue gas; and advanced capture processes that dramatically reduce the parasitic energy penalties and corresponding increase in the cost of electricity required for carbon capture.

Batteries for Electrical Energy Storage in Transportation (BEEST). In this topic, ARPA-E seeks to develop a new generation of ultra-high energy density, low-cost battery technologies for long electric range plug in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles (EVs). The development of high energy, low cost batteries represents the critical barrier to wide-spread deployment of EVs, which if achieved would have a profound impact on U.S. oil security, greenhouse gas emissions, and economic growth. The ambitious goals for this program are largely based upon the aggressive long term EV battery goals set forth by the United States Automotive Battery Consortium, a public-private collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and leading U.S. automotive companies. If successful, new battery technologies developed under this program will give electrified light-duty vehicles range, performance, lifetime, and cost required to shift transportation energy from oil to the domestically powered U.S. electric grid. ARPA-E's objective is to fund high-risk, high reward research efforts that will promote leadership in this emerging EV battery market.