Apparently the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) well full of billions of dollars for renewable energy projects hasn’t quite run dry. A statement released by the DOE announced a fourth round of funding from Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) totaling around $130 million dollars. The funds are destined for five new programs that the DOE hopes will bring about breakthrough technologies it deems critical for its long term vision of securing the nation’s energy future.
So far, six of ARPA-E’s projects have managed to secure about $100 million in outside private capital investment, a fact the DOE hopes is an indication that investors are ready to put funds toward more innovative energy solutions. In its first year, ARPA-E awarded $363 million in Recovery Act funding to 121 energy projects based in 30 states. About 39% of those projects are led by universities, 33% by small businesses, 20% by large businesses, 5% by national labs, and 3% by non-profits. ARPA-E is also furthering its efforts through academic fellowship funding.
ARPA-E has previously funded seven programs which are already in progress. Those projects include power electronics (ADEPT), battery technologies (BEEST), building cooling (BEETIT), non-photosynthetic biofuels (Electrofuels), grid energy storage (GRIDS), carbon capture (IMPACCT), and its initial open solicitation. The most recent announcement of $130 million will go toward the following five new projects:
1. Plants Engineered To Replace Oil (PETRO). Up to $30 million will be made available to programs that create plants that can capture more energy from the sun and convert it directly into fuels. ARPA-E will fund technologies that “optimize” the biochemical process of energy capture and conversion. They are looking for robust, farm-ready crops that deliver more energy per acre and require the least amount of processing as possible between the field and the pump. Ideally, PETRO would produce biofuels at half their current cost, which would make them competitive with oil-based fuels.
2. High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage (HEATS). Up to $30 million will be made available for programs that develop cost-effective thermal energy storage technologies in three focus areas: 1) high temperature storage systems to deliver solar electricity more efficiently around the clock and allow nuclear and fossil baseload resources the flexibility to meet peak demand, 2) fuel produced from the sun’s heat, and 3) HVAC systems that use thermal storage to improve the driving range of electric vehicles by up to 40 percent.
3. Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies (REACT). Rare earths are naturally-occurring minerals with unique magnetic properties that are used in many new energy technologies. The problem with rare earths is their rareness. As demand for the technologies that use rare earths goes up, so do prices on rare earths. These high costs threaten to end many of the projects that rely on rare earth materials. ARPA-E wants to fund early-stage technology alternatives that reduce or eliminate the dependence on rare earth materials by developing substitutes in two key areas: electric vehicle motors and wind generators. Up to $30 million will be made available for this program area as well.
4. Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI). ARPA-E seeks to fund innovative control software and high-voltage hardware to reliably control the grid, specifically: 1) controls able to manage 10 times more sporadically available wind and solar electricity than currently on the grid, and 2) resilient power flow control hardware – or the energy equivalent of an internet router – to enable significantly more electricity through the existing network of transmission lines. Up to $30 million will be made available for this program area.
5. Solar Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (Solar ADEPT). Solar ADEPT program focuses on integrating advanced power electronics into solar panels and solar farms to extract and deliver energy more efficiently. Specifically, ARPA-E aims to invest in key advances in magnetics, semiconductor switches, and charge storage, which could reduce power conversion costs by up to 50 percent for utilities and 80 percent for homeowners. Up to $10 million will be made available for this program area.