ARPA-E, or Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy is a United States government agency tasked with promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. ARPA-E awardees are unique because they are developing entirely new ways to generate, store, and use energy. It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Congress established the agency with a mission “to overcome the long-term and high-risk technological barriers in the development of energy technologies,” and specific goals to
ARPA-E Mission is to enhance the economic and energy security of the United States through the development of energy technologies that result in—
reductions of imports of energy from foreign sources;
reductions of energy-related emissions, including greenhouse gases; and
improvement in the energy efficiency of all economic sectors; and
ensure that the United States maintains a technological lead in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies.”
ARPA-E shall achieve its goals through energy technology projects by doing the following:
- Identifying and promoting revolutionary advances in fundamental and applied sciences;
- Translating scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations; and
- Accelerating transformational technological advances in areas that industry by itself is not likely to undertake because of technical and financial uncertainty.
ARPA-E funds a wide range of individual technology projects. Typically, these projects are organized into focused technology programs that revolve around a common technical area. All ARPA-E programs and projects are created through a process of rigorous debate over the technical and scientific merits and challenges of potential research areas. ARPA-E Program Directors are constantly exploring potential topics for future program areas.
ARPA-E also issues periodic open funding solicitations for a broader range of projects that do not fall into a single technical area to address the full range of energy-related technologies, as well as targeted funding solicitations aimed at supporting America’s small business innovators.
Funding and awards
ARPA-E has generated over 1,000 projects since inception, attracted about $4.9 billion in private investment for 179 of these projects, with $2.6 billion invested in R&D by the US government. Published, peer reviewed research articles are also a significant output, totaling 4,614. In addition, the program has generated 716 patents.
First funding opportunity
The U.S. Department of Energy and ARPA-E awarded $151 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds on October 26, 2009 for 37 energy research projects. It supported renewable energy technologies for solar cells, wind turbines, geothermal drilling, biofuels, and biomass energy crops. The grants also supported energy efficiency technologies, including power electronics and engine-generators for advanced vehicles, devices for waste heat recovery, smart glass and control systems for smart buildings, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), reverse-osmosis membranes for water desalination, catalysts to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, improved fuel cell membranes, and more energy-dense magnetic materials for electronic components.
Six grants went to energy storage technologies, including an ultracapacitor, improved lithium-ion batteries, metal-air batteries that use ionic liquids, liquid sodium batteries, and liquid metal batteries. Other awards went to projects that conducted research and development on a bioreactor with potential to produce gasoline directly from sunlight and carbon dioxide, and crystal growth technology to lower the cost of light emitting diodes.
Second funding opportunity
The U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced a second round of ARPA-E funding opportunities on December 7, 2009. ARPA-E solicited projects that focused on three critical areas: Biofuels from Electricity (Electrofuels), Batteries for Electrical Energy Storage in Transportation (BEEST), and Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies (IMPACCT). On April 29, 2010, Vice President Biden announced the 37 awardees that ARPA-E had selected from over 540 initial concept papers. The awards ranged from around $500,000 to $6 million and involved a variety of national laboratories, universities, and companies.
Unlike the First Funding Opportunity, the Second Funding Opportunity designated project submissions by category. Of the selected projects, 14 focused on IMPAACT, 13 focused on Electrofuels, and 10 focused on BEEST. For example, Harvard Medical School submitted a project under Electrofuels entitled “Engineering a Bacterial Reverse Fuel Cell,” which focuses on development of a bacterium that can convert carbon dioxide into gasoline. MIT received an award under BEEST for a proposal entitled “Semi-Solid Rechargeable Fuel Battery,” a concept for producing lighter, smaller, and cheaper vehicle batteries. IMPAACT projects included the GE Global Research Center’s “CO2 Capture Process Using Phase-Changing Absorbents,” which focuses on a liquid that turns solid when exposed to carbon dioxide.
Third funding opportunity
On March 2, 2010, at the inaugural ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a third funding opportunity for ARPA-E projects. Like the second funding opportunity, ARPA-E solicited projects by category: Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS), Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT), and Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT).
GRIDS welcomed projects that focused on widespread deployment of cost-effective grid-scale energy storage in two specific areas: 1) proof of concept storage component projects focused on validating new, over-the-horizon electrical energy storage concepts, and 2) advanced system prototypes that address critical shortcomings of existing grid-scale energy storage technologies. ADEPT focused on investing in materials for fundamental advances in soft magnetics, high voltage switches, and reliable, high-density charge storage in three categories: 1) fully integrated, chip-scale power converters for applications including, but not limited to, compact, efficient drivers for solid-state lighting, distributed micro-inverters for photovoltaics, and single-chip power supplies for computers, 2) kilowatt scale package integrated power converters by enabling applications such as low-cost, efficient inverters for grid-tied photovoltaics and variable speed motors, and 3) lightweight, solid-state, medium voltage energy conversion for high power applications such as solid-state electrical substations and wind turbine generators. BEET-IT solicited projects regarding energy efficient cooling technologies and air conditioners (AC) for buildings to save energy and reduce GHG emissions in the following areas: 1) cooling systems that use refrigerants with low global warming potential; 2) energy efficient air conditioning (AC) systems for warm and humid climates with an increased coefficient of performance (COP); and 3) vapor compression AC systems for hot climates for re-circulating air loads with an increased COP.
Secretary Chu announced the selection of 43 projects under GRIDS, ADEPT, and BEET-IT on July 12, 2010. The awards totaled $92 million and ranged from $400,000 to $5 million. The awards included 14 projects in ADEPT, 17 projects in BEET-IT, and 12 projects in GRIDS. Examples of awarded projects include a “Soluble Acid Lead Flow Battery” that pumps chemicals through a battery cell when electricity is needed (GRIDS), “Silicon Carbide Power Modules for Grid Scale Power Conversion” that uses advanced transistors to make the electrical grid more flexible and controllable (ADEPT), and an “Absorption-Osmosis Cooling Cycle,” a new air conditioning system that uses water as a refrigerant, rather than chemicals (BEET-IT).
Fourth funding opportunity
ARPA-E’s fourth round of funding was announced on April 20, 2011 and awarded projects in five technology areas: Plants Engineered To Replace Oil (PETRO), High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage (HEATS), Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies (REACT), Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI), and Solar Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (Solar ADEPT). PETRO focused on projects that had systems to create biofuels from domestic sources such as tobacco and pine trees for half their current cost. REACT funded early-stage technology alternatives that reduced or eliminated the dependence on rare earth materials by developing substitutes in two key areas: electric vehicle motors and wind generators. HEATS funded projects that promoted advancement in thermal energy storage technology. GENI focused on funding software and hardware that could reliably control the grid network. Solar ADEPT accepted projects that integrated power electronics into solar panels and solar farms to extract and deliver energy more efficiently.
The Awardees for the fourth funding opportunity were announced on September 29, 2011. The 60 projects received $156 million from the ARPA-E Fiscal Year 2011 budget. Examples of the awarded projects included a project that increases the production of turpentine, a natural liquid biofuel (PETRO); a project entitled “Manganese-Based Permanent Magnet,” that reduces the cost of wind turbines and electric vehicles by developing a replacement for rare earth magnets based on an innovative composite using manganese materia (REACT); a project entitled “HybriSol,” that develops a heat battery to store energy from the sun (HEATS); a project that develops a new system that allows real-time, automated control over the transmission lines that make up the electric power grid (GENI); and a project that develops light-weight electronics to connect to photovoltaic solar panels to be installed on walls or rooftops.
U.S. Department of Energy Announced $175 Million for Novel Clean Energy Technology Projects in Feb 2022
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced $175 million for 68 research and development projects aimed at developing disruptive technologies to strengthen the nation’s advanced energy enterprise. 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 to clean energy challenges. 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. These investments support President Biden’s climate goals to increase production of domestic clean energy technology, strengthen the nation’s energy security, and uplift the economy by creating good-paying jobs.
“Universities, companies, and our national labs are doubling down on advancing clean energy technology innovation and manufacturing in America to deliver critical energy solutions from renewables to fusion energy to tackle the climate crisis,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “DOE’s investments show our commitment to empowering innovators to develop bold plans to help America achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, create clean energy, good-paying jobs, and strengthen our energy independence.”
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. Examples of OPEN 2021 project teams include:
Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) will work to electrify the nation’s vehicles by developing more efficient fuel cells that could enable low-cost, high-efficiency options for trucks and SUVs. (Award amount: $3,220,310)
Hinetics (Champaign, Illinois) seeks to electrify aviation with an ultra-compact 10MW+ electrified aircraft propulsion systems through the development of a transformational high-power density electric machine. (Award amount: $5,761,467)
Makai Ocean Engineering (Waimanalo, Hawaii) will develop novel mooring and anchoring methods to enable grid-scale floating wind turbines and hydrokinetic systems in areas otherwise inaccessible or cost-prohibitive. (Award amount: $849,951)
Nokia Bell Labs (Murray Hill, New Jersey) is developing a highly efficient thermal energy architecture that will deliver a significant reduction in data server cooling energy as well as deliver both heating and cooling to buildings. (Award amount: $2,106,380)
The University of Houston (Houston, Texas) seeks to create a quick-charging transportation solution using magnesium anodes, instead of lithium, to enhance U.S. battery supply chain security. (Award amount: $3,400,000)
For the full selectee list and more detailed project descriptions, visit the ARPA-E OPEN 2021 webpage.
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 over $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. Two examples of earlier awardees are Soraa, a world leader in more efficient lighting technology, and Sunfolding, a company facilitating cost and performance breakthroughs for stakeholders across the solar energy industry.
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