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Announcing an ARPA-E First: OPEN+

On November 15, ARPA-E announced its newest family of projects as part of the OPEN 2018 program, providing $98 million in support for 40 early-stage energy technologies. In that announcement, we not-so-subtly hinted we were just getting started.

Today, we are delighted to announce, for the first time ever, a selection of mini-programs we’re calling OPEN+. We call these mini-programs “cohorts,” and they are inspired by the high quality applications we received for our OPEN 2018 solicitation. This first cohort will provide $12 million for five projects to use new materials and methods to overcome challenges in harnessing nuclear power.

Hold up, What is OPEN+?

With OPEN 2018, we invited innovators to send us their ideas for disruptive new technologies across the full spectrum of energy applications. The community responded in force, and we received a record number of high-quality ideas. While evaluating the thousands of concepts papers submitted, we started to notice a few themes emerging around specific technology challenges. The OPEN+ cohorts unite these similarly-themed projects. ARPA-E plans to announce a total of 9 OPEN+ cohorts throughout late 2018 and early 2019.

The Best of Both Worlds: OPEN and Focused Programs

Like our traditional OPEN solicitation, OPEN+ is the result of an open call for technologies across the entire scope of ARPA-E’s energy mission. Grouping projects into cohorts creates a collaborative community around each subject area, similar to ARPA-E’s focused programs.

By combining the inspiring work from our OPEN applicants with the focus of our technology-specific programs, OPEN+ will further empower ARPA-E to fulfill its role of accelerating energy innovation for a more secure, affordable, and sustainable American energy future.

The First OPEN+ Cohort

The OPEN+ Nuclear cohort seeks to tackle nuclear reactor construction and cost constraints through advanced materials design.

Each of the nine OPEN+ cohorts addresses a different energy challenge. The first confronts materials challenges in nuclear power. In 2017, the United States generated 805 million MWh of nuclear energy, accounting for one fifth of the country’s generated electricity.[i] Nuclear energy has the potential to serve as a reliable, low-emission power source. The difficulty is that operation and maintenance costs for existing nuclear power plants are high, and the path to the next generation of reactors is long and costly.[ii] To ensure nuclear power is a reliable, safe, and efficient energy source for America’s future, something needs to change – cue the need for innovation. For example…

  • Los Alamos National Laboratory will develop a scalable, compact, high-temperature, heat pipe reactor (HPR) to provide heat and electricity to remote areas. Their novel design could eliminate obstacles to nuclear deployment, including cost uncertainty and hybrid integration.
  • The University of Wisconsin-Madison is developing new materials that are resistant to molten salt corrosion to enable promising molten salt technologies used in advanced nuclear reactors, concentrated solar power, and thermal storage.

You can find the complete list of OPEN+ Nuclear projects here.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for the next OPEN+ cohorts.


[i] U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Nuclear Energy Overview (1957-2015), http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec8.pdf

[ii] Nuclear Energy Institute. Nuclear Costs in Context. April 2016.