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Turning Ideas Into Reality - Projects in Progress VI

ARPA-E focuses on next-generation energy innovation to create a sustainable energy future. The agency provides R&D support to businesses, universities, and national labs to develop technologies that could fundamentally change the way we access, use, and store energy. Since 2009, ARPA-E has provided approximately $2 billion in support to more than 800 energy technology projects.

In January, we introduced a new series to highlight the transformational technology our project teams are developing across the energy portfolio. Part of ARPA-E’s mission is to overcome long-term and high-risk technological barriers in the development of energy technologies that reduce imports, improve efficiency, and reduce emissions. The Rebellion Photonics and University of Notre Dame projects focus on the latter piece of the mission, working to turn emissions reduction ideas into reality.

Rebellion Photonics Detects and Analyzes Methane Leaks on the Go 

The United States leads the world in natural gas production, but an average of about 2% of natural gas is emitted inadvertently, primarily methane. Rebellion Photonics, Inc. is developing portable methane gas cloud imagers (GCIs) that can wirelessly transmit real-time data to a cloud-based computing service. These imagers enable quick detection and leak analysis, and keep workers safe. 

The intelligent monitoring system incorporates a sophisticated AI-driven software platform that automatically alerts plant operators if a gas leak, fire, or security issue is detected, and provides detailed analytics. This technology allows data on the concentration, leak rate, location, and total emissions of methane to be streamed to a mobile device, like an iPad, smartphone, or Google Glass. The data enables workers to prioritize which issue to fix first. The infrared imaging spectrometers leverage snapshot spectral imaging technology to provide multiple bands of spectral information for each pixel in the image. This system could enable significant reduction in the cost associated with identifying, quantifying, and locating gas cloud imager methane leaks, as compared to currently available technologies. 

In December 2019, Honeywell acquired Rebellion Photonics. The acquisition will become part of Honeywell’s Safety and Productivity Solutions business, which provides a wide range of gas detection technologies, safety gear, mobility solutions and software to help workers stay safe and productive. Rebellion’s technology will also be deployed through Honeywell’s Performance Materials and Technologies business to help process manufacturing customers improve safety and compliance.


Under this project, Rebellion has miniaturized their gas cloud imager – the GCI (left). The three sizes include the GCI, the mini-GCI, and an even smaller goGCI which will be battery powered and will include embedded gas detection analytics.

Phase-Changing Ionic Liquids Capture Carbon

Another important source of power in the United States is coal. While coal is a cheap and abundant natural resource, its continued use contributes to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere. Capturing and storing this CO2 would reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels while enabling power plants to continue using inexpensive coal. The problem is that carbon capture and storage (CCS) represents a significant cost to power plants that must retrofit their existing facilities to accommodate new technologies.

Under its ARPA-E award, the University of Notre Dame developed a new CO2 capture process that uses special ionic liquids (ILs) to remove CO2 from the gas exhaust of coal-fired power plants. ILs are salts that are normally liquid at room temperature, but Notre Dame has discovered a new class of ILs that are solid at room temperature and change to liquid when they bind to CO2. Upon heating, the CO2 is released for storage, and the ILs re-solidify and donate some of the heat generated in the process to facilitate further CO2 release. These new ILs can reduce the energy required to capture CO2 from the exhaust stream of a coal-fired power plant when compared to state-of-the-art technology.

After completing its award, the University of Notre Dame, in collaboration with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (a fellow IMPACCT awardee), received a National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) award to test the use of hybrid encapsulated ILs and phase change ionic liquid (PCIL) materials for post-combustion CCS. The University of Notre Dame’s research also produced a spin out company called Ionic Liquid Solutions, LLC. Ionic Liquid Solutions is developing its patented ionic liquid chemistry for the electroplating and refrigeration industries. The company was recently acquired by Middleburg Capital Development, a private equity investment firm.

In addition to improving efficiency in their perspective fields, both the Rebellion and University of Notre Dame teams are working to reduce energy related emissions. ARPA-E continues to drive innovation to reduce and combat energy related emissions through additional funding opportunities and programs. Currently open for applications, ARPA-E’s funding opportunity titled the “Solicitation on Topics Informing New Program Areas” includes two topics on “Direct Removal of Carbon Dioxide from Oceanwater” and the “Direct Removal of Carbon Dioxide from Ambient Air.” Learn more and apply on ARPA-E’s funding portal, ARPA-E eXCHANGE. Full applications are due July 22, 2020.