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OPEN 2009

Open Funding Solicitation

In 2009, ARPA-E issued an open call for the most revolutionary energy technologies to form the agency's inaugural program. The first open solicitation was open to ideas from all energy areas and focused on funding projects already equipped with strong research and development plans for their potentially high-impact technologies. The projects chosen received a level of financial support that could accelerate technical progress and catalyze additional investment from the private sector. After only 2 months, ARPA-E's investment in these projects catalyzed an additional $33 million in investments. In response to ARPA-E's first open solicitation, more than 3,700 concept papers flooded into the new agency, which were thoroughly reviewed by a team of 500 scientists and engineers in just 6 months. In the end, 36 projects were selected as ARPA-E's first award recipients, receiving $176 million in federal funding.
 For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

1366 Technologies, Inc.

Direct Wafer: Enabling Terawatt Photovoltaics

1366 Technologies is developing a process to reduce the cost of solar electricity by up to 50% by 2020--from $0.15 per kilowatt hour to less than $0.07. 1366's process avoids the costly step of slicing a large block of silicon crystal into wafers, which turns half the silicon to dust. Instead, the company is producing thin wafers directly from molten silicon at industry-standard sizes, and with efficiencies that compare favorably with today's state-of-the-art technologies. 1366's wafers could directly replace wafers currently on the market, so there would be no interruptions to the delivery of these products to market. As a result of 1366's technology, the cost of silicon wafers could be reduced by 80%.


Conditionally Activated Enzymes Expressed in Cellulosic Energy Crops

Enzymes are required to break plant biomass down into the fermentable sugars that are used to create biofuel. Currently, costly enzymes must be added to the biofuel production process. Engineering crops to already contain these enzymes will reduce costs and produce biomass that is more easily digested. In fact, enzyme costs alone account for $0.50-$0.75/gallon of the cost of a biomass-derived biofuel like ethanol. Agrivida is genetically engineering plants to contain high concentrations of enzymes that break down cell walls. These enzymes can be "switched on" after harvest so they won't damage the plant while it's growing.

Algaeventure Systems

Scaling and Commercialization of Algae Harvesting Technologies

Led by CEO Ross Youngs, Algaeventure Systems (AVS) has patented a cost-effective dewatering technology that separates micro-solids (algae) from water. Separating micro-solids from water traditionally requires a centrifuge, which uses significant energy to spin the water mass and force materials of different densities to separate from one another. In a comparative analysis, dewatering 1 ton of algae in a centrifuge costs around $3,400. AVS's Solid-Liquid Separation (SLS) system is less energy-intensive and less expensive, costing $1.92 to process 1 ton of algae. The SLS technology uses capillary dewatering with filter media to gently facilitate water separation, leaving behind dewatered algae which can then be used as a source for biofuels and bio-products. The biomimicry of the SLS technology emulates the way plants absorb and spread water to their capillaries.

Arizona State University

Sustainable, High-Energy Density, Low-Cost Electrochemical Energy Storage - Metal-Air Ionic Liquid (MAIL) Batteries

Arizona State University (ASU) is developing a new class of metal-air batteries. Metal-air batteries are promising for future generations of EVs because they use oxygen from the air as one of the battery's main reactants, reducing the weight of the battery and freeing up more space to devote to energy storage than Li-Ion batteries. ASU technology uses Zinc as the active metal in the battery because it is more abundant and affordable than imported lithium. Metal-air batteries have long been considered impractical for EV applications because the water-based electrolytes inside would decompose the battery interior after just a few uses. Overcoming this traditional limitation, ASU's new battery system could be both cheaper and safer than today's Li-Ion batteries, store from 4-5 times more energy, and be recharged over 2,500 times.

Arizona State University

Cyanobacteria Designed for Solar-Powered Highly Efficient Production of Biofuels

Arizona State University (ASU) is engineering a type of photosynthetic bacteria that efficiently produce fatty acids--a fuel precursor for biofuels. This type of bacteria, called Synechocystis, is already good at converting solar energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) into a type of fatty acid called lauric acid. ASU has modified the organism so it continuously converts sunlight and CO2 into fatty acids--overriding its natural tendency to use solar energy solely for cell growth and maximizing the solar-to-fuel conversion process. ASU's approach is different because most biofuels research focuses on increasing cellular biomass and not on excreting fatty acids. The project has also identified a unique way to convert the harvested lauric acid into a fuel that can be easily blended with existing transportation fuels.

Bio Architecture Lab

Macroalgae Butanol

E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (DuPont) and Bio Architecture Lab are exploring the commercial viability of producing fuel-grade isobutanol from macroalgae (seaweed). Making macroalgae an attractive substrate for biofuel applications however, will require continued technology development. Assuming these developments are successful, initial assessments suggest macroalgae aquafarming in our oceans has the potential to produce a feedstock with cost in the same range as terrestrial-based substrates (crop residuals, energy crops) and may be the feedstock of choice in some locations. The use of macroalgae also diversifies the sources of U.S. biomass in order to provide more options in meeting demand for biofuels. The process being developed will use a robust industrial biocatalyst (microorganism) capable of converting macroalgal-derived sugars directly into isobutanol. Biobutanol is an advanced biofuel with significant advantages over ethanol, including higher energy content, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and the ability to be blended in gasoline at higher levels than ethanol without changes to existing automobiles or the fuel industry infrastructure. Butamax is currently commercializing DuPont's biobutanol fermentation technology that uses sugar and starch feedstocks.

Ceres, Inc.

High Biomass, Low Input Dedicated Energy Crops to Enable a Full Scale Bioenergy Industry

Ceres is developing bigger and better grasses for use in biofuels. The bigger the grass yield, the more biomass, and more biomass means more biofuel per acre. Using biotechnology, Ceres is developing grasses that will grow bigger with less fertilizer than current grass varieties. Hardier, higher-yielding grass also requires less land to grow and can be planted in areas where other crops can't grow instead of in prime agricultural land. Ceres is conducting multi-year trials in Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia which have already resulted in grass yields with as much as 50% more biomass than yields from current grass varieties.

Delphi Automotive Systems, LLC

Gallium-Nitride Advanced Power Semiconductor and Packaging

Delphi Automotive Systems is developing power converters that are smaller and more energy efficient, reliable, and cost-effective than current power converters. Power converters rely on power transistors which act like a very precisely controlled on-off switch, controlling the electrical energy flowing through an electrical circuit. Most power transistors today use silicon (Si) semiconductors. However, Delphi is using semiconductors made with a thin layer of gallium-nitride (GaN) applied on top of the more conventional Si material. The GaN layer increases the energy efficiency of the power transistor and also enables the transistor to operate at much higher temperatures, voltages, and power-density levels compared to its Si counterpart. Delphi is packaging these high-performance GaN semiconductors with advanced electrical connections and a cooling system that extracts waste heat from both sides of the device to further increase the device's efficiency and allow more electrical current to flow through it. When combined with other electronic components on a circuit board, Delphi's GaN power transistor package will help improve the overall performance and cost-effectiveness of HEVs and EVs.


Planar Sodium-Beta Batteries for Renewable Integration and Grid Applications

EaglePicher Technologies is developing a sodium-beta alumina (Na-Beta) battery for grid-scale energy storage. High-temperature Na-Beta batteries are a promising grid-scale energy storage technology, but existing approaches are expensive and unreliable. EaglePicher has modified the shape of the traditional, tubular-shaped Na-Beta battery. It is using an inexpensive stacked design to improve performance at lower temperatures, leading to a less expensive overall storage technology. The new design greatly simplifies the manufacturing process for beta alumina membranes (a key enabling technology), providing a subsequent pathway to the production of scalable, modular batteries at half the cost of the existing tubular designs.

Envia Systems

High Energy Density Lithium Batteries

In a battery, metal ions move between the electrodes through the electrolyte in order to store energy. Envia Systems is developing new silicon-based negative electrode materials for Li-Ion batteries. Using this technology, Envia will be able to produce commercial EV batteries that outperform today's technology by 2-3 times. Many other programs have attempted to make anode materials based on silicon, but have not been able to produce materials that can withstand charge/discharge cycles multiple times. Envia has been able to make this material which can successfully cycle hundreds of times, on a scale that is economically viable. Today, Envia's batteries exhibit world-record energy densities.

Exelus, Inc.

Upgrading Refinery Off-Gas to High-Octane Alkylate

Exelus is developing a method to convert olefins from oil refinery exhaust gas into alkylate, a clean-burning, high-octane component of gasoline. Traditionally, olefins must be separated from exhaust before they can be converted into another source of useful fuel. Exelus' process uses catalysts that convert the olefin to alkylate without first separating it from the exhaust. The ability to turn up to 50% of exhaust directly into gasoline blends could result in an additional 46 million gallons of gasoline in the U.S. each year.

FastCAP Systems Corp.

Low-Cost, High Energy and Power Density, Nanotube-Enhanced Ultracapacitors

FastCAP Systems is improving the performance of an ultracapacitor--a battery-like electronic device that can complement, and possibly even replace, an HEV or EV battery pack. Ultracapacitors have many advantages over conventional batteries, including long lifespans (over 1 million cycles, as compared to 10,000 for conventional batteries) and better durability. Ultracapacitors also charge more quickly than conventional batteries, and they release energy more quickly. However, ultracapacitors have fallen short of batteries in one key metric: energy density--high energy density means more energy storage. FastCAP is redesigning the ultracapacitor's internal structure to increase its energy density. Ultracapacitors traditionally use electrodes made of irregularly shaped, porous carbon. FastCAP's ultracapacitors are made of tiny, aligned carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes provide a regular path for ions moving in and out of the ultracapacitor's electrode, increasing the overall efficiency and energy density of the device.

FloDesign Wind Turbine Corp.

Breakthrough High-Efficiency Shrouded Wind Turbine

FloDesign's innovative wind turbine, inspired by the design of jet engines, could deliver 300% more power than existing wind turbines of the same rotor diameter by extracting more energy over a larger area. FloDesign's unique shrouded design expands the wind capture area, and the mixing vortex downstream allows more energy to flow through the rotor without stalling the turbine. The unique rotor and shrouded design also provide significant opportunity for mass production and simplified assembly, enabling mid-scale turbines (approximately 100 kW) to produce power at a cost that is comparable to larger-scale conventional turbines.

Foro Energy, Inc.

Low-Contact Drilling Technology to Enable Economical EGS Wells

Foro Energy is developing a unique capability and hardware system to transmit high power lasers over long distances via fiber optic cables. This laser power is integrated with a mechanical drilling bit to enable rapid and sustained penetration of hard rock formations too costly to drill with mechanical drilling bits alone. The laser energy that is directed at the rock basically softens the rock, allowing the mechanical bit to more easily remove it. Foro Energy's laser-assisted drill bits have the potential to be up to 10 times more economical than conventional hard-rock drilling technologies, making them an effective way to access the U.S. energy resources currently locked under hard rock formations.

General Electric

Transformational Nanostructured Permanent Magnets

General Electric (GE) Global Research is using nanomaterials technology to develop advanced magnets that contain fewer rare earth materials than their predecessors. Nanomaterials technology involves manipulating matter at the atomic or molecular scale, which can represent a stumbling block for magnets because it is difficult to create a finely grained magnet at that scale. GE is developing bulk magnets with finely tuned structures using iron-based mixtures that contain 80% less rare earth materials than traditional magnets, which will reduce their overall cost. These magnets will enable further commercialization of HEVs, EVs, and wind turbine generators while enhancing U.S. competitiveness in industries that heavily utilize these alternatives to rare earth minerals.

General Motors

Lightweight Thermal Energy Recovery (LIGHTER) System

General Motors (GM) is using shape memory alloys that require as little as a 10°C temperature difference to convert low-grade waste heat into mechanical energy. When a stretched wire made of shape memory alloy is heated, it shrinks back to its pre-stretched length. When the wire cools back down, it becomes more pliable and can revert to its original stretched shape. This expansion and contraction can be used directly as mechanical energy output or used to drive an electric generator. Shape memory alloy heat engines have been around for decades, but the few devices that engineers have built were too complex, required fluid baths, and had insufficient cycle life for practical use. GM is working to create a prototype that is practical for commercial applications and capable of operating with either air- or fluid-based heat sources. GM's shape memory alloy based heat engine is also designed for use in a variety of non-vehicle applications. For example, it can be used to harvest non-vehicle heat sources, such as domestic and industrial waste heat and natural geothermal heat, and in HVAC systems and generators.

Inorganic Specialists, Inc.

Silicon-Coated Nanofiber Paper as a Lithium-Ion Anode

Inorganic Specialists' project consists of material and manufacturing development for a new type of Li-Ion battery material, a silicon-coated paper. Silicon-based batteries are advantageous due to silicon's ability to store large amounts of energy. Yet, the technology has not been able to withstand multiple charge/discharge cycles. The thinner the silicon-based material, the better it can handle multiple charge/discharge cycles. Inorganic Specialists' extremely thin silicon-coated paper can store 4 times more energy than existing Li-Ion batteries. The team is improving manufacturing capability in two key areas: 1) expanding existing papermaking equipment to continuously produce the silicon-coated paper, and 2) creating machinery that will silicon-coat the paper via a moving process, to demonstrate manufacturing feasibility. These manufacturing improvements could meet the energy storage criteria required for multiple charge/discharge cycles. Inorganic Specialists' silicon-coated paper's properties have the potential to make it a practical, cost-effective transformative Li-Ion battery material.

Iowa State University

A Genetically Tractable Microalgal Platform for Advanced Biofuel Production

Iowa State University (ISU) is genetically engineering a species of aquatic microalgae called Chlamydomonas for more energy efficient conversion of sunlight and carbon dioxide to biofuels. Current microalgae genetic technologies are imprecise and hinder the rapid engineering of a variety of desirable traits into Chlamydomonas. In the absence of genetic engineering, it remains unlikely that current microalgae technologies for biofuel production will be able to economically compete with traditional fossil fuels. ISU is developing a portfolio of technologies for rapid genetic modification and breeding that will enable greater flexibility for genetic modification on a routine basis. The ISU project will optimize microalgae breeding and genetic engineering to develop efficient, large-scale industrial biofuel production.

ITN Energy Systems, Inc.

Low-Cost Electrochromic Film on Plastic for Net-Zero Energy Building

ITN Energy Systems is addressing the high cost of electrochromic windows with a new manufacturing process: roll-to-roll deposition of the film onto flexible plastic surfaces. Production of electrochromic films on plastic requires low processing temperatures and uniform film quality over large surface areas. ITN is overcoming these challenges using its previous experience in growing flexible thin-film solar cells and batteries. By developing sensor-based controls, ITN's roll-to-roll manufacturing process yields more film over a larger area than traditional film deposition methods. Evaluating deposition processes from a control standpoint ultimately strengthens the ability for ITN to handle unanticipated deviations quickly and efficiently, enabling more consistent large-volume production. The team is currently moving from small-scale prototypes into pilot-scale production to validate roll-to-roll manufacturability and produce scaled prototypes that can be proven in simulated operating conditions. Electrochromic plastic films could also open new markets in building retrofit applications, vastly expanding the potential energy savings.


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