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OPEN 2012

University of Southern California

An Inexpensive Metal-free Organic Redox Flow Battery for Grid-scale Storage

University of Southern California (USC) is developing a water-based, metal-free, grid-scale flow battery that will be cheaper and more rapidly produced than other batteries. Flow batteries store chemical energy in external tanks instead of within the battery container. This allows for cost-effective scalability because adding storage capacity is as simple as expanding the tank. Batteries for grid-scale energy storage must be inexpensive, robust, and sustainable--many of today's mature battery technologies do not meet all these requirements. Using innovative designs and extremely low-cost organic materials, USC's new flow battery has the potential to reduce cost, increase durability, and store increased amounts of excess energy, thereby promoting greater renewable energy deployment.

University of Tennessee

Development of a Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) Transformable Cell Suspension Culture and Screening System for Rapid Assessment of Cell Wall Genes for Improved Biomass for Biofuels

The University of Tennessee (UT) is developing technology to rapidly screen the genetic traits of individual plant cells for their potential to improve biofuel crops. By screening individual cells, researchers can identify which lines are likely to be good cellulosic feedstocks without waiting for the plants to grow to maturity. UT's technology will allow high throughput screening of engineered plant cells to identify those with traits that significantly reduce the time and resources required to maximize biofuel production from switchgrass.

University of Texas, Austin

Low-Cost Solution Processed Universal Smart Window Coatings

The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) is developing low-cost coatings that control how light enters buildings through windows. By individually blocking infrared and visible components of sunlight, UT Austin's design would allow building occupants to better control the amount of heat and the brightness of light that enters the structure, saving heating, cooling, and lighting costs. These coatings can be applied to windows using inexpensive techniques similar to spray-painting a car to keep the cost per window low. Windows incorporating these coatings and a simple control system have the potential to dramatically enhance energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption throughout the commercial and residential building sectors, while making building occupants more comfortable.

University of Washington

Novel Biocatalyst for Conversion of Natural Gas into Diesel Fuel

The University of Washington (UW) is developing technologies for microbes to convert methane found in natural gas into liquid diesel fuel. Specifically the project seeks to significantly increase the amount of lipids produced by the microbe, and to develop novel catalytic technology to directly convert these lipids to liquid fuel. These engineered microbes could enable small-scale methane-to-liquid conversion at lower cost than conventional methods. Small-scale, microbe-based conversion would leverage abundant, domestic natural gas resources and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

University of Wisconsin

Plasmonic Enhanced Photocatalysis

The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell are developing a low-cost metal catalyst to produce fuel precursors using abundant and renewable solar energy, water, and waste CO2 inputs. When placed in sunlight, the catalyst's nanostructured surface enables the formation of hydrocarbons from CO2 and water by a plasmonic catalytic effect. These hydrocarbons can be refined and blended to produce a fuel compatible with typical cars and trucks. Wisconsin is proving the technology in a small reactor before scaling up conceptual designs that could be implemented in a large solar refinery. The ability to convert CO2 waste into a viable fuel would decrease the transportation sector's carbon footprint and provide an alternative domestic source of fuel.

Vorbeck Materials Corp.

Energy-Efficient Hybrid Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicle Power Systems

Vorbeck Materials is developing a low-cost, fast-charging storage battery for hybrid vehicles. The battery cells are based on lithium-sulfur (Li-S) chemistries, which have a greater energy density compared to today's Li-Ion batteries. Vorbeck's approach involves developing a Li-S battery with radically different design for both cathode and anode. The technology has the potential to capture more energy, increasing the efficiency of hybrid vehicles by up to 20% while reducing cost and greenhouse gas emissions.

Yale University

Power Generation from Waste Heat with Closed-Loop Membrane-Based System

Yale University is developing a system to generate electricity using low-temperature waste heat from power plants, industrial facilities, and geothermal wells. Low-temperature waste heat is a vast, mostly untapped potential energy source. Yale's closed loop system begins with waste heat as an input. This waste heat will separate an input salt water stream into two output streams, one with high salt concentration and one with low salt concentration. In the next stage, the high and low concentration salt streams will be recombined. Mixing these streams releases energy which can then be captured. The mixed saltwater stream is then sent back to the waste heat source, allowing the process to begin again. Yale's system for generating electricity from low-temperature waste heat could considerably increase the efficiency of power generation systems.

The electric grid was designed with the assumption that all energy generation sources would be relatively controllable, and grid operators would always be able to predict when and where those sources would be located. With the addition of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which can be installed faster than traditional generation technologies, this is no longer the case. Furthermore, the fact that renewable energy sources are imperfectly predictable means that the grid has to adapt in real-time to changing patterns of power flow. We need a dynamic grid that is far more flexible. This video highlights three ARPA-E-funded approaches to improving the grid’s flexibility: topology control software from Boston University that optimizes power flow, gas tube switches from General Electric that provide efficient power conversion, and flow batteries from Harvard University that offer grid-scale energy storage.

ARPA-E’s Technology-to-Market Advisors work closely with each ARPA-E project team to develop and execute a commercialization strategy. ARPA-E requires our teams to focus on their commercial path forward, because we understand that to have an impact on our energy mission, technologies must have a viable path into the marketplace. ARPA-E Senior Commercialization Advisor Dr. John Tuttle discusses what this Tech-to-Market guidance in practice looks like with reference to two project teams. OPEN 2012 awardees from Harvard University and Sunfolding share their stories of how ARPA-E worked with their teams to analyze market conditions and identify commercial opportunities that ultimately convinced them to pivot their technologies towards market applications with greater potential.

ARPA-E is supporting some of the best and brightest scientific minds across the country to turn aspirational ideas into tangible technology options. By presenting an ambitious energy challenge to the U.S. research and development community, ARPA-E attracts ideas from a diverse group of innovators, representing traditional and non-traditional energy backgrounds, who look to address energy challenges in new and exciting ways. Founder and CEO of Alveo Energy Dr. Colin Wessels and Co-Founder and CEO of Indoor Reality Dr. Avideh Zakhor are two ARPA-E project investigators that have made great progress, with support from the ARPA-E Tech-to-Market team, in advancing their technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace.

ARPA-E helps to translate cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations that could change how we use, generate and store energy. In just seven years, ARPA-E technologies are demonstrating technical and commercial progress, surpassing $1.25 billion in private sector follow on funding. In this video, ARPA-E Director Dr. Ellen D. Williams highlights an exciting project from Stanford University that is developing a radiative cooling technology that could enable buildings, power plants, solar cells and even clothing to cool without using electric power or loss of water. This project is just one example among ARPA-E’s 400+ innovative technologies that are reimagining energy and helping to create a more secure, affordable and sustainable American energy future.

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