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OPEN 2015

Open Funding Solicitation

In 2015, ARPA-E issued its third open funding opportunity designed to catalyze transformational breakthroughs across the entire spectrum of energy technologies. ARPA-E received more than 2,000 concept papers for OPEN 2015, which hundreds of scientists and engineers thoroughly reviewed over the course of several months. In the end, ARPA-E selected 41 projects for its OPEN 2015 program, awarding them a total of $125 million in federal funding. OPEN 2015 projects cut across ten technology areas: building efficiency, industrial processes and waste heat, data management and communication, wind, solar, tidal and distributed generation, grid scale storage, power electronics, power grid system performance, vehicle efficiency, storage for electric vehicles, and alternative fuels and bio-energy.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.

Accio Energy, Inc.

EHD Innovative Low-Cost Offshore Wind Energy

The team led by Accio Energy, Inc. will develop an ElectroHydroDynamic (EHD) system that harvests energy from the wind through physical separation of charge rather than through rotation of an electric machine. The EHD technology entrains a mist of positively charged water droplets into the wind, which pulls the charge away from the electrically-grounded tower, thereby directly converting wind energy into a mounting voltage. The resulting High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) can then be transferred across higher efficiency power lines without the need for a generator, a gearbox, or costly high power AC-DC conversion required by traditional wind energy systems. The simple design of the EHD wind system is highly modular, and can be built with low-cost, mass manufacturing approaches. EHD systems also have minimal moving parts, and can be "containerized" for easy transport and installation at offshore sites. In contrast to the current trend for larger (and relatively expensive) turbines with increased power-per-tower, the EHD approach would utilize low-cost hardware with simple transport and installation, and native HVDC operation to reduce the cost of electricity from offshore wind. EHD technology can also operate at lower wind velocities than traditional turbines, and can thus increase the capacity factor at locations with highly variable winds. If successful, this project will demonstrate EHD technology as an entirely new option for offshore wind that offers a different path to cost effective utilization of a large renewable resource.

Achates Power, Inc.

Gasoline Compression Ignition Medium Duty Multicylinder Opposed Piston Engine Development

The team led by Achates Power, Inc. will develop an internal combustion engine that combines two promising engine technologies: an opposed-piston (OP) engine configuration and gasoline compression ignition (GCI). Compression ignition OP engines are inherently more efficient than existing spark-ignited 4-stroke engines (potentially up to 50% higher thermal efficiency using gasoline) while providing comparable power and torque, and showing the potential to meet future tailpipe emissions standards. GCI uses gasoline or gasoline-like fuels in a compression ignition engine to deliver thermal efficiency on par with diesel combustion. However, unlike conventional diesel engines, this technology does not require the added expense of high-pressure fuel injection equipment and sophisticated aftertreatment systems. The OP/GCI engine technology is adaptable to a range of engine configurations and can be used in all types of passenger vehicles and light trucks. By successfully combining the highly fuel efficient architecture of the OP engine with the ultra-low emissions GCI technology, the resulting engine could be transformational, significantly reducing U.S. petroleum consumption and carbon dioxide.

Boston Electrometallurgical Corporation

Revolutionary Process for Low-Cost Titanium

Boston Electrometallurgical Corporation will develop and scale a one step molten oxide electrolysis process for producing Ti metal directly from the oxide. Titanium oxide is dissolved in a molten oxide, where it is directly and efficiently extracted as molten titanium metal. In this process, electrolysis is used to separate the product from the solution as a bottom layer that can then be removed from the reactor in its molten state. If successful, it could replace the multistep Kroll process with a one-step process that resembles today's aluminum production techniques. If successful, Ti ingots could be produced at cost parity with stainless steel, opening the doorway to industrial waste heat recovery applications and increasing its adoption in commercial aircraft.

Case Western Reserve University

Data Analytics for Virtual Energy Audits and Value Capture Assessments of Buildings

Case Western Reserve University will develop a data analytics approach to building-efficiency diagnosis and prognostics. Their tool, called EDIFES (Energy Diagnostics Investigator for Efficiency Savings), will not require complex or expensive computational simulation, physical audits, or building automation systems. Instead, the tool will map a building's energy signature through a rigorous analysis of multiple datastreams. Combining knowledge of specific climatic, weather, solar insolation, and utility meter data through data assembly, the team will analyze these time-series datastreams to reveal patterns and relationships that were previously ignored or neglected. EDIFES will provide a virtual energy audit combined with a predictive energy usage calculator for efficiency solutions without setting foot in a building. The team's goal is to design EDIFES in such a way that beyond time-series, whole building utility data, only minimal information will be required from the building owner for accurate virtual energy audits that identify efficiency problems and solutions and provide continuous efficiency monitoring. EDIFES will be a resource for equipment providers and contractors to illustrate replacement equipment value, a mechanism for utilities to measure the impact of energy efficiency programs, and a tool for financiers to evaluate the potential risk and opportunity of efficiency investments. EDIFES will target the light commercial building space where minimal tools are available and a high potential for savings exists.

Colorado State University

Paintable Heat-Reflective Coatings for Low-Cost Energy Efficient Windows

Colorado State University and its partners are developing an inexpensive, polymer-based, energy-saving material that can be applied to windows as a retrofit. The team will develop a coating consisting of polymers that can rapidly self-assemble into orderly layers that will reflect infrared wavelengths but pass visible light. As such, the coating will help reduce building cooling requirements and energy use without darkening the room. The polymers can be applied as a paint, meaning that deployment could be faster, less expensive, and more widespread because homeowners can apply the window coatings themselves instead of paying for a technician. The team estimates that up to 75% of the dry film could be produced from commodity plastic, which has the potential to significantly reduce the current costs associated with manufacturing window coatings.

Cummins Corporate Research & Technology

Efficient Knock Suppression in Spark Ignited Engines

Cummins Corporate Research & Technology will develop an advanced high efficiency natural gas-fueled internal combustion engine for high-power distributed electricity generation. The team is seeking to achieve 55% brake thermal efficiency while maintaining low exhaust emissions. The enabling technology is wet compression, where fine droplets of water are sprayed directly into the engine cylinders, causing the charge temperature to drop and thereby prevent the onset of damaging engine knock at high compression ratios. Since it takes less energy to compress cooler air, the savings from reduced compression work can be passed on to increase the net engine output. Wet compression is a transformative technology that dramatically improves engine efficiency while still allowing for conventional engine manufacturing methods at existing facilities.

Dioxide Materials, Inc.

High Efficiency Alkaline Water Electrolyzers for Grid Scale Energy Storage

The team led by Dioxide Materials, Inc. will develop an alkaline water electrolyzer for an improved power-to-gas system. The team's electrochemical cells are composed of an anode, a cathode, and a membrane that allows anions to pass through, while being electrically insulating. High-conductivity anion exchange membranes are rare and often do not have the chemical or mechanical stability to withstand H2 production at elevated pressures. Therefore, the project is focused on developing an anion exchange membrane that is low-cost, is manufacturable in a scaleable process, and has sufficient conductivity, chemical stability, and mechanical strength. Moreover, by operating at alkaline instead of acidic conditions, the electrochemical cells do not need to use expensive precious metal catalysts, which most systems require to prevent corrosion. Dioxide Materials, Inc. estimates that operating under alkaline conditions could lead to a 10x lower electrolyzer stack cost due to higher current densities and lower material costs (i.e. non-precious metals). The system will be compatible with intermittent energy sources because it can operate at lower temperatures than competiting technologies, thus allowing startup times on the order of seconds.

Gas Technology Institute

Reactor Engine

The team led by Gas Technology Institute (GTI) will develop a conventional automotive engine as a reactor to convert ethane into ethylene by using a new catalyst and reactor design that could enable record-breaking conversion yields. The technology proposed by GTI would use a reciprocating engine as a variable volume oxidative dehydrogenation (ODH) reactor. This means a conventional engine would be modified with a new valving mechanism that would take advantage of high flow rates and high pressure and temperature regime that already exists in an internal combustion engine. This process requires no energy input, does produce minimal CO2 emissions, and improves yields to about 80% at one third the cost. The ODH reactor engine's relatively small size and high throughput will enable ethylene producers to add ethylene production capacity without the financial risk of building a billion-dollar steam cracking plant. This technology will reduce energy-related emissions and could enable the U.S. plastics industry to increase utilization of low-cost, domestic ethane to produce ethylene for plastics.

General Electric

Charge-Balanced SiC FETs for Breakthrough Power Conversion

The team led by GE Global Research (GE) will develop a new high-voltage, solid-state Silicon Carbide (SiC) Field-Effect Transistor (FET) charge-balanced device, also known as a "Superjunction." These devices have become the industry norm in high-voltage Silicon switching devices, because they allow for more efficient switching at higher voltages and frequencies. The team proposes to demonstrate charge balanced SiC devices for the first time. Their approach will offer scaling up to 15kV while reducing losses for power conversion applications by 10x when compared with existing silicon bipolar devices and competing SiC approaches. This will enable highly efficient, medium-voltage, multi-megawatt power conversion for conventional and renewable energy applications. The technology could dramatically reduce energy consumption and emissions for applications such as solar, wind, mining, oil and gas development, and medical devices. If these efficient devices were widely adopted the technology could save enough energy to power 5.9 million homes annually. It can also have a significant impact on medium voltage drives for high-speed motors and transportation applications, including hybrid and electric vehicles. In rail applications, the higher voltage and higher frequencies afforded by SiC devices could reduce the total energy consumption by as much as 30%.

INFINIUM, Inc.

Ultra-Low Energy Magnesium Recycling for New Light-Weight Vehicles

Infinium, Inc. will convert low-grade magnesium scrap into material of sufficient purity for motor vehicle components by a novel high-efficiency process using less than 1 kWh/kg magnesium product. Other magnesium purification technologies such as distillation and electrorefining use 5-10 kWh/kg, and primary production uses 40-100 kWh/kg. This is also a high-speed continuous process, with much lower labor and capital costs than other batch purification technologies. This technology could enable cost-effective recycling of magnesium, converting low-grade scrap metal into high-purity magnesium at low cost and significantly lower energy consumption, and could also enable new classes of primary production technology.

Iowa State University

Low Cost, Safe, and Efficient All Solid State Sodium Batteries for Grid-scale energy Storage and Other Applications

The team led by Iowa State University will develop an All Solid-State Sodium Battery (ASSSB) that will have a high energy content, can easily be recycled, and rely on highly abundant and extremely low cost starting materials. Commercially available sodium-based batteries operate at elevated temperatures, which decreases the efficiency and safety of the system. The team seeks to improve all three of the main components of a sodium-based battery: the anode, cathode, and electrolyte separator. The team's anode is a porous carbon nanotube layer that will serve as a framework on which sodium metal will be deposited. The separator will be made of a novel oxy-thio-nitride glass solid electrolyte, and the cathode will be composed of a polymer in which reversible sodium insertion and removal takes place. The team will need to overcome several challenges, including reducing interfacial resistance between the organic electrode and the solid electrolyte. The proposed sodium battery can operate at room temperature, uses a benign and scalable solid-stack design for a long cycle life, and expects to achieve an energy density eqivalent to state-of-the-art Li-ion cells.

Marine BioEnergy, Inc.

Disruptive Supplies of Affordable Biomass Feedstock Grown in the Open Ocean

The team led by Marine BioEnergy, Inc. will develop an open ocean cultivation system for macroalgae biomass, which can be converted to biocrude. Giant kelp is one of the fastest growing sources of biomass, and the open ocean surface water is an immense, untapped region for growing kelp. However, kelp does not grow in the open ocean because it needs to attach to a hard surface, typically less than 40 meters deep. Kelp also needs nutrients that are only available in deep water or near shore but not on the surface of the open ocean. To overcome these obstacles, the team proposes to build inexpensive underwater drones that will tow large grids, to which the kelp is attached. These autonomous drones will be capable of towing the farms from sunlight-rich surface water during the day to nutrient-rich deep water during the night, and will submerge the farms to avoid storms and passing ships. A prerequisite for this vision will be successful demonstration of depth-cycling kelp plants from the surface to the deep ocean. Working with researchers at the University of Southern California, Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, Marine BioEnergy will develop and deploy first-of-kind technology to assess and apply this unique concept of kelp depth-cycling for deep water nutrient uptake to kelp production. Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will convert this kelp to biocrude and document the quality. This technology could enable large-scale energy crop production in many regions of the open ocean, with an initial focus on the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone off California.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Ultrahigh Efficiency Photovoltaics at Ultralow Costs

This project team, led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will employ hydride vapor phase epitaxy (HPVE), a fast growth technique used to produce semiconductors, to lower the manufacturing cost of multijunction solar cells. Additionally the team will develop new materials to be used in the HVPE process, enabling a chemical liftoff method that allows reuse of substrates. The chemical liftoff will mitigate costs of substrates, further reducing the overall system cost. NREL's approach will leverage this improved HVPE technology to produce thin, flexible, highly efficient multijunction cells, with very high power at low cost. III-V PV has several inherent advantages over other PV materials, including higher efficiency, low temperature coefficients, and low material usage. The novel combination of HVPE growth of multijunction solar cells and substrate reuse could result in more cost-effective, higher performing multijunction solar cells, which could ultimately lower the cost and increase the efficiency of PV systems. These innovations could spur greater adoption of PV systems and reduce reliance on fossil-fuel power generation.

Newton Energy Group, LLC

Coordinated Operation of Electric And Natural Gas Supply Networks: Optimization Processes And Market Design

The team led by Newton Energy Group, LLC will lead the Gas-Electric Co-Optimization (GECO) project to improve coordination of wholesale natural gas and power operators both at the physical and market levels. The team's approach uses mathematical methods and computational techniques that have revolutionized the field of optimal control. These methods will be applied to natural gas pipeline networks, and the final deliverable will consist of three major components. First, they will model and optimize intra-day pipeline operations represented by realistic models of gas network flow. Next, the team will develop economic theory and computation algorithms for the pricing of natural gas delivered to end users, in particular to gas-fired power plants. Finally, they will combine these two analytical components to design practical market mechanisms for efficient coordination of gas and electric systems. The goal of efficient market design is to develop a mechanism under which access to pipeline capacity will be provided on the basis of its economic value as determined by gas buyers and sellers, and not on the current allocation of physical capacity rights. The tool guarantees natural gas will be available when power plants need it, and that the power produced can be sold to consumers at a price sufficient to cover the cost of the natural gas.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Hydration-Free Proton Conductive Membranes Based on Two Dimensional Materials

The team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory will design proton-selective membranes for use in storage technologies, such as flow batteries, fuel cells, or electrolyzers for liquid-fuel storage. Current proton-selective membranes (e.g. Nafion) require hydration, but the proposed materials would be the first low-temperature membranes that conduct protons without the need for hydration. The enabling technology relies on making single-layer membranes from graphene or similar materials and supporting them for mechanical stability. The team estimates that these membranes can be manufactured at costs around one order of magnitude lower than Nafion membranes. Due to the lower system complexity, the team's innovations would enable fuel cell production at lower system-level costs.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

New High Temperature, Corrosion-Resistant Cast Alloy For Operation in Industrial Gaseous Environments

The team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will develop new cast alumina-forming austenitic alloys (AFAs), along with associated casting and welding processes for component fabrication. ORNL and its partners will prototype industrial components with at least twice the oxidation resistance compared to current cast chromia-forming steel and test it in an industrial environment. These innovations could allow various industrial and chemical processing systems and gas turbines to operate at higher temperatures to improve efficiencies and reduce downtimes, thus providing cost and energy reductions for a wide range of energy-intensive applications.

Ocean Renewable Power Company

Innovative Deployment and Retrieval Scheme for Cross-flow Hydrokinetic Turbines

The Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) will develop an innovative, self-deploying MHK power system, which will reduce the operating costs and improve the efficiency of MHK systems by up to 50%. ORPC's system is based on pitch control of the blades of a cross-flow turbine, in which the tidal flow passes across the turbine blades rather than in a radial fashion. This system will allow the turbine to self-propel itself to the deployment location, and lower itself to the sea floor remotely. This innovative approach will allow for lower costs of deployment and retrieval, reduced requirements for sea-bed foundation construction, as well as increased turbine efficiency. The ORPC team will design, build, and test a model scale of the MHK system to demonstrate the benefits of using a self-deploying turbine, before completing the design and cost analysis of the full-scale commercial system. Successful deployment of this system would significantly reduce the LCOE associated with MHK systems, making the technology a viable renewable resource to generate electrical power.

Oregon State University

Converting Natural Gas to Liquid Fuels by Low Energy Electrical Corona Discharge Processes

The team led by Oregon State University (OSU) is developing a novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology that utilizes a "corona discharge" plasma to convert methane to higher value chemicals, such as ethylene or liquid fuels. A corona discharge is formed when a high voltage is applied across a gap with a shaped electrode that concentrates the electric field at a tip. At sufficiently high voltage, an electrical discharge (characterized by a faint glow - a corona) is formed, and ionizes the surrounding gas molecules, i.e. split them into positive ions and free electrons. The team will build a reactor consisting of an array of micro-structured conducting surfaces to form corona discharges that ionize methane molecules and recombine the ionized components to form longer chain hydrocarbons with higher value. The key advantages of this technology are the innovative reactor design, which will allow small-scale production, as well as the high energy and conversion efficiencies, resulting in less energy being consumed to convert methane to liquid fuels.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

High Performance Power-Grid Optimization 

The team led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will develop a High-Performance Power-Grid Optimization (HIPPO) technology to reduce grid resource scheduling times to within a fraction of current speeds, which can lead to more flexible and reliable real-time operation. The team will leverage advances in optimization algorithms and deploy high-performance computing technologies to significantly improve the performance of grid scheduling. HIPPO will provide inter-algorithm parallelization and allow algorithms to share information during their solution process, with the objective of reducing computing time by efficiently using computational power. New algorithms will leverage knowledge of the underlying system, operational experience, and past solutions to improve performance and avoid previously encountered mistakes.

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