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Distributed Generation

Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight

High utilization of renewable energy is a vital component of our energy portfolio. Solar energy systems can provide secure energy with predictable future costs--largely unaffected by geopolitics and climate--because sunshine is widely available and free. The projects that comprise ARPA-E's FOCUS program, short for "Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight," could pave the way for cost-competitive hybrid solar energy systems that combine the advantages of existing photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

Generators for Small Electrical and Thermal Systems

The GENSETS program aims to develop transformative generator technologies to enable widespread deployment of residential combined heat and power (CHP) systems. These small, natural gas-fueled systems can fulfill most of a US household's electricity and hot water needs, and if widely used could increase the overall efficiency of power generation in the US, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

Innovative Development in Energy-Related Applied Science

The IDEAS program - short for Innovative Development in Energy-Related Applied Science - provides a continuing opportunity for the rapid support of early-stage applied research to explore pioneering new concepts with the potential for transformational and disruptive changes in energy technology. IDEAS awards, which are restricted to maximums of one year in duration and $500,000 in funding, are intended to be flexible and may take the form of analyses or exploratory research that provides the agency with information useful for the subsequent development of focused technology programs. IDEAS awards may also support proof-of-concept research to develop a unique technology concept, either in an area not currently supported by the agency or as a potential enhancement to an ongoing focused technology program. This program identifies potentially disruptive concepts in energy-related technologies that challenge the status quo and represent a leap beyond today's technology. That said, an innovative concept alone is not enough. IDEAS projects must also represent a fundamentally new paradigm in energy technology and have the potential to significantly impact ARPA-E's mission areas.

Innovative Natural-gas Technologies for Efficiency Gain in Reliable and Affordable Thermochemical Electricity-generation

The projects that comprise ARPA-E's INTEGRATE (Innovative Natural-gas Technologies for Efficiency Gain in Reliable and Affordable Thermochemical Electricity-generation) program will develop natural gas fueled, distributed, ultra-high efficiency electrical generation systems. The program will focus on hybrid system designs that integrate a fuel cell with a heat or reactive engine, such as a gas turbine or a reciprocating internal combustion engine. The INTEGRATE program encourages the development and demonstration of integrated hybrid systems and/or enabling component technologies.Project teams will seek to develop devices that can generate electricity at greater than 70% efficiency while keeping system costs competitive at commercial scales of 100kW or greater. Projects will take advantage of the synergies between fuel cells and more traditional combustion engines. For example, some of the fuel that passes through a fuel cell will remain "unreacted." This leftover fuel can be used by an engine to produce combustion products that produce additional power--improving overall system efficiency. Because the engine can be used simultaneously to generate power and act as balance-of-plant for the fuel cell, eliminating the need for some components, system cost savings could be significant.

Micro-scale Optimized Solar-cell Arrays with Integrated Concentration

ARPA-E's MOSAIC program seeks to develop technologies and concepts that will lower the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems and improve their performance. Project teams will develop micro-scale concentrated photovoltaic systems (CPV) that are similar in cost and size to conventional solar PV systems, but with greatly increased performance levels. Multidisciplinary teams will leverage expertise in conventional flat-plate PV, CPV, manufacturing, optical engineering, and material science to produce a new class of PV panels. If successful, these technologies could facilitate cost-effective deployment of solar power systems across a wide range of geographical locations, lowering U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and reducing dependence on imported energy.
 For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

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.  

Open Funding Solicitation

In 2012, ARPA-E issued its second open funding opportunity designed to catalyze transformational breakthroughs across the entire spectrum of energy technologies. ARPA-E received more than 4,000 concept papers for OPEN 2012, which hundreds of scientists and engineers thoroughly reviewed over the course of several months. In the end, ARPA-E selected 66 projects for its OPEN 2012 program, awarding them a total of $130 million in federal funding. OPEN 2012 projects cut across 11 technology areas: advanced fuels, advanced vehicle design and materials, building efficiency, carbon capture, grid modernization, renewable power, stationary power generation, water, as well as stationary, thermal, and transportation energy storage.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

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.

Open Funding Solicitation

In 2018, ARPA-E issued its fourth open funding opportunity, designed to catalyze transformational breakthroughs across the entire spectrum of energy technologies. ARPA-E received thousands of concept papers for OPEN 2018, which hundreds of scientists and engineers reviewed over the course of several months. ARPA-E selected 45 projects for its OPEN 2018 program, awarding them $112 million in federal funding. OPEN 2018 projects cut across ten technology areas: building efficiency, distributed generation, electrical efficiency, grid, grid storage, manufacturing efficiency, resource efficiency, transportation fuels, transportation energy conversion, and transportation vehicles.

Reliable Electricity Based on ELectrochemical Systems

Fuel cell technologies have been touted for decades due to their high chemical-to-electrical conversion efficiencies and potential for near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Fuel cell technologies for power generation have not achieved widespread adoption, however, due primarily to their high cost relative to more established combustion technologies. There is a critical need to develop fuel cell technologies that can enable distributed power generation at low cost and high performance. The projects that comprise ARPA-E's Reliable Electricity Based on ELectrochemical Systems (REBELS) program include transformational fuel cell devices that operate in an intermediate temperature range in an attempt to create new pathways to achieve an installed cost to the end-user of less than $1,500/kW at moderate production volumes and create new fuel cell functionality that will help increase grid stability and integration of renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar.
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%.

Aerodyne Research, Inc.

Single-Cylinder Two-Stroke Free-Piston Internal Combustion Generator

Aerodyne Research with partners from Stony Brook University, Precision Combustion, Inc., and C-K Engineering, Inc. will design and build a CHP generator based on a small single-cylinder, two-stroke free-piston internal combustion engine. Similar to an automotive internal combustion engine, the proposed system follows the same process: the combustion of natural gas fuel creates a force that moves a piston, transferring chemical energy to mechanical energy used in conjunction with a linear alternator to create electricity. The free-piston configuration used here, instead of a traditional slider-crank mechanism, has the potential to achieve high electrical conversion efficiency. Their design also includes a double-helix spring that replaces the crankshaft flywheel in conventional engines and can store 5-10 times the work output of the engine cycle and operates at high frequency, which is key to high energy density, compact size, low weight, and low cost. The system will also incorporate low temperature, glow plug-assisted homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) combustion, which reduces heat loss from the engine and further increases efficiency.

Air Squared Inc.

A High Efficiency SACI 1 kW Generator System with Integrated Waste Energy Recovery

Air Squared with partners at Argonne National Laboratory, Purdue University, and Mississippi State University, will develop an advanced internal combustion engine (ICE) integrated with an organic Rankine cycle (ORC) for waste heat recovery. The ICE will use spark-assisted compression ignition (SACI) combustion, a turbulent jet ignition (TJI) fueling system, a high compression ratio, and aggressive exhaust gas recirculation to deliver a higher thermal efficiency with low emissions. Traditional internal combustion engines use the force generated by the combustion of a fuel (e.g. natural gas) to move a piston, transferring chemical energy to mechanical energy. This can then be used in conjunction with a generator to create electricity. SACI is an advanced combustion technique that uses a homogeneous mixture of fuel and air with spark assist to enable higher thermal efficiencies and lower emissions. The TJI combustion system further increases thermal efficiency by enabling reliable SACI combustion even with ultra-lean mixtures (i.e. high air to fuel ratio). The ORC design uses mostly the same components of a traditional Rankine cycle, but uses an ammonia/water mixture instead of steam, combined with a novel oil-free scroll expander.

American Superconductor

Sustainable Economic mCHP Stirling (SEmS) Generator

American Superconductor (AMSC) in collaboration with team members Qnergy, Alcoa Howmet, Gas Technology Institute (GTI), MicroCogen Partners, and A.O. Smith Corporation will develop a Free-Piston Stirling engine (FPSE) powered by an ultra-low-emissions natural gas burner for micro-CHP applications. A Stirling engine uses a working gas housed in a sealed environment, in this case the working gas is helium. When heated by the natural gas-fueled burner, the gas expands causing a piston to move and interact with a linear alternator to produce electricity. As the gas cools and contracts, the process resets before repeating again. Advanced Stirling engines endeavor to carefully manage heat inside the system to make the most efficient use of the natural gas energy. The ITC design features free-piston architecture using flexure bearings thus eliminating rubbing parts and allowing for long system life under continuous use. The team will also develop novel materials that enable high-temperature engine operation, further increasing the efficiency of the system.

Applied Materials

Kerfless Crystalline-Silicon PV: Gas to Modules

Applied Materials is working with ARPA-E and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) to build a reactor that produces the silicon wafers used in solar panels at a dramatically lower cost than existing technologies. Current wafer production processes are time consuming and expensive, requiring the use of high temperatures to produce ingots from molten silicon that can be sliced into wafers for use in solar cells. This slicing process results in significant silicon waste--or "kerf loss"--much like how sawdust is created when sawing wood. With funding from ARPA-E, Applied Materials is developing a reactor where ultra-thin silicon wafers are created by depositing silicon directly from vapor onto specialized reusable surfaces, allowing a significant reduction in the amount of silicon used in the process. Since high purity silicon is one of the most significant costs in producing solar cells, this kerf-less approach could significantly reduce the overall cost of producing solar panels. Applied Materials is partnering with Suniva, who will use funds from EERE to integrate these low-cost wafers into solar cells and modules that generate low-cost electricity, and with Arizona State University, who will develop high-efficiency devices on ultra-thin kerfless substrates. This partnership could enable low-cost, domestic manufacturing of solar modules, allowing the U.S. to reduce the amount of equipment we import from other countries.

Argonne National Laboratory

Intermediate Temperature Hybrid Fuel Cell System for the Conversion of Natural Gas to Electricity and Liquid Fuels

ANL is developing a new hybrid fuel cell technology that could generate both electricity and liquid fuels from natural gas. Existing fuel cell technologies typically convert chemical energy from hydrogen into electricity during a chemical reaction with oxygen or some other agent. In addition to generating electricity from hydrogen, ANL's fuel cell would produce ethylene--a liquid fuel precursor--from natural gas. In this design, a methane-coupling catalyst is added to the anode side of a fuel cell that, when fed with natural gas, creates a chemical reaction that produces ethylene and utilizes leftover hydrogen, which is then passed through a proton-conducting membrane to generate electricity. Removing hydrogen from the reaction site leads to increased conversion of natural gas to ethylene.

Arizona State University

High-Temperature InGaN Thermionic Topping Cells

Arizona State University (ASU) is developing a solar cell that can maintain efficient operation at temperatures above 400°C. Like many other electronics, solar panels work best in cooler environments. As the temperature of traditional solar cells increases beyond 100°C, the energy output decreases markedly and components are more prone to failure. ASU's technology adapts semiconducting materials used in today's light-emitting diode (LED) industry to enable efficient, long-term high-temperature operation. These materials could allow the cells to maintain operation at much higher temperatures than today's solar cells, so they can be integrated as the sunlight-absorbing surface of a thermal receiver in the next generation of hybrid solar collectors. The solar cell would provide electricity using a portion of the incoming sunlight, while the receiver collects usable heat at high temperature that can be stored and dispatched to generate electricity as needed.

Arizona State University

PV Mirror: A Solar Concentrator Mirror Incorporating PV Cells

Arizona State University (ASU) is developing a hybrid solar energy system that modifies a CSP trough design, replacing the curved mirror with solar cells that collect both direct and diffuse rays of a portion of sunlight while reflecting the rest of the direct sunlight to a thermal absorber to generate heat. Electricity from the solar cells can be used immediately while the heat can be stored for later use. Today's CSP systems offer low overall efficiency because they collect only direct sunlight, or the light that comes in a straight beam from the sun. ASU's technology could increase the amount of light that can be converted to electricity by collecting diffuse sunlight, or light that has been scattered by the atmosphere, clouds, and off the earth. By integrating curved solar cells into a hybrid trough system, ASU will effectively split the solar spectrum and use each portion of the spectrum in the most efficient way possible. Diffuse and some direct sunlight are converted into electricity in the solar cells, while the unused portion of the direct sunlight is reflected for conversion to heat.

Brayton Energy

1kW Recuperated Brayton-Cycle Engine Using Positive-Displacement Components

Brayton Energy will develop a 1 kW recuperated Brayton cycle engine to produce heat and electricity for residential use. To begin the cycle, compressed air is preheated in a recuperator before adding fuel, then the air-fuel mix is ignited in a combustion chamber. The high temperature exhaust gases then expand through the turbine, providing some of the work that drives the compressor and also produces electricity in a generator. Major project innovations include the use of a rotary screw-type compressor and expander that operate in a sub-atmospheric Brayton cycle i.e. below atmospheric pressure. In addition, Brayton will also use their innovative patented recuperator that is currently in production, and an ultra-low emission combustor.

California Institute of Technology

Micro-Optical Tandem Luminescent Solar Concentrator

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and their partners will design and fabricate a new CPV module with features that can capture both direct and diffuse sunlight. The team's approach uses a luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) sheet that includes quantum dots to capture and re-emit sunlight, micro-PV cells matched to the color of the light from the quantum dots, and a coating of advanced materials that enhance concentration and delivery of sunlight to the micro-PV cells. In addition, the light not captured by the quantum dots will impinge on a tandem solar cell beneath the LSC sheet. The design of the LSC will focus on lowering the number of expensive micro-PV cells needed within the concentrator sheet, which will reduce system costs, but still maintain high efficiency. The design will also allow the module to be effective without any tracking system, making it potentially attractive for all PV markets, including space-constrained rooftops.

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