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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 Washington

Optimal Operation and Management of Batteries Based on Real-Time Predictive Modeling and Adaptive Battery Management Techniques

University of Washington (UW) is developing a predictive battery management system that uses innovative modeling software to manage how batteries are charged and discharged, helping to optimize battery use. A significant problem with today's battery packs is their lack of internal monitoring capabilities, which interferes with our ability to identify and manage performance issues as they arise. UW's system would predict the physical states internal to batteries quickly and accurately enough for the data to be used in making decisions about how to control the battery to optimize its output and efficiency in real time. UW's models could be able to predict temperature, remaining energy capacity, and progress of unwanted reactions that reduce the battery lifetime.

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.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Genome-Wide Association Studies for Breeding M. Pyrifera

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) will lead a MARINER Category 5 project to develop a breeding program and enable the development of macroalgae varieties that consistently produce high yields under farmed conditions. Controlled genetic improvements through crop breeding require establishing a bank of genetically homogeneous lines that are examined for markers and traits important for domestication and production. The researchers will sample giant sea kelp from the Southern California Bight, an area of high genetic diversity. The team will assess phenotypic performance of these samples at a real-world farm location at Catalina Island, which has oceanographic conditions that resemble the warm, offshore waters suitable for macroalgae farming. Traits such as survival, growth rate, temperature tolerance and photosynthetic efficiency will be measured at different stages. The team will establish genomic resources for giant kelp, and utilize them in conjunction with the field performance observed to predict the best performing varieties from approximately 50,000 possible crosses. If successful, these germplasm lines will constitute a "seed stock" similar to that established for agricultural crops that can be used by breeders to stage model-based, efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally sound targeted genome-based selection.

Utah State University

Robust Cell-level Modeling and Control of Large Battery Packs

Utah State University (USU) is developing electronic hardware and control software to create an advanced battery management system that actively maximizes the performance of each cell in a battery pack. No two battery cells are alike--they differ over their life-times in terms of charge and discharge rates, capacity, and temperature characteristics, among other things. Traditionally, these issues have been managed by matching similarly performing cells at the factory level and conservative design and operation of battery packs, but this is an incomplete solution, leading to costly batching of cells and overdesign of battery packs. USU's flexible, modular, cost-effective design would represent a dramatic departure from today's systems, offering dynamic control at the cell-level to their physical limits and side stepping existing issues regarding the mismatch and uncertainty of battery cells throughout their useful life.

Utah State University

Feasibility Analysis of Electric Roadways Through Localized Traffic, Cost, Adoption, and Environmental Impact Modeling

Utah State University (USU) will develop a technoeconomic analysis to assess the feasibility and environmental and economic impacts of various electric roadway technologies. This project will aggregate, synthesize, and link previously isolated data sets to form a high-resolution, comprehensive assessment of electric roadways at the regional scale. Localized grid and road construction cost estimates are being considered. Targeted outcomes include identification of first adopters, economic and environmental cost/benefit of incremental deployment, and technology gaps that can accelerate adoption. By resolving these key questions, this project endeavors to catalyze public and private investment in electric roadway technology development, pilot projects, infrastructure deployment, and market adoption. The team will also evaluate the technology gaps and the value proposition for broader incremental rollout of electric roadways across the U.S. If successful, this project will provide actionable information regarding guidelines for incremental rollout of electric roadways and quantified metrics that tie technology gaps to their impact on accelerating market adoption.

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.

Washington University

Reinforced AEM Separators Based on Triblock Copolymers for Electrode-decoupled RFBs

The Washington University team will develop new membrane separators for redox flow batteries using a styrene-ethylene-butylene block copolymer. The team will investigate three types of membrane construction to achieve the high levels of ion selectivity and mechanical stability necessary for use in flow batteries. If needed, the team will also explore the addition of inorganic silica particles in the polymer membrane to enhance selectivity. While many flow batteries utilize proton exchange membrane (PEM) separators that conduct positively-charged ions, the proposed membrane in this project is an anion exchange membrane (AEM) that will conduct negatively-charged ions. An inexpensive, durable AEM will allow for improved efficiency and lower system cost in existing flow battery systems such as the iron-chromium redox flow battery as well as enabling development of new low-cost chemistries.

West Virginia University Research Corporation

Renewable Energy to Fuels Through Microwave-Plasma Catalytic Synthesis of Ammonia

West Virginia University Research Corporation (WVURC) will develop a process to convert renewable electricity, water, and air into ammonia using plasma excitation at low temperatures and pressures. This process is different from both electrochemical conversion processes and catalytic processes like the HB process. In this form of physical activation, the microwave-plasma process can activate nitrogen and hydrogen, generating ions and free radicals that react over the catalyst surface to form ammonia. Under the correct conditions, microwave heating can selectively heat the catalyst to the temperature required for reactions without heating the surrounding area. This combination of a very hot catalyst and cool surroundings leads to overall lower reaction temperatures and improved energy efficiency. The lower pressure required for the process will also simplify the design. Both features enable better integration with renewable energy sources because the system can be turned on and off more quickly. Such advantages increase the cost competitiveness of the team's approach.

Wichita State University

Alkaline Membrane-Based Ammonia Electrosynthesis with High Efficiency for Renewable and Scalable Liquid-Fuel Production

Wichita State University will develop a renewable energy-powered electrochemical device for ammonia production at ambient temperature. This allows the unit to consume less energy but maintain high productivity. The goal is an alternative path for ammonia electrochemical synthesis from water and air without the need for the high temperature and pressure required by the Haber-Bosch process. The key innovation is the use of a hydroxide-exchange membrane (HEM) polymer electrolyte. The more commonly used proton exchange membranes (PEM) present major challenges leading to low efficiency for PEM-based ammonia electrosynthesis. Switching to HEMs will reduce side-reactions, allow the use of non-precious metal catalysts, and eliminate ammonia crossover and electrolyte contamination. As such, HEM-supported ammonia electrosynthesis may offer high coulombic efficiency and high ammonia productivity, without losing the key advantages of PEM-based electrosynthesis - operating under ambient conditions and using air and water as reactants. Unlike the Haber-Bosch process, electrochemical synthesis of ammonia can be made much smaller and can operate intermittently which allows better integration with renewable electricity.

William Marsh Rice University

Engineering Microorganisms with Diazotrophic and Methanotrophic Capabalities for the Biological Production of Ammonia

Rice University will develop a first of its kind biocatalyst to synthesize ammonia from small-scale isolated methane sources. The microorganisms will be engineered to maximize simultaneous diazotrophic and methanotrophic capabilities. Diazotrophs are organisms that can fix nitrogen gas in the air into a biologically usable form, such as ammonia. Methanotrophs are organisms that metabolize and use methane as an energy and carbon source. Rice University's technology will combine these capabilities, and develop a one-step ammonia synthesis that will operate at low temperature and pressure. These process characteristics will significantly reduce the technical complexities relative to HB synthesis and in turn enable small-scale deployment. Methane can be harvested from natural gas production sites, landfills, and biogas facilities. Bioreforming of this methane will produce CO2 and energy. The diazotrophic nature of the microorganisms will use the nitrogen, combined with energy derived from methane, to produce ammonia. Methane and air will be the only sources of energy, carbon and nitrogen, respectively. If successful, this highly mobile, low-cost ammonia synthesis process will turn previously wasted methane resources into a valuable product, while also significantly reducing U.S. GHG emissions.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Integrated Monitoring of Macroalgae Farms Using Acoustics and UUV Sensing

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will lead a MARINER Category 4 project to develop an autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) system for monitoring large-scale seaweed farms for extended periods. Compared to more costly human labor and boat operations, UUV systems present an attractive option for consistent, daily monitoring of large-scale, offshore seaweed farms. The system will routinely survey and quantify key parameters such as infrastructure health, macroalgae growth rate, and nutrient content of the water. An upward/downward split-beam acoustic echosounder will use sonar technology to monitor the longline array used to grow the macroalgae, quantify growth on the longlines, and detect fish/zooplankton in the water column. Environmental sensors include a nitrate sensor (nutrients) and a package for collecting temperature and salinity data. A panoramic camera system will be used for close inspection of infrastructure and anomalies, with images available to operators within 24 hours of capture. Real-time processing of acoustic data, fed back into the autonomy system, will be used to map infrastructure and navigate the UUV relative to longlines for macroalgae sensing. Ultimately the UUV-based system will be able to operate in real conditions offshore and over large areas without human intervention.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Integrated Seaweed Hatchery and Selective Breeding Technologies for Scalable Offshore Seaweed Farming

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution leads a MARINER Category 5 project, to develop a selective breeding program for sugar kelp, Saccharina latissima, one of the most commercially important kelp varieties. The goal of the project is to improve productivity and cost effectiveness of seaweed farming. The breeding program will build a germplasm library associated with plants that produce a 20% to 30% yield improvement over plants currently in the field. By using a combination of novel rapid phenotyping, genome-wide association studies, and genome prediction methods, the team expects to accelerate the production of improved plants while decreasing the number of costly field evaluations. The project will conduct sampling and testing at field sites in New England and Alaska. If successful, the team will establish a breeding program that increases the quantitative genetic knowledge and genomic resources necessary to make informed breeding decisions -- enabling the first step towards domestication and economically viable production of sugar kelp for bioenergy production in the United States.

Xilectric, Inc.

Low-Cost Transportation Batteries

Xilectric is developing a totally new class of low-cost rechargeable batteries with a chemistry analogous to the original nickel-iron Edison battery. At the turn of the 20th century, Thomas Edison experimented with low-cost, durable nickel-iron aqueous batteries for use in EVs. Given their inability to operate in cold weather and higher cost than lead-acid batteries, Edison's batteries were eventually dismissed for automotive applications. Xilectric is reviving and re-engineering the basic chemistry of the Edison battery, using domestically abundant, environmentally friendly, and low-cost metals, such as aluminum and magnesium, as its active components. Xilectric's design would be easy to manufacture and demonstrate longer life span than today's best Li-ion batteries, enabling more widespread use of EVs.

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’s Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA) program is bringing together top experts from different disciplines – agriculture, robotics and data analytics – to rethink the production of advanced biofuel crops. ARPA-E Program Director Dr. Joe Cornelius discusses the TERRA program and explains how ARPA-E’s model enables multidisciplinary collaboration among diverse communities. The video focuses on two TERRA projects—Donald Danforth Center and Purdue University—that are developing and integrating cutting-edge remote sensing platforms, complex data analytics tools and plant breeding technologies to tackle the challenge of sustainably increasing biofuel stocks.


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