TERRA: Building New Communities for Advanced Biofuels

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.

Inspiring Energy Innovators

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.

Local Motors and ARPA-E: The LITECAR Challenge


The LIghtweighting Technologies Enabling Comprehensive Automotive Redesign (LITECAR) Challenge

Challenge Statement:

Create a purely conceptual, novel lightweight vehicle using advanced materials and innovative structural solutions while maintaining or exceeding current vehicle safety standards.


In the last 40 years, the average fuel economy of light duty vehicles has nearly doubled from 13 miles per gallon (mpg) to 24 mpg; however the curb weight of the vehicle has been nearly stagnant at around 4000lbs [1]. While there are a number of methods to improve vehicle fuel economy, it is estimated that for every 10% weight reduction, a 5-8% fuel economy improvement is possible [2], [3]. How much better fuel economy can be realized by comprehensively redesigning the vehicle from ground up to be lightweight while maintaining current vehicle safety? 


The goal of the LITECAR challenge is to identify conceptual solutions that are beyond the state-of-the-art in the area of (but not limiting to) advanced materials, structural design, advanced manufacturing, and energy absorbing mechanisms to enable future lightweight and safe vehicles. LITECAR is not looking for incremental improvements but pioneering solutions to tackle this problem. Participants are encouraged to comprehensively redesign the entire vehicle prioritizing lightweight and safe designs.


Vehicle lightweighting can significantly increase fuel economy and reduce U.S. energy consumption. A 4% reduction in the energy consumption from the U.S. transportation sector is equivalent to 1% of the total energy use in the U.S. [4]. That is a lot of useful energy!

Consequently, it can also reduce CO2 emissions by about 77 million metric tons. That’s the equivalent of taking 16 million vehicles off the road!


$150,000 in cash prizes. Top prize is $60,000.

Expanding the idea of vehicle efficiency:

Vehicle fuel efficiency has several aspects to it, and can be improved in a number of ways, including:

  1. Improving prime-mover (e.g. internal combustion engine) and drive-train efficiency
  2. Reducing rolling resistance
  3. Improving vehicle drag and aerodynamics
  4. Reducing energy consumption of auxiliary loads
  5. Reducing energy required through reduction of inertia

While all of these elements are important, the underlying theme of vehicle efficiency can almost always be tied back to vehicle mass as shown in the figure above. By lowering the curb weight, the energy required to move the vehicle is lowered due to a reduction in inertia and the vehicle rolling resistance. The result is improved fuel economy.

Participants are challenged to impact this scenario by focusing on a completely novel redesign of the vehicle that directly targets the issue of vehicle mass. Participants are encouraged to address (but not limited to) innovative material technologies, novel structural designs and novel energy absorbing materials. Entrants can also propose unique methods of manufacturing, which unlock the potential of contemporary or even classic construction materials that already enable vehicle lightweighting. The only restriction is that solutions must be compatible with existing roadway infrastructure. 

Occupant Safety:

One of the most important aspects of this challenge is how a given solution addresses the question of occupant safety. Entries will have to justify that their given solution either matches the level of safety of existing vehicles, or exceeds it. In addressing safety, entries should consider certain scenarios as defined in the Guidelines section. While there are no specific criteria required for the defense of these items, entrants should address these issues to the best of their abilities and resources. Active accident avoidance is not in consideration for this challenge.


Requirements are elements of an entry that MUST be included in the submission. If an entry does not address each of these points satisfactorily, that entry will be disqualified.

This challenge requires entries to address:

  • Mass reduction in a sedan configuration passenger car accommodating 5 occupants
  • Current vehicle safety standards

The challenge also requires the entries to be compatible with existing roadway infrastructure, i.e. No in-road chargers, in-road rail systems, etc.


Guidelines are conceptual directions that should lead the solutions provided. Judging will specifically be considering these elements in addition to requirements and the overarching mission statement. While these may include items that do not need to be specifically met, they express attributes that will serve to highlight the truly exceptional entries.

  • Consider frontal and side impact scenarios.
  • Explore innovative structures and materials or even methods of manufacturing, which enable the use of contemporary or classic construction materials for vehicle lightweighting
  • Always remember that the impact of your solution is fundamentally related to adoption. Look to address the adoption of your idea on multiple levels:
    • While specific cost metrics are not expected, consider costs of materials, tooling and manufacturing processes.
    • Be aware of aesthetic hurdles of your entry and consider providing direction to address those issues.
    • Consider environmental impact.


  • Any 2D or 3D assets created around the concept solution
  • Relevant materials list referencing all the key materials that contribute to the success of the concept
  • Supporting Technology and Components list, including references validating the performance assumptions of those elements where necessary
  • A written explanation or defense of the concept including (not to exceed seven pages):
    • Impacts on curb weight and occupant safety
    • A description of the manufacturing processes required to support your solution
    • A critique on the potential issues with the concept - what are the potential challenges and enabling technologies for the solution?
    • Identification and justification of the component to be considered for the Innovative Component and/or Safety Component award(s)
  • A completed self evaluation card that can be downloaded with the ignition kit.


A panel of expert judges will evaluate your submission based on the following criteria:

  • Curb Weight Reduction
  • Safety
  • Novelty/Innovation
  • Supporting Evidence

Areas not of interest:

  • Materials with harmful environmental properties
  • Safety based on active accident avoidance
  • Improvements in powertrain efficiency except those enabled by lightweighting
  • Aerodynamic solutions

[1] http://epa.gov/fueleconomy/fetrends/1975-2013/420r...

[2]Ricardo Inc., 2008. Impact of vehicle weight reduction on fuel economy for various vehicle architectures. Report prepared for the Aluminum Association, Inc.

[3]Cheah L., Heywood J., 2011. Meeting U.S. passenger vehicle fuel economy standards in 2016 and beyond. Energy Policy 39, 454-466.

[4] www.eia.gov

If It Works, Will It Matter?

Technical success is one thing, but commercial success is another.  ARPA-E’s unique Technology-to-Market program was designed to help our awardees move their research out of the lab and into the market, accelerating the adoption of potentially game-changing technologies. The Technology-to-Market team is dedicated to the common goal of answering the fundamental question: if it works, will it matter?


Featuring remarks from Cheryl Martin, ARPA-E’s Deputy Director for Commercialization, as well as interviews with three members of the Technology-to-Market team, this video demonstrates ARPA-E’s commitment to both the development and deployment of transformational energy technologies. The video also incorporates footage shot on site with several ARPA-E awardees, much of which will be highlighted in other videos shown throughout the 2015 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.

ARPA-E LITECAR Challenge Winners

With more than 250 conceptual designs submitted, we are pleased to highlight the winners of the LIghtweighting Technologies Enabling Comprehensive Automotive Redesign (LITECAR) Challenge. These innovative conceptual designs seek to lightweight a vehicle while maintaining or exceeding current U.S. automotive safety standards. Learn more about the winning designs in this video and this blog post on the ARPA-E website. 

The Value of Strategic Partnerships

Strong strategic partnerships can be the difference between those technologies that only achieve success in the lab and those that actually break into the marketplace. Two ARPA-E awardees—AutoGrid and APEI—have forged strategic partnerships that have positioned their technologies to achieve major success in the market. This video features remarks from ARPA-E Technology-to-Market Advisor Josh Gould and interviews with technologists at AutoGrid and APEI, who each tell the story of how their company leveraged relationships with strategic partners to broaden their customer base and bring their technology to life.

The Importance of Internal Development

The story of an ARPA-E awardee doesn’t necessarily end when ARPA-E funding runs out. Two ARPA-E awardees—Eagle Picher Technologies and Baldor Electric Company—have developed technologies to the point where internal stakeholders of their respective companies committed additional funds to help these technologies achieve success in the market. This video features remarks from ARPA-E Technology-to-Market Advisor Kacy Gerst and interviews with technologists at Eagle Picher and Baldor, who each tell the story of how they achieved buy-in from their internal leadership to further develop their ARPA-E-funded technologies.

The Role of Startups

Many ARPA-E-funded universities and research institutions have created start-up companies to further catalyze their next-generation technologies. Ambri and BlackPak are two examples of ARPA-E projects that were spun out by other institutions—Massachusetts Institute of Technology and SRI International, respectively—in an effort to get their technologies out of the lab and into the market quickly. This video features remarks from ARPA-E Senior Commercialization Advisor Sue Babinec and interviews with technologists at Ambri and BlackPak, who each tell the story of how their new companies spun out of the lab and have become agile, thriving startups capable of delivering real products to the marketplace.

Advancing the Electric Grid

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.

Improving Military Energy Security

The U.S. military has a vested interest in advancing microgrid technologies that can power forward operating bases. These technologies could not only help the military significantly reduce its energy demand both at home and abroad, but also they could reduce the number of fuel-supply convoys required on the battlefield and the number of troops killed in fuel-supply convoy attacks. This video highlights two ARPA-E projects that have formed strategic partnerships with the military to enable these microgrids at forward operating bases. Georgia Tech is developing an innovative absorption heat pump that utilizes exhaust heat to provide heating and cooling, which could cut the amount of energy used to heat and cool forward operating bases by 50%. Primus Power is developing a low-cost, energy-dense storage system that could store enough energy to operate a base for several days in the event of a disruption.