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.
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.
Allowing people to refuel natural gas vehicles at home could revolutionize the way we power our cars and trucks. Currently, our nation faces two challenges in enabling natural gas for transportation. The first is improving the way gas tanks are built for natural gas vehicles; they need to be conformable, allowing them to fit tightly into the vehicle. The second challenge is improving the way those tanks are refueled while maintaining cost-effectiveness, safety, and reliability. This video highlights two ARPA-E project teams with innovative solutions to these challenges. REL is addressing the first challenge by developing a low-cost, conformable natural gas tank with an interconnected core structure. Oregon State University and OnBoard Dynamics are addressing the second challenge by developing a self-refueling natural gas vehicle that integrates a compressor into its engine—using one of the engine’s cylinders to compress gas eliminates the need for an expensive at-home refueling system. These two distinct technologies from ARPA-E’s MOVE program illustrate how the Agency takes a multi-pronged approach to problem solving and innovation.
ARPA-E’s PETRO program was created to supply the transportation sector with plant-derived fuels that are cost-competitive with petroleum and don’t affect U.S. food supply. This video highlights the role that ARPA-E has played in connecting traditionally distinct research areas to inform the research and development efforts of project teams looking to engineer plants to replace petroleum.. Specifically, it highlights how the University of Florida leveraged lessons learned from the Joint BioEnergy Institute’s work with E. coli to directly influence their work in harvesting fuel molecules from pine trees, as well as how the same genes tested in pine are now being tested in tobacco at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This transfer of knowledge facilitates new discovery.
Urban Electric Power, a startup formed by researchers from the City University of New York (CUNY) Energy Institute, is taking breakthroughs in battery technology from the lab to the market. With industry and government funding, including a grant from ARPA-E, Urban Electric Power developed a zinc-nickel oxide battery electrolyte that circulates constantly, eliminating dendrite formation and preventing battery shortages. Their new challenge is to take this technology to the market, where they can scale up the batteries for reducing peak energy demand in urban areas and storing variable renewable electricity.
Fluidic, with the help of ARPA-E funding, has developed and deployed the world's first proven high cycle life metal air battery. Metal air technology, often used in smaller scale devices like hearing aids, has the lowest cost per electron of any rechargeable battery storage in existence. Deploying these batteries for grid reliability is competitive with pumped hydro installations while having the advantages of a small footprint.
Fluidic's battery technology allows utilities and other end users to store intermittent energy generated from solar and wind, as well as maintain reliable electrical delivery during power outages. The batteries are manufactured in the US and currently deployed to customers in emerging markets for cell tower reliability. As they continue to add customers, they've gained experience and real world data that will soon be leveraged for US grid reliability.
Ceres, with the help of ARPA-E funding, has rethought biofuels from the ground up. Their forward thinking approach to overcoming the traditional barriers for biofuels has resulted in creating high biomass feedstocks for switchgrass, sorghum, and miscanthus varietals. These new breeds grow taller and thicker on traditionally low rent farmland that doesn't compete with corn or other food crops.
Cree, with the help of ARPA-E funding, has developed a Silicon Carbide (SIC) transistor which can be used to create solid state transformers capable of meeting the unique needs of the emerging smart grid. SIC transistors are different from common silicon computer chips in that they handle grid scale voltages with ease and their high frequency switching is well suited to the intermittent nature of renewable energy generation.
Dr. Hans Rosling gives a keynote presentation at the 2013 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. Dr. Rosling is a well-known public speaker on global change, listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine. He is professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute, the medical University in Stockholm, Sweden. He is also "Edutainer" at Gapminder Foundation where he produces educational videos and other educational material for the free website gapminder.org
POWER Magazine interviewed ARPA-E awardees from PARC about their project to develop a fiber optic monitoring system that could provide detailed information about the internal condition of batteries. The approach would have potential application to a variety of battery and other technologies, including wind turbine blades, generators, and engines. Video by Power Magazine Managing Editor Gail Reitenbach. Recorded at ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, Feb. 26, 2013.