This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

December 09, 2009

ARPA-E Offers $100 Million for Biofuel and Battery Research Projects

Photo of the Chevrolet Volt, a sleek sedan.

"Electrified" vehicles such as the Chevy Volt could eventually benefit from the innovative battery technologies supported by ARPA-E.
Credit: ©GM Corp.

DOE announced on December 7 that the department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is offering a second round of grants for innovative energy research projects. The grants will draw upon $100 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and are designed to accelerate innovation in green technology, increase U.S. competitiveness, and create jobs. This funding round is focused specifically on new approaches for biofuels and electric vehicle batteries, as well as carbon capture technologies. For now, applicants need to submit a concept paper by January 15, 2010. The deadline for full applications has not been determined yet.

For biofuels, ARPA-E is seeking new ways to make liquid transportation fuels from carbon dioxide, without using petroleum or biomass. Instead, the intent is toemploy microorganisms to harness the chemical or electrical energy needed to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels. The objective is to develop an entirely new paradigm for the production of liquid fuels that could overcome the challenges associated with current technologies, including a dependence on biomass supplies or waste streams. While there are also approaches to produce liquid transportation fuels from sunlight and carbon dioxide using photosynthesis, these approaches suffer from low efficiencies. ARPA-E requests innovative proposals that can overcome these challenges through the use of metabolic engineering and synthetic biological approaches for the efficient conversion of carbon dioxide to liquid transportation fuels. Such approaches could be 10 times more efficient than current techniques that rely on photosynthetic biomass.

ARPA-E is also looking to develop a new generation of low-cost batteries with ultra-high energy densities for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs). ARPA-E's objective is to fund high-risk, high-reward research efforts that will promote leadership in the emerging EV battery market. The development of high-energy, low-cost batteries represents the critical barrier to widespread deployment of EVs, which could improve U.S. oil security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and spur economic growth. If successful, new battery technologies developed under this program will give electrified light-duty vehicles the range, performance, lifetime, and cost required to shift transportation energy from oil to the domestically powered U.S. electric grid. See the DOE press release, DOE's ARPA-E Web site, and the ARPA-E Web site for Funding Opportunity Announcements.

And on December 8, DOE announced the creation of the ARPA-E Fellows Program, which will consist of highly technical scientists and researchers who will actively help create the strategic direction and vision of ARPA-E. Fellows, selected for no more than two year terms, will support ARPA-E's program directors in program creation, while also undertaking independent explorations of promising future research areas for the agency. They will also engage with world-class researchers and innovators to develop theses for high-impact ARPA-E research program areas, prepare energy technology and economic analyses, and make recommendations to DOE senior management. See the DOE press release.