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

October 05, 2011

DOE Awards $156 Million for Groundbreaking Energy Research Projects

DOE announced on September 29 awards of $156 million for 60 cutting-edge research initiatives under DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) agency that are aimed at dramatically improving how the United States produces and uses energy. The new ARPA-E selections focus on accelerating innovations in clean technology while increasing U.S. competitiveness in rare earth alternatives and breakthroughs in biofuels, thermal storage, grid controls, and solar power electronics. The selected projects are located in 25 states, with 50% of endeavors led by universities, 23% by small businesses, 12% by large businesses, 13% by national labs, and 2% by nonprofits. This round of selections brings the total of ARPA-E awards to date to 180 projects, 12 program areas, and $521.7 million.

Ten of the selections are part of the new Plants Engineered to Replace Oil category, which has projects seeking to create biofuels from domestic sources such as tobacco and pine trees for half their current cost, making them cost-competitive with fuels from oil. For example, the University of Florida—Gainesville will increase the production of turpentine, a natural liquid biofuel isolated from pine trees. The type of pine tree developed for this project is designed to increase the turpentine storage capacity of the wood, upping turpentine production from 3% to 20%. Another 14 projects are part of the Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies category, which is designed to fund early-stage technology alternatives that reduce or eliminate the dependence on rare earth materials by developing substitutes in electric vehicle motors and wind turbines.

Additionally, 15 projects in the High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage section aims to develop revolutionary cost-effective thermal energy storage technologies. Among them, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will pursue its HybriSol thermal energy storage device, or a heat battery, that captures and stores energy from the sun to be released onto the grid later. Fourteen projects in the Green Electricity Network Integration area will explore innovative control software and high-voltage hardware to reliably control the grid network. Finally, seven projects will collaborate with DOE's SunShot Initiative under the Solar ADEPT program, which focuses on integrating advanced power electronics into solar panels and solar farms to extract and deliver energy more efficiently. See the DOE press release, the list of projectsPDF, and the ARPA-E website.