What the ARPA-E Is Up To: $93 Million for Energy Research

In a third round of Recovery Act funding awards, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, announced that $93 million will be awarded to 43 different projects around the country. According to a press release, the projects "focus on accelerating innovation in green technology while increasing America's competitiveness in grid scale energy storage, power electronics and building efficiency." Energy Secretary Steven Chu made the announcement on Monday.

ARPA-E is modeled after DARPA, the military's geeked out wing that develops things like stealth technology for fighter planes. One of the interesting sides of ARPA-E is that it encourages researchers to take shots at things that might be a bit out there. According to their mission statement: "To focus on creative “out-of-the-box” transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its high risk but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation."

You can read about all the projects here [PDF], but here are a couple of newly funded projects that might fit that category of high risk and high reward:

  • ABB Inc. along with SuperPower Inc. and Brookhaven National Laboratory received $4.2 million to try and build an advanced superconducting magnetic energy storage device. In short, this involves storing energy from the grid in the magnetic field of a coiled wire, and could theoretically have "near-zero" loss of energy. The aim is to bring a fringe technology toward the mainstream of power storage, making it "cost-competitive for delivering megawatt hours of stored electricity."
  • The Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the University of Southern California will try and improve the technology involved with iron-air batteries. Iron-air batteries are attractive because of the super cheap nature of their materials, but have to-date suffered from poor efficiency and life cycle. In this project, $1.46 million will go toward improving on those issues and creating a proof-of-concept battery that could eventually be commercialized for cheap but effective energy storage.
  • Another category of project involves improved building efficiency, and Architectural Applications and partners will use $458,265 to try and develop a novel air conditioning system. If successful, recycled exhausted air will be used to partially cool and dehumidify incoming fresh air. "This design promises a performance increase of 25-40 percent compared to conventional air conditioning systems."
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