It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Like DARPA does for military technology, ARPA-E is intended to fund high-risk, high-reward research that might not otherwise be pursued because there is a relatively high risk of failure. Like DARPA, it is intended to fund projects involving government labs, private industry, and universities. ARPA-E has four objectives:
- To bring a freshness, excitement, and sense of mission to energy research that will attract the U.S.’s best and brightest minds;
- To focus on creative, transformation energy research that the industry cannot, or will not. support due to its high risk, but that has high reward potential;
- To utilize an ARPA-like organization that is flat, nimble, and sparse, capable of sustaining for long periods of time those projects whose promise remains real, while phasing out programs that do not prove to be as promising as anticipated; and
- To create a new tool to bridge the gap between basic energy research and development/industrial innovation.
ARPA–E research articles from Innovation Toronto
- How The DARPA Of The Energy World Wants To Change The Electricity Grid – July 7, 2014
- Powerful, Possible Next Step in Electric Motors – May 20, 2014
- Organic mega flow battery promises breakthrough for renewable energy
- Is the Secret to Cheap Energy Storage Hiding in Harlem?
- Feds fund concept for cheaper, better titanium made in U.S.
- Fuel-efficient cars, planes cheaper with magnesium drawn from ocean
- And the DOE energy innovation award goes to … a new type of nuclear power
- GE Developing Fabric Wind Turbine Blades
- New Sophisticated Control Algorithms Poised to Revolutionize Electric Battery Technology
- Race for Renewables’ Game-changers Heats Up
- Envia Claims ‘Breakthrough’ in Lithium-Ion Battery Cost and Energy Density
- Bio Architecture Lab Technology That Efficiently Converts Seaweed to Renewable Fuels and Chemicals
- Eos Energy Storage Looking to Disrupt Grid-Scale Batteries With Zinc-Air
- Policy Key to Weather Cleantech Crisis
- SunShot: Lowering the Price of Electricity from the Sun
- Inventing the Future of Energy
- U.S. Military Links Alternative Energy Research to Lives–and Dollars–Saved
- Better Lithium Batteries
- Molten Metal Batteries Return for Renewable Energy Storage
- Inventing Batteries from Air
- How to Turn a New Clean Energy Process into a Company
- Funding to boost development of high-energy density capacitors for hybrids and EVs
- Reverse Combustion: Can CO2 Be Turned Back into Fuel?
- Turning plant sugars into gasoline with heat, pressure and catalysts
- Can a Chemist Deliver Distributed Energy from a Water Bottle?
- Does Solar Power Need a Revolution?
- Sunshine is free, so can photovoltaics be cheap?
- Storing megawatts: Liquid-metal batteries and electricity
- Today most U.S. biodiesel is produced from soybean. But despite its value as a protein source, soybean only provides the equivalent of about one barrel of oil per acre.
- A team led by the University of Illinois has engineered sugarcane plants to produce 12 percent oil by weight, and expect to reach 20 percent in the future. This could provide 17 barrels of oil per acre.
- Biodiesel from “oil cane” could reduce the cost of biodiesel production from $4.10 to $2.20 per gallon and provide additional environmental and economic benefits.
America’s oil consumption far exceeds that of every other country in the world. What’s more, it’s unsustainable.
Therefore, in 2007, Congress mandated a move away from petroleum-based oils toward more renewable sources. Soybeans, an important dietary protein and the current primary source of plant-based oils used for biodiesel production, only yield about one barrel per acre. At this rate, the soybean crop could never quench the nation’s thirst for oil.
To address this issue, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program called for high-risk, high-reward projects that could develop new drop-in fuels in its PETRO program. A team led by University of Illinois researchers answered the call by imagining and successfully achieving a way to produce large quantities of oil from sugarcane. Their most recent study demonstrates the economic benefits of this technology relative to soybean oil.
“We thought that if we could go back to the drawing board, we’d need a very productive crop. And we would also need something that could grow on land that isn’t being used intensively for food. We came up with sugarcane and sweet sorghum,” recalls Stephen P. Long, U of I crop scientist and lead investigator on the project.
The team altered sugarcane metabolism to convert sugars into lipids, or oils, which could be used to produce biodiesel. The natural makeup of sugarcane is typically only about 0.05 percent oil. Within a year of starting the project, the team was able to boost oil production 20 times, to approximately 1 percent. At the time of this writing, the so-called “oil-cane” plants are producing 12 percent oil. The ultimate goal is to achieve 20 percent. Oil cane has additional advantages that have been engineered by the team. These include increased cold tolerance and more efficient photosynthesis, which leads to greater biomass production and even more oil.
“If all of the energy that goes into producing sugar instead goes into oil, then you could get 17 to 20 barrels of oil per acre,” Long explains. “A crop like this could be producing biodiesel at a very competitive price, and could represent a perpetual source of oil and a very significant offset to greenhouse gas emissions, as well.”
In their analysis, the team looked at the land area, technology, and costs required for processing oil-cane biomass into biodiesel under a variety of oil production scenarios, from 2 percent oil in the plant to 20 percent. These numbers were compared with normal sugarcane, which can be used to produce ethanol, and soybean.
An advantage of oil cane is that leftover sugars in the plant can be converted to ethanol, providing two fuel sources in one.
“Modern sugarcane mills in Brazil shared with us all of their information on energy inputs, costs, and machinery. Then we looked at the U.S. corn ethanol industry, and how they separated the corn oil. Everything we used is existing technology, so that gave us a lot of security on our estimates,” Long says.
The analysis showed that oil cane with 20 percent oil in the stem, grown on under-utilized acres in the southeastern United States, could replace more than two-thirds of the country’s use of diesel and jet fuel. This represents a much greater proportion than could be supplied by soybean, even if the entire crop went to biodiesel production. Furthermore, oil cane could achieve this level of productivity on a fraction of the land area that would be needed for crops like soybean and canola, and it could do so on land considered unusable for food crop production.
The current full production cost of biodiesel from soybean is $4.10 per gallon ($1.08 per liter). Using oil cane instead, that cost decreases to $3.30 per gallon for 2 percent oil cane and to $2.20 per gallon for 20 percent oil cane. The ethanol produced from 1-, 5- and 10 percent oil cane would add to the cost benefit.
Although $2.20 per gallon does not represent a large savings over the current price of gasoline in the United States, Long cautions consumers and politicians to look at the bigger picture.
“We know from our past experience that it’s not going to last,” he says. “We need to start building for a future when gas is no longer as low as $1.50 per gallon, and we need to avoid any future dependency on other countries for our oil. We are lucky to have the land resources to do this and, in doing so, to ensure that future generations have a supply of oil that is domestic and renewable.”
Low-cost coating would disrupt the building retrofit market and potentially save billions in electricity
It’s estimated that 10 percent of all the energy used in buildings in the U.S. can be attributed to window performance, costing building owners about $50 billion annually, yet the high cost of replacing windows or retrofitting them with an energy efficient coating is a major deterrent. U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers are seeking to address this problem with creative chemistry—a polymer heat-reflective coating that can be painted on at one-tenth the cost.
“Instead of hiring expensive contractors, a homeowner could go to the local hardware store, buy the coating, and paint it on as a DIY retrofit—that’s the vision,” said Berkeley Lab scientist Raymond Weitekamp. “The coating will selectively reflect the infrared solar energy back to the sky while allowing visible light to pass through, which will drastically improve the energy efficiency of windows, particularly in warm climates and southern climates, where a significant fraction of energy usage goes to air conditioning.”
A team of Berkeley Lab scientists is receiving part of a $3.95 million award from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) to develop this product. The multi-institutional team is led by researcher Garret Miyake at the University of Colorado Boulder, and also includes Caltech and Materia Inc.
There are retrofit window films on the market now that have spectral selectivity, but a professional contractor is needed to install them, a barrier for many building owners. A low-cost option could significantly expand adoption and result in potential annual energy savings of 35 billion kilowatt-hours, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 24 billion kilograms per year, the equivalent of taking 5 million cars off the road.
The Berkeley Lab technology relies on a type of material called a bottlebrush polymer, which, as its name suggests, has one main rigid chain of molecules with bristles coming off the sides. This unusual molecular architecture lends it some unique properties, one being that it doesn’t entangle easily.
“Imagine spaghetti versus gummy worms,” Weitekamp explained. “Spaghetti can be tied up in knots. If you want to rearrange cooked spaghetti back to its uncooked alignment, you would have to put significant energy into unwinding it. But with gummy worms you can line them all up easily because they’re pretty rigid.”
As a graduate student at Caltech, Weitekamp worked on understanding and controlling how bottlebrush polymers self-assemble into nanostructures behaving as photonic crystals, which can selectively reflect light at different frequencies. Last year he came to Berkeley Lab as part of Cyclotron Road, a program for entrepreneurial researchers, to commercialize these coatings and other related polymer-based technologies. He has been working on the development of polymeric materials as a user at the Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Berkeley Lab.
“We were very compelled by the potential impact of [Weitekamp’s] technology across a number of industries,” said Cyclotron Road director Ilan Gur. “His ideas aligned with the Foundry’s expertise in polymer chemistry and the window application fit squarely into Berkeley Lab’s existing strengths in buildings technology and energy analysis.”
For the ARPA-E award, Weitekamp is collaborating with Berkeley Lab’s Steve Selkowitz, a leading expert on building science and window technologies, and Arman Shehabi, an expert in analyzing energy use of buildings, to develop a cost-competitive and scalable product. Their target cost is $1.50 per square foot, one-tenth the current market cost for commercially installed energy efficient retrofit window coatings.
“ARPA-E invests in high-risk, high-reward projects,” Shehabi said. “The high reward in this project isn’t in the performance improvement. It’s transformative in how windows could be retrofitted—it’s something you can do yourself. The market need is very large, and there’s nothing low-cost out there that meets that need.”