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August 31st, 2011

ARPA-E awards $15.5M to leverage $108M for five clean tech innovators; says rare-earth innovations awards coming

Published on August 31st, 2011 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

Transphorm, one of the companies that will be receiving ARPA-E and private investment funding, uses gallium nitride transistors to tackle the current level of power conversion losses (10%). Credit: Energy Information Administration.

ARPA-E announced a new round of seed awards, $1.5–$6 million each, which the agency says will unlock a total investment of $100 million when private capital is included. The awards cover interesting enterprises that are involved with flow batteries, waste heat energy recovery via thermoelectrics, biofuels or innovative new approaches to biofuels or waste heat recovery. It also says awards related to projects to diminish or replace reliance on rare-earth elements will be made in September.

Here is what was announced yesterday:

Phononic Devices (ARPA-E, $3 million; private, $11 million): The company uses advanced semiconductor materials to capture and convert wasted heat produced by factories, power plants and vehicles. In addition, Phononic wants to use these devices as efficient cooling systems. In an ARPA-E document (pdf), the company claims its technology can improve thermoelectric efficiency from less than 10% today to more than 30%. This is expected to result in a $/W energy savings of 75% for power generation and 60% for cooling, respectively.

Primus Power (ARPA-E, $2 million; private, $11 million): Although the ARPA-E release implies that Primus has developed a flow battery, I think it is more accurate to say that the company has developed low cost, long-lived electrodes for flow batteries.

OPX Biotechnologies (ARPA-E, $6 million; private, $36.5 million): OPX Bio uses bacteria to produce a liquid biofuel using electricity and carbon dioxide. This liquid biofuel is being designed to replace petroleum fuel at a competitive cost. OPX Bio technology can be traced to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Fritz Prinz/Stanford University (ARPA-E, $1.5 million; private funding, $25 million): Prinz and Stanford are commercializing what they call an All-Electron Battery. The AEB is a new type of energy storage device based on moving electrons instead of ions, and “uses electron/hole redox instead of capacitive polarization of a double-layer.” They claim it can withstand 1,000s of charges without showing a significant drop in performance.

Transphorm (ARPA-E, $3 million; private, $25 million): Transphorm uses a system based on gallium nitride high electron mobility transistors to cut power waste during power conversion (without electromagnetic interference tradeoffs) by efficiently and quickly switching electrical currents, for example in bridge converters and inverters.

ARPA-E says it will be making its next round of awards in September. Interestingly, it says the September announcement will include up to $30 million in awards “to a series of innovative projects to keep America’s manufacturers competitive by reducing the need for expensive “rare earth” materials from China.”


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