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April 20th, 2011

Advanced materials opportunity: ARPA-E offers new $130M round of high-risk, high-reward funding

Published on April 20th, 2011 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

One of the projects ARPA-E is seeking to fund are alternatives to five key at-risk rare earth elements. Credit: DOE, “Critical Materials Strategy.”

The DOE announced today that it is adding five new technology programs to the ARPA-E portfolio and is ponying-up $130 million to kick these new programs off.

This is good news. Now that the Recovery Act monies have been allocated, ARPA-E funding opportunities are going to be increasingly important for the development of advanced ceramic, glass and other materials for energy-related applications.

The five new technology areas, and their acronyms, are:

Plants Engineered To Replace Oil ($30 million) — The DOE says the goal of PETRO is to find technologies that optimize the biochemical processes of energy capture and conversion to develop a new generation of energy-rich crops. ARPA-E wants to create biofuels for half their current cost.

High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage ($30 million) —  With HEATS, ARPA-E wants “revolutionary cost-effective thermal energy storage technologies.” The DOE announcement says it is particularly interested in four areas: 1) new nonintermittent, cost-competitive solar thermal power plants; 2) advanced nuclear power plants capable of responding to peak demand; 3) fuel produced from thermochemical reactions to store solar energy; and 4) new HVAC systems for electric vehicles that use thermal storage to improve the driving range of electric vehicles by up to 40 percent. ARPA-E says it is interested “in all forms of thermal storage such as sensible heating, phase change, super-critical systems and thermochemical storage.”

Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies ($30 million) — Because of strategic-sourcing RE problems, ARPA-E is looking to REACT to deliver early-stage technologies that provide substitutes or alternatives for electric vehicle motors and wind generator applications. DOE says five RE elements —neodymium, dysprosium, terbium, europium and yttrium — are of great concern because of the role they play in energy production and the level of supply-interruption risk each faces. ARPA-E mentions interest in high-energy density, low-rare earth content permanent magnetic materials; nonpermanent magnet motors coupled high-permeability low-loss soft magnetic materials; and high-temperature superconductor generators.

Green Electricity Network Integration ($30 million) — Included in GENI technologies are grid-related control software and high-voltage hardware. ARPA-E specifically desires controls capable of managing a 10-fold increase in wind and solar power, and “resilient power flow control hardware — or the energy equivalent of an internet router.”

Solar Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology ($10 million) — These technologies are envisions as part of the DOE SunShot program. Through Solar ADEPT, ARPA-E is seeking methods to extract and deliver solar power more efficiently through advanced magnetics, semiconductor switches and charge storage. The DOE believes these technologies can slash power conversion costs by up to 50 percent for utilities and 80 percent for homeowners. ARPA-E mentions interest in magnetic materials with high operating flux densities (while achieving electrical resistivity exceeding 1mOhm-cm and exhibiting high thermal conductivity); solid-state switch technologies and wide-bandgap devices (using materials such as SiC, GaN, GaN on Si, diamond and ZnO); new circuit topologies and converter architectures; and charge storage devices with high power densities and high reliability.

I should note that there is a lot more detail available about what APRA-E has in mind in each of the project funding opportunity announcements (in PDF form). The easiest approach is to go to the full FOA page and then click on the separate FOAs to select the projects that are of interest.

DOE notes that this is the fourth round of ARPA-E funding opportunities and that 121 projects in 30 states are receiving financial support.

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