WASHINGTON, DC, October 26, 2009 (ENS) – Liquid metal grid-scale battery technology that could enable constant energy supply from intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power…

A bioreactor that has the potential to produce a flow of gasoline directly from sunlight and carbon dioxide using two microscopic organisms and ending U.S. reliance on foreign oil…

New synthetic enzymes that could make it easier and more affordable to capture climate warming carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and factories…

Crystal growth technology that could lower the cost of developing light emitting diodes, LEDs, for energy efficient lighting…

These innovations and 33 others are in America’s energy future – funded today by the federal government through a new agency within the Department of Energy.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today that $151 million in funding for 37 research projects is being awarded through the department’s recently-formed Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, ARPA-E.

This is the first round of projects funded under ARPA-E, which is receiving total of $400 million of economic stimulus funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In announcing the selections, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, “After World War II, America was the unrivaled leader in basic and applied sciences. It was this leadership that led to enormous technological advances. ARPA-E is a crucial part of the new effort by the U.S. to spur the next Industrial Revolution in clean energy technologies, creating thousands of new jobs and helping cut carbon pollution.”

ARPA-E’s mission is to develop “nimble, creative and inventive approaches” to transform the global energy landscape while advancing America’s technology leadership, Chu said.

MIT battery scientist Don Sadoway (Photo courtesy MIT)

This first ARPA-E solicitation received 3,600 initial concept papers. Of those, some 300 full applications were requested and ultimately 37 final awardees through a rigorous review process with input from multiple review panels composed of leading U.S. energy science and technology experts and ARPA-E’s program managers. Evaluations were based on the potential for high impact on ARPA-E’s goals and scientific and technical merit.

The 37 grants will go to projects with lead researchers in 17 states. Of the organizations selected for funding, 43 percent are small businesses, 35 percent are educational institutions, and 19 percent are large corporations.

Scientists at the United Technologies Research Center are developing new synthetic enzymes that could make it easier and more affordable to capture carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and factories. If successful, the effort would mean a much lower energy requirement for industrial carbon capture and lower capital costs to get carbon capture systems up and running. This major breakthrough that could make it affordable to capture the carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants around the world.

General Motors received funding for development of a “shape memory alloy energy recovery device” to convert waste heat from car engines into electricity. This development could increase fuel efficiency in cars – most energy is lost as heat – and could be used in many other heat recovery applications.

The all-liquid metal battery, created by Professor Don Sadoway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is based on low cost, domestically available liquid metals. It has the potential to break through the cost barrier required for mass adoption of large scale energy storage as part of the nation’s energy grid.

If this project is successful, it will create a new class of batteries that Chu says will allow the U.S. to regain technology leadership in grid scale energy storage and enable constant energy supply from intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. This in turn will enable their widespread deployment on the U.S. grid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

If deployed at homes, it could allow individual consumers the ability to be part of a future “smart energy Internet,” where they would have much greater control over their energy usage and delivery.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a bioreactor that has the potential to produce gasoline directly from sunlight and CO2 using a symbiotic system of two organisms. First, a photosynthetic organism directly captures solar radiation and uses it to convert carbon dioxide to sugars. In the same area, another organism converts the sugars to gasoline and diesel transportation fuels.

A proposal for novel crystal growth technology developed by Momentive Performance Materials could lower the cost of developing light emitting diodes, LEDs, which are 30 times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and four times more efficient than compact fluorescents. This higher quality, low-cost material would offer breakthroughs in lowering costs of finished LED lighting, accelerating mass market use, and decreasing U.S. lighting energy usage. Lighting accounts for 14 percent of U.S. electricity use.

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