ARPA-E is on a roll. The agency charged with propelling the U.S. into a new energy future just announced a new $100 million round of funding aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The focus is on innovative technologies for grid-scale energy storage, along with next-generation power converters and new energy efficient heating and cooling systems in buildings – and not just because these things are sort of neat.
According to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the particular goal of this round of funding is to kickstart the economy and set it up for future growth. As Secretary Chu sums it up, “This is about unleashing the American innovation machine to solve the energy and climate challenge, while creating new jobs, new industries, and new exports for America’s workers.” In other words, to do what the fossil fuel industry is increasingly incapable of doing.
ARPA-E and Innovation
ARPA-E stands for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy. It was established in the Department of Energy by Congress in 2007 and modeled after the Department of Defense’s successful DARPA (you know, the folks who invented the Internet). That being 2007, ARPA-E was never funded, at least not until the Obama administration picked it up and dusted it off last year. Since then it’s going like gangbusters and has funded a startling range of renewable energy projects from solar power that mimics photosynthesis, to fuel-secreting bacteria.
ARPA-E and Changing the Game
ARPA-E’s intention is to deliver the next generation of game-changing technology. A round of funding announced just a few weeks ago focused on two potential game changers, new ultra high energy density batteries and high efficiency liquid electrofuels based on microorganisms. A third focus area, advanced carbon capture for coal fired power plants, fits into the greenhouse gas puzzle but is not exactly a game changer for communities affected by destructive mountaintop coal mining.
The Latest Round of Funding
The newly announced round kicked of on March 2 and it focuses on three areas. One is “Grid Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage,” which basically means cost effective storage (high tech flywheels are one example) that can manipulate the variable, short-duration generating capacity that is characteristic of renewable energy such as wind and solar. Another is “Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology,” which involves high-performance power converters that could reduce energy consumption by up to 30%. The third is a homage to Michael Jackson. No, really. It’s called “Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT). This focus area is seeking high efficiency heating and cooling technologies, with an emphasis on technologies that perform in warm, humid, and hot climates. BEET-IT is designed to boost American exports to developing economies overseas, where ARPA-E anticipates an increase in the ability to afford Western style heating and cooling equipment.
Image: Transmission lines by donjd2 on flickr.com.
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