Finding cost-effective ways to store energy on a large scale across the electrical grid is vital for reducing dependence on fossil fuels and making use of renewables even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
US Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the funding today at the first-ever ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, DC.
ARPA-E stands for “Advanced Projects Research Agency – Energy.”
“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,” Chu said.
This is the third round of ARPA-E funding. Winning research projects from the programme’s first round are being showcased during this week’s summit, which also features panel discussions on identifying game-changing technologies, building regional energy innovation clusters, the role of energy in national security, and successfully developing and commercialising energy technology breakthroughs.
The latest round of funding will focus on research in three areas:
- Grid-scale energy storage technologies that can enable the use of solar energy, wind power and other clean but intermittent renewable energy sources around the clock. The goal is to eventually be able to scale such storage technologies to the megawatt and megawatt-hour levels of power and energy capacity.
- Advances that can improve existing power converter performance while reducing costs. These could include innovations in soft magnetics, high voltage switches and high-density charge storage. Areas of focus will include chip-scale power converters for solid-state lighting, power converters for grid-tied solar cells, and lightweight energy conversion for applications like wind turbine generators. According to the DOE, such advanced power electronics could provide as much as a 25 to 30 per cent reduction in electricity consumption, or a 12 per cent reduction in total US energy consumption.
- Innovative and energy-efficient cooling technologies for buildings. The goal here is to both save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from building air conditioning and refrigerants used in vapour compression systems. The DOE says the unique challenge for the US market will be to develop technologies that can be retrofitted into current cooling systems. Developing economies, on the other hand, offer a large potential market for new cooling technologies.
ARPA-E’s first round of funding, announced in early 2009, ended up backing 37 projects aimed at transformational innovations in energy storage, biofuels, carbon capture, renewable power, building efficiency, vehicles and other areas. The second round, announced last December, has yeilded nearly 500 concept papers focused mainly on new approaches for biofuels, carbon capture and batteries for electric vehicles.
One of the projects to receive first-round funding was Sun Catalytix, a company started by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Daniel Nocera (see featured video). Sun Catalytix is working to develop a technology that mimics photosynthesis to split water into oxygen and hydrogen, which can then be used for fuel.