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US invests millions in quest for carbon capture, solar fuels

led-lightsThe US Department of Energy (DOE) is pinning its hopes — and money — on the possibility that we could one day easily store energy from intermittent sources like wind and solar for steady power supplies, or produce transport fuel directly from bacteria using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

Those two innovations are among 37 that have won $151 million in funding through the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E. This is the first round of projects to be funded under ARPA-E, which aims to develop technologies that can transform the global energy landscape. The programme has received a total of $400 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“ARPA-E is a crucial part of the new effort by the US to spur the next Industrial Revolution in clean energy technologies, creating thousands of new jobs and helping cut carbon pollution,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Among the projects receiving funding aer:

  • Liquid Metal Grid-Scale Batteries: Created by Don Sadoway, a battery scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the all-liquid metal battery is based on low-cost, domestically available liquid metals. It promises 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 deployed at homes, such batteries could also help individual consumers become part of a future “smart-energy Internet” which would give them greater control over their energy usage and delivery.
  • Bacteria for Producing Direct Solar Hydrocarbon Biofuels: Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a bioreactor that has the potential to produce a flow of 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. Then, another organism converts the sugars to gasoline and diesel transportation fuels. This development has the potential to greatly increase domestic production of clean fuel for vehicles.
  • CO2 Capture using Artificial Enzymes: The United Technologies Research Centre is working to develop 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 significantly lower capital costs to get carbon capture systems up and running. This would represent a major breakthrough that could make it affordable to capture carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants around the world.
  • Low-Cost Crystals for LED Lighting: Developed by Momentive Performance Materials, this novel crystal growth technology could dramatically 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 could lower the cost of LEDs, accelerating mass market use, and dramatically decrease lighting energy usage.

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