Market Research and Insight

 “Heat batteries,” fuel from pine trees and alternatives to increasingly expensive rare earth materials are among the quests of 60 research projects set to...

 “Heat batteries,” fuel from pine trees and alternatives to increasingly expensive rare earth materials are among the quests of 60 research projects set to receive $156 million from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The funds, allocated in the department’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget, are all focused on supporting innovations in clean technology.

“It is now more important than ever to invest in game-changing ideas that will build the technological infrastructure for a new, clean energy economy,” said Arun Majumdar, director of ARPA-E.

The 60 projects set for funding in the coming budget year are spread across 25 states, with 50 percent led by universities, 23 percent by small businesses, 12 percent by large businesses, 13 percent by national labs, and 2 percent by non-profits. In total, ARPA-E has so far supported 180 projects in 12 program areas with $521.7 million in awards.

Among the latest research efforts to receive funding are:

  • HybriSol (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, $2.9 million) – MIT is working to develop a “heat battery” that can capture and store sun energy to be fed into the electricity grid at a later time. “If successful, this heat battery could have an unprecedented impact on efforts to decrease fossil fuel consumption and emissions, enabling clean solar energy to be accessible 24 hours a day,” according to ARPA-E.
  • Turpentine fuel from pine trees (University of Florida, $6.3 million) –  Part of the ARPA-E program area called Plants Engineered to Replace Oil, or PETRO, this project aims to develop a pine tree with an increased ability to produce turpentine, a natural liquid biofuel. If successful, researchers say, the project could eventually lead to the production of 100 million gallons of fuel per year from less than 25,000 acres of forestland.
  • Manganese-based permanent magnet (Pacific Northwest National Lab, $2.3 million) – By developing a manganese-composite replacement for rare-earth-based magnets, the research team aims to reduce the cost of wind turbines and electric vehicles. Manganese composites could potentially achieve twice the strength of the magnets used today, while using inexpensive and abundant raw materials instead of rare earths.
  • Real-time, automated control over grid transmission lines (Texas Engineering Experiment Station, $4.9 million) – Historically, the electric grid was designed to be passive, causing electric power to flow along the path of least resistance. The Texas research team is working on a transmission control system would create a stronger, more reliable grid and reduce the risk of future blackouts.

A full list of the latest ARPA-E projects to receive funding can be found on the agency’s website.

Dan Ilett