New Technology on Display as ARPA-E Preps for Funding Surge

Sensors to reduce methane emissions. More efficient ways to produce sorghum, a key component in biofuels. Even an office chair equipped with heating and cooling capabilities.

These were just a few of the new technologies that were on display at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Eergy (ARPA-E) Innovation Summit last month.

The summit came at a time when funding for clean energy research and development is on the rise: President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget proposes to double spending on clean energy R&D over the next five years, from $6.4 billion in 2016 to $12.8 billion in 2021. That includes a tripling of ARPA-E’s budget to $1 billion by 2021.

This increase in funding helps the U.S. fulfill its Mission Innovation goal, set in December during COP21, in which 20 world leaders committed to double their respective clean energy R&D investments by 2021.  ARPA-E is the federal agency tasked with sourcing and funding potential game-changing clean technologies.

During the Summit, ARPA-E announced 45 funded projects that have secured more than $1.25 billion in private sector follow-on funding. The agency also announced that 36 projects have formed new companies, while another 60 projects have partnered with other government agencies for further development.

(See the end of this article for a list of some promising companies that have received the follow-on private funding and that have been featured on CleanTechIQ in the past.)

Among the many noteworthy technology demonstrations on display at the Summit were:

Two projects intended to accelerate the development of improved varieties of sorghum, a crop used to produce transportation biofuels. Funding comes from ARPA-E’s Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA) Program.

Clemson University, Carnegie Mellon University), the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and Near Earth Autonomy have developed ground and air robotics for bioenergy crop breeding. The technology includes modeling and rapid prediction of plant performance to drive improved sorghum yield. The project received $6 million in funding.

Separately, IBM is partnering with Purdue University on an Automated Field Measurement & Data Analysis System, which ARPA-E says will “utilize remote sensing platforms to collect data and develop models for automated phenotyping and predictive plant growth.” The program will seek to combine “data streams from ground and airborne mobile platforms for high-throughput automated field phenotyping,” and received $6.5 million in funding.

Sensors to reduce methane emissions during natural gas production. Funding through ARPA-E’s Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions program.

Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI), in conjunction with Heath Consultants Inc., Princeton University, the University of Houston, and Thorlabs Quantum Electronics, will “miniaturize their laser-based Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD) and integrate it with PSI’s miniature unmanned aerial vehicle, known as the InstantEye, to create the RMLD-Sentry,” according to ARPA-E. :The measurement system is planned to be fully autonomous, providing technical and cost advantages compared to manual leak detection methods.”  The project received nearly $3 million in funding.

Localization of thermal management to relax the temperature settings in buildings, reduce the load on HVAC systems and enhance occupant comfort.  Funding through ARPA-E’s Delivering Efficiency Local Thermal Amenities (DELTA) program.

The University of California at Berkeley has teamed up with WiTricity on a personal comfort systems office chair, equipped with heating and cooling capabilities as well as Internet connectivity. The project will “develop and integrate highly resonant wireless power transfer technology to deliver efficient local thermal amenities to the feet, hands, face, and trunk of occupants in workstations,” ARPA-E says. It received $2.6 million in funding.

Solar-powered charging unit for electric cargo motorcycles.

Current Motor showcased their “Mini-Fleet-in-a-Box” solar charging unit, which houses and charges four of the company’s electric cargo motorcycles in the space of a standard shipping container (about 20 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet). Current Motor is currently taking orders for the product, which is intended for use by businesses, first responders and the military. Other possibilities for such containerized mobile power solutions include clean water, electronics, and mobile medical clinics.

And amidst the excitement surrounding advancements in energy storage at the Summit, Energy Storage Solutions (ESS) got attention from attendees for its development of “all-iron” non toxic, rechargeable, low cost flow batteries. The company received $2.8 million under the ARPA-E’s Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS) program, and also raised $3.2 million in Series A funding last October from Pangaea Ventures, Element 8, and other angel investors.  ESS will use the funding to ramp up production of its flagship All-Iron Redox Flow Battery (IFB) system this year.

New ARPA-E Funding Programs Announced over the Past Year:

Feb. 26, 2016: ARPA-E announced $30 million in funding for its new Integration and Optimization of Novel Ion Conducting Solids (IONICS) program, “focused on creating innovative components for the next generation of batteries, fuel cells, and other electrochemical devices.” The IONICS program is to focus on three main applications: energy storage for the transportation sector, grid storage, and hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers.

Jan. 15, 2016: The agency announced $11 million for the new Generating Realistic Information for the Development of Distribution and Transmission Algorithms (GRID DATA) program . The money is fo fund seven new projects that are developing software that utilizes data to solve how power can be most efficiency transmitted and distributed on the U.S. electrical grid.

Dec. 11, 2015: $33 million to fund 12 projects to improve the efficiency and reliabilit of the U.S. electrical grid. Researchers receiving funding through the new Network Optimized Distributed Energy Systems (NODES) program will “develop innovative hardware and software solutions to integrate and coordinate generation, transmission, and end-use energy systems at various points on the electric grid.”

Nov. 11, 2015: ARPA-E’s OPEN 2015 Program awards  $125 million across 41 technologies to “pursue novel approaches to energy innovation across the full spectrum of energy applications, with approximately 36 percent of the projects led by universities, 39 percent by small businesses, 10 percent by large businesses, 10 percent by national labs, and 5 percent by non-profits.”

Oct. 7, 2015:The new Single-pane Highly Insulating Efficient Lucid Designs (SHIELD) program includes $30 million in funding for “improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings.” The program “seeks to reduce heat-loss for improved building efficiency by developing innovative materials that are both transparent and insulating to retrofit existing single-pane windows.” 

Aug. 24, 2015: $24 million through the new Micro-scale Optimized Solar-cell Arrays with Integrated Concentration, (MOSAIC), program. It will fund 11 solar technologies that “seek to develop a new class of cost-effective, high-performance solar energy modules.”

July 30, 2015: Five research programs will receive $14.5 million in funding through the new Traveler Response Architecture using Novel Signaling for Network Efficiency in Transportation (TRANSNET) initiative. The five programs “will design new software systems that provide travelers information about energy-efficient transportation options to reach their destinations. If widely adopted, TRANSNET projects could facilitate significant reductions in energy use within existing infrastructure and transportation technologies.”

June 18,. 2015: $55 million in funding for 18 projects through two new programs: Generators for Small Electrical and Thermal Systems (GENSETS) and Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA). GENSETS projects are “aimed at developing generator technologies that will improve efficiencies in residential Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generation,” while TERRA projects are intended to “accelerate energy crop development for the production of renewable transportation fuels from biomass.”

May 14, 2015: Through the Advanced Research In Dry cooling (ARID) and Accelerating Low-cost Plasma Heating and Assembly (ALPHA) programs, ARPA-E invests $60 million in 23 23 projects “aimed at creating highly efficient and scalable dry-cooling technologies for thermoelectric power plants and developing prototype technologies to explore new pathways for fusion power.”

As noted above, ARPA-E announced during the summit that 45 funded projects have secured more than $1.25 billion in follow-on funding from the private sector. Among those companies that CleanTechIQ has covered in the past are:

  • Fluidic  (rechargeable zinc-air batteries) Our coverage.
  • Autogrid (energy efficiency software) Our coverage.
  • Transphorm (reduces power loss for power electronics) Our coverage.
  • Chromatin (develops sorghum seed technologies) Our coverage.
  • Envia Systems (lithium-ion batteries for electric and hybrid cars) Our coverage.
  • Flodesign (distributed wind turbines) Our coverage.
  • OPX Biotechnologies  (green chemicals and biofuels from renewable feedstocks) Our coverage.
  • Phonononic Devices (efficient home heating and cooling pumps) Our coverage.
  • SAFCell (fuel cells for distributed power) Our coverage.
  • Smart Wire Grid (smart grid devices designed to control power flows on transmission lines) Our coverage.
  • SolarBridge (commercialize power electronics technologies) Our coverage.
  • Sun Catalytix (flow batteries for microgrids made of abundant materials) Our coverage.
  • Varentec (power management and monitoring solutions for the electric grid) Our coverage.
  • 1366 Technologies (Silicon PV wafers) Our coverage.


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