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November 2, 2009
Volume 87, Number 44
p. 9

High-Risk Energy Projects Get Funds

Grants: Big winners include Foro Energy, DuPont, and MIT

Susan R. Morrissey

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The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded $151 million in grants to 37 energy-related projects ranging from biomass energy to energy storage.

The largest grants went to start-up company Foro Energy and DuPont. Foro is set to receive $9.2 million to develop a new hybrid thermal/mechanical drilling technology. DuPont will get $9.0 million for a partnership with the biofuel start-up Bio Architecture Lab to produce biobutanol from seaweed.

The largest grant to a lead research organization in academia went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which will get $6.9 million to develop an all-liquid-metal, grid-scale battery for low-cost, large-scale storage of electricity.

The University of Arizona, however, will receive more than $10 million from a pair of grants. The first grant, worth $5.2 million, is a partnership with Diversified Energy and North Carolina State University to use cyanobacteria to produce fatty acids for biofuel feedstocks. The second, worth $5.1 million, is a partnership with Fluidic Energy to develop a new class of metal-air batteries using ionic liquids.

“ARPA-E is a critical part of the new effort by the U.S. to spur the next Industrial Revolution in clean-energy technology, creating thousands of new jobs and helping cut carbon pollution,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the grants on Oct. 26. Chu, along with President Barack Obama, is a big supporter of this new research incubator as part of a push for a clean-energy economy.

Established by the America Competes Act of 2007, ARPA-E is designed to fund research that has potential to transform the global landscape and advance U.S. technological leadership. But the new agency has been slow to get off the ground. ARPA-E didn’t receive significant funding until this past February, when it got $400 million from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, and its top leadership position wasn’t filled until September, when Arun Majumdar was nominated as the director (C&EN, Oct. 5, page 32).

The research community’s interest in pursuing transformative energy work, however, has been anything but slow in coming. DOE was overwhelmed by this first solicitation, receiving over 3,600 initial concept papers. Of the concept papers, DOE requested about 300 full applications and is funding 37 projects, for a success rate of 12.3%.

“ARPA-E is bringing together the best and the brightest from across the nation to work on solving” energy challenges, said Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Science & Technology Committee. These high-risk, high-reward research grants “help speed the pace of innovation and ensure that these new technologies get to the market quickly and do not wither in the ‘valley of death’ between basic research and commercialization.”

“People from all around the world are looking for breakthroughs in energy because they realize it will give them a strategic competitive edge,” says Glenn Ruskin, director of ACS’s Office of Public Affairs. ARPA-E is critical for the U.S. to be globally competitive and to lead the way to reinventing the energy equation, he says.

On top of the importance of this work, Ruskin notes that it’s very exciting because of the work’s chemical nature. “When you get right down to it, all of this research is chemistry.”

DOE will open a second funding opportunity in late fall.

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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