US DOE Selects 43 Projects for $92M in ARPA-E Funding; 3 on Automotive Power Electronics

The US Department of Energy has selected 43 research projects to receive some $92 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). All these projects have been selected for negotiation of awards; the final award amounts may vary.

The awards in this tranche focus on power electronics, grid-scale energy storage, and building efficiency; of the 43, three are categorized specifically for the automotive market—power electronics projects led by HRL Laboratories, LLC; Arkansas Power Electronics International, Inc.; and Case Western Reserve University.

HRL Laboratories and its partners GM, Va Polytech, ORNL, Teledyne will receive $5,058,803 to develop efficient, compact, and low-cost battery chargers for electric cars. This compact battery charger will support two-way power flow enabling the electrical grid to access the vehicle’s battery. More specifically, it will utilize an advanced Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductor material grown on inexpensive silicon to form high voltage switches.

Arkansans Power Electronics International and its partners the University of Arkansas, ORNL, Toyota, and Cree will receive $3,914,554 to develop and demonstrate a transformational, highly-efficient, ultra-compact silicon carbide PHEV charger.

Case Western Reserve and its partners G&S Titanium and Evans Capacitor Company will receive $2,254,017 to develop novel capacitors for power electronics in the hybrid electric vehicle and consumer electronics markets. The capacitors are designed with metallic glass that allows spontaneous self-repair. This self-repair allows the devices to be driven to higher voltages and thereby achieve higher energy density. The market for capacitors in power applications is $1.6 billion per year.

Overall, the new set of awards were categorized in three topic areas:

  • Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS). Grid energy storage will be needed to enable the widespread use of two key renewable energy sources: wind and solar power. This program seeks to develop revolutionary new storage technologies that exhibit energy, cost, and cycle life comparable to pumped hydropower, but which are modular and can be widely implemented at any location across the power grid. Ultimately, technologies developed through this program will be scalable to the gigawatt and gigawatt-hour levels of power and energy capacity. This technology development program complements other Department of Energy electrical energy storage efforts by focusing on early stage prototyping and proof-of-concept R&D efforts.

  • Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT). ADEPT is focused on dramatically improving the efficiency and cost of power conversion and switching, among the main causes of electrical efficiency loss across the electrical grid and in electrical applications from cars to computers. The ADEPT projects explore integrated circuits that incorporate high-voltage transistors and high-performance magnetic materials in applications such as: drivers for LED lighting that are 300 times smaller, power supplies for computers that are 10 times smaller, and light-weight chargers for electric vehicles.

    These advanced components will enable miniaturization, increased efficiency and reduced cost. ADEPT is also focused on creating record-breaking, high-voltage transistors that can allow the electricity grid to be used like a large controllable, circuit.

  • Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT). Buildings consume 40% of the primary energy in the United States and account for approximately 40% of the CO2 emissions. Cooling is one of the major uses of energy in buildings, yet the basic approaches used for cooling have not changed in decades. New, more efficient methods of cooling represent a great opportunity to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings. In addition, the refrigerants currently used in cooling are a potent source of GHG emissions, as much as 1,000 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. The BEET-IT program is focused on developing new approaches and technologies for cooling in buildings to dramatically improve energy efficiency and reduce the use of refrigerants and their impact on climate change.

The projects selected are based in 18 states, with 36% of projects led by universities, 33% by small businesses, 24% by large businesses, 5% by national labs, and 2% by non-profits. These awards complete ARPA-E’s grants under its Recovery Act funding: in three rounds of awards since last year, the agency has selected a total of 117 projects for $349 million in funding.

For this round, ARPA-E received 529 initial concept papers and encouraged approximately 164 applicants to submit full applications. Multiple review panels composed of leading US science and technology experts reviewed each proposal and made recommendations based on scientific and technical merit and the potential to dramatically advance national energy and economic goals. Potential additional applications for funding innovative research projects are pending further review.


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