ARPA-E: funding and support available for energy innovation

By Emmit Owens, program assistant, Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster

A little-known but highly effective federal agency is helping companies develop energy technologies not yet ready for venture investment.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is the U.S. Department of Energy’s version of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency credited with developing the Internet and GPS. While DARPA promotes the development of new technologies for the military, ARPA-E invests in disruptive ideas to create America’s future energy technologies. 

David Henshall, one of the ARPA-E’s ’s Technology-to-Market Advisors, recently met with our Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC) Advisory Council to brief us on the agency and enlist our help in identifying organizations with the potential to receive funding and support from ARPA-E.

Five Research Triangle region companies – ABB, Cree, HexaTech, Kyma Technologies and RTI International – as well as N.C. State University, have received ARPA-E funding for their work. ABB, received $4.58 million to develop an advanced energy storage system using superconducting magnets that, if successful, could yield the lower-cost, large-scale storage capacity needed to catalyze widespread use of renewable power throughout the grid. ARPA-E awardee, Cree received $6 million to develop silicon carbide power transistors (the component that controls the flow of electrical energy through a circuit) that are 50 percent more energy efficient than traditional transistors. Cree received an additional $3 million to develop a device that could simplify and reduce the cost of converting solar power to electricity and accelerate the use of solar systems.

N.C. State was also awarded more than $11 million to develop two types of biofuels, one from a primitive organism, called an extremophile, and another from the Camelina sativa plant, the latter as a sustainable alternative for jet fuel.

Given the region’s extensive R&D assets in emerging energy technologies Henshall expects our region to yield more projects suitable for ARPA-E funding.

Three current ARPA-E programs, in particular, may aid in accelerating the technologies being developed in the Research Triangle Region. The Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT) and Strategies for Wide Bandgap, Inexpensive Transistors for Controlling High Efficiency Systems (SWITCHES) programs both focus on developing wide bandgap semiconductor technologies that can be used in both transportation and stationary energy platforms. Wide bandgap semiconductor technologies, which allow electronic components to be smaller, faster and more efficient, are under development in our region by researchers and companies working with PowerAmerica, a separate $140 million program funded by U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, ARPA-E’s - Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) program is charged with promoting grid modernization through the integration of hardware and software, a particular sweet spot for our region due to the plethora of information technology and data analytics companies that support clean energy and smart grid innovations.

To give organizations an up close look at the programs and projects  it funds, ARPA-E hosts an annual Energy Innovation Summit aimed at moving disruptive energy technologies out of the lab and into the market. This year’s Summit will be held on February 9-11, 2015 at the Gaylord National Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland and will feature insightful keynotes and an interactive pitching session.

Now in its sixth year, the Summit offers a three day program where attendees will have an opportunity to network at focused seminar sessions around targeted energy technologies, participate in hands-on workshops, and collaborate with technologists during its Corporate Acceleration Program. The Summit is a great opportunity for researchers and companies in our region to gather with leading experts to think strategically about ways to solve America’s energy challenges in innovate ways. To learn more about ARPA-E and the 2015 Energy Innovation Summit, please visit their website.

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