ARPA-E unveils Project PETRO

April 26, 2011 |

ARPA-E aims to unleash new plants that recover more sunshine and produce more fuels

In Washington, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that up to $130 million from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) will be made available to develop five new program areas that could spark critical breakthrough technologies and secure America’s energy future.

Of the total funding, $30 million is focused  on biofuel – a program titled “Plants Engineered To Replace Oil (PETRO)”.

The funding opportunity announcement comes two months after ARPA-E announced six of its projects have secured more than $100 million in outside private capital investment – indications that the business community is eager to invest in truly innovative solutions to the country’s energy challenges.

Plants Engineered To Replace Oil (PETRO)

Technologies for low-cost production of advanced biofuels are limited by the small amount of available energy captured by photosynthesis and the inefficient processes used to convert plant matter to fuel. PETRO aims to create plants that capture more energy from sunlight and convert that energy directly into fuels. ARPA-E seeks to fund technologies that optimize the biochemical processes of energy capture and conversion to develop robust, farm-ready crops that deliver more energy per acre with less processing prior to the pump.

If successful, PETRO will create biofuels for half their current cost, finally making them cost-competitive with fuels from oil. Up to $30 million will be made available for this program area.

“ARPA-E is unleashing American innovation to strengthen America’s global competitiveness and win the clean energy race,” said Secretary Chu. “In addition to creating new jobs, breakthroughs in clean energy technologies can reduce our country’s dependence of foreign oil, decrease the cost of clean electricity, and build a sustainable infrastructure for future generations of Americans.”

Fourth round of funding from ARPA-E

The announcement is ARPA-E’s fourth round of funding opportunities. In its first year, ARPA-E awarded $363 million in Recovery Act funding to 121 groundbreaking energy projects based in 30 states, with approximately 39% of projects led by universities, 33% by small businesses, 20% by large businesses, 5% by national labs, and 3% by non-profits.

The five technology areas announced today will join ARPA-E’s existing program in non-photosynthetic biofuels (Electrofuels), ten other technology areas, and its initial open solicitation.

More from ARPA-E.

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Comments (4)

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  1. NBS says:

    I live near a flood control lake along the Mississippi river and look at land full of garbage that flows into the lake at times of high flood waters and think what a waste.
    When I look at the watershed from local estuaries, creeks, and rivers I see the waste that is run off from farms, feeder lots, dairies, municipal sewage treatment overflows and inadequate municipal sewage treatment I wonder why cattail flats designed along the rice paddy lines hasn’t been used to allow cattails to work their magic of removing excess nutrients from our precious watershed. Redirecting the river, creek or ditch to flood the cattail flats cleaning the water and returning it to the estuaries cleans our watershed catches impurities. I understand that cattails can make starch and cellulose produced as the cattails clean up our watershed. The starch and cellulose can be made into ethanol and some other marketable byproducts Re; Alcohol Can Be A Gas written by David Bloom page 126.
    The benefits of cleaning our watershed and producing ethanol while not using any of our farm land is very appealing to those who would like to take advantage of locally produced energy to replace our economy destroying oil imports.
    It is my understanding that cattail ethanol may fall under the Federal Governments ethanol/cellulosic production projection and qualify for Federal assistance under that program.
    I feel the benefits of local fuel production, marketing, and conversion of local vehicles could provide job and economic stimulation to our area as well as cleaning up our local watershed. The many benefits of locally produced cattail ethanol seem obvious to me!
    These and many other locations, like our oceans, are not considered because it is easier to give corporate welfare to oil companies, take the kickbacks, to import oil claiming to put our people to work than to put our people back to work making America better.

  2. Sarah Hayes says:

    …via a program titled “Plants Engineered To Replace Oil (PETRO)”. PETRO aims to create plants that capture more energy from sunlight and convert that energy directly into fuels. ARPA-E seeks to fund technologies that optimize the biochemical processes of energy capture and conversion to develop robust, farm-ready crops that deliver more energy per acre with less processing prior to the pump.


    Seems like Steven Chu and most biofuels enthusiasts still miss it. Simply examine the chemical makeup of hydrocarbon oils (carbon atoms w/associated hydrogen ions) or oxycarbon alcohols (carbon atoms, associated hydrogen ions and oxygen derived from water).

    Why plant, fertilize, water, weed and annully harvest anything agri-based from soils to only remove carbon and hydrogen ions as basic building blocks?

    These same atoms as basic chemical building blocks for different biofuel blends can come more easily and far cheaper from cleanly gasified garbage, sewer sludge, beetle-killed pine, ground tires, coal of any rank, petroleum coke waste bottoms, methane natural gas and CO2 greenhouse gas.

    Of course, the active processing mechanism must change to 24×7 continuous super-heated steam as the essential process driver instead of batch methods typically employing acid enzymes and yeasty biobugs.

    Too bad the grant givers, private investors and the general public cannot see past the end of their noses. Why is it that something agricultural must be planted, waterred, grown and annually harvested to provide carbon feedstock for alternative fuels?

    It doesn’t.

    It is just that people cannot look at the chemical formula C2H5OH and see ethanol. And also see and interpret two carbon atoms, six hydrogen ions and one oxygen atom herein per molecule of EtOH. And corn starch is FAR from being the ONLY substrate to provide such elemental building blocks.

    Thank you.


  3. Jim Pillsbury says:

    Nature gives us a plant to replace oil. That same plant gives us food and fiber. Why the goverment continues to ignore the proven historical record of industrail hemp is beyond me. No other engineered plant will ever compete with all the practical uses of hemp.