ARPA-E awards $130M to 66 projects via OPEN 2012 program

November 29, 2012 |

In Washington, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced 66 cutting-edge research projects selected by the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to receive a total of $130 million in funding through its “OPEN 2012” program. ARPA-E seeks out transformational, breakthrough technologies that show fundamental technical promise but are too early for private-sector investment.

The projects are based in 24 states, with approximately 47% of the projects led by universities, 29% by small businesses, 15% by large businesses, 7.5% by national labs, and 1.5% by non-profits. Today’s announcement brings ARPA-E’s total portfolio of projects to about 285 projects for a total of approximately $770 million in awards.

In the alternative fuel category, winners are:

Gas Technology Institute – $772,899 – Des Plaines, IL 

Methane to Methanol Fuel: A Low Temperature Process 

The Gas Technology Institute (GTI) will develop a new process to convert natural gas into methanol and hydrogen. Current methods to produce liquid fuels from natural gas require large and expensive facilities that use significant amounts of energy. GTI’s process uses metal oxide catalysts that are continuously regenerated in a reactor, similar to a battery. This process operates at room temperature, is more energy efficient, and less capital-intensive than existing methods.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology – $547,289  – Cambridge, MA 

Small and Efficient Reformer for Converting Natural Gas to Liquid Fuels 

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will develop a compact reformer for natural gas. Reformers produce synthesis gas, the first step in the commercial process of converting natural gas to liquid fuels. Unlike other systems that are too large to be deployed remotely, MIT’s reformer could be used for small, remote sources of gas.

Plant Sensory Systems – $1,800,000 – Baltimore, MD 

Development of High-Output, Low-Input Energy Beets 

Researchers at Plant Sensory Systems will produce an enhanced energy beet, optimized for biofuel production. These beets will be engineered to use fertilizer and water more efficiently and produce higher levels of fermentable sugars than most existing crops. If successful, the new crop would have a lower cost of production and increased yield of biofuels without competing against food-grade sugar.

Pratt & Whitney, Rocketdyne – $3,796,189 – Canoga Park, CA 

Turbo-POx For Ultra Low-Cost Gasoline 

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne will develop a system to improve the conversion of natural gas to liquid fuels. Their approach would partially oxidize natural gas in the high-temperature, high-pressure combustor of a natural gas turbine, facilitating its conversion into a liquid fuel. This approach could simultaneously improve the efficiency of gas conversion into fuels and chemicals, generating electricity in the process.

University of Colorado – $380,000 – Boulder, CO 

Atomic Layer Deposition for Creating Liquid Fuels from Natural Gas 

The University of Colorado Boulder will use nanotechnology to improve the structure of gas-to-liquids catalysts, increasing surface area and improving heat transfer compared to current catalysts. The new structure of these catalysts would be used to create a small-scale reactor, for converting natural gas to liquid fuels, which could be located at remote sources of gas.

University of Minnesota – $1,816,239 – Minneapolis, MN

Flexible Molecular Sieve Membranes 

The University of Minnesota will develop an ultra-thin separation membrane to improve the production of biofuels, plastics, and other industrial materials. Today’s separation methods are energy intensive and costly. If fully implemented by industry, such a new class of membranes could reduce U.S. energy consumption by as much as 3%.

University of Tennessee – $441,747 – Knoxville, TN 

Transformable Single Cell Line for Rapid Assessment of Cell Wall Genes for Biofuels 

The University of Tennessee will develop a technology that enables high throughput bioengineering and trait testing in switchgrass. This development will significantly reduce the time required to engineer switchgrass to maximize biofuel production.

University of Washington – $4,000,000 – Seattle, WA 

Biocatalyst for Small-Scale Conversion of Natural Gas into Diesel Fuel 

The University of Washington will develop microbes that convert methane found in natural gas into liquid diesel fuel. These microbes enable small-scale gas-to-liquid conversion at lower cost than current methods, which require infrastructure that is too expensive to deploy at smaller scales. Small-scale conversion would leverage abundant, domestic natural gas resources and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

 Allylix, Inc. – $4,499,256 – Lexington, KY 

Energy-Dense Aviation Fuels from Biomass 

The Allylix project team will develop energy-dense terpenes as high performance liquid aviation fuels. The increased energy density of these terpene-based fuels could outperform existing petroleum fuels by increasing flight range up to 20%.

Bio2Electric, LLC – $601,909 – Princeton, NJ 

Methane Converter to Electricity and Fuel 

Bio2Electric will develop a small-scale reactor that converts natural gas into a liquid transportation fuel by combining fuel cell technology with advanced catalysts. Conventional large-scale gas-to-liquid reactors produce waste-heat, reducing the energy efficiency of the process. In contrast, this reactor produces electricity as a byproduct of fuel production. If successful, this small-scale reactor could be deployed in remote locations to provide not only liquid fuel but also electricity, increasing the utility of geographically isolated gas reserves.

Ceramatec, Inc. – $1,734,665 – Salt Lake City, UT 

Natural Gas Reactor for Remote Chemical Conversion 

Ceramatec, Inc. will develop a small-scale membrane reactor to convert natural gas into transportable liquids in one step. Many remote oil wells burn natural gas as a by-product because it is not economical to store or transport. Such natural gas contains energy that equals 20% of annual U.S. electricity production (5 quadrillion BTUs worldwide). Capturing this energy would reduce both waste and greenhouse gas emissions and could be deployed in remote areas to convert otherwise wasted gas into usable chemicals that can be transported to market.

Colorado State University – $2,090,000 – Fort Collins, CO 

Synthetic Gene Circuits to Enhance Production of Transgenic Bioenergy Crops 

Researchers from Colorado State University will develop a system to rapidly introduce new genetic traits into crops that currently cannot be engineered. If successful, this technology would widen the variety of plants


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