Department of Energy Invests $151 Million in Tomorrow's Transformative Technologies

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photo: Tetsumo via flickr.

Money from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (aka The Stimulus) continues to find its ways through the governmental pipes and out into the world. The latest: The Department of Energy has announced that $151 million in funding for several projects under the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy. As Energy Secretary Chu said in making the announcement, many of these may ultimately never pan out, but here are some of the projects DoE thinks are worth investing in:Liquid Metal Grid-Scale Batteries -- All-liquid metal batteries, being developed by MIT, based on low-cost domestically available metals "could revolutionize the way electricity is used and produced on the grid, enabling round-the-clock-power from America's wind and solar power resources." Oh, not to mention increasing grid stability, plus potentially being deployed in homes.

Bacteria That Directly Produce Hydrocarbon Biofuels-- A number of companies are trying to crack this one at the commercial scale, but researchers from the University of Minnesota have gotten the DoE stamp of approval to develop a "bioreactor that has the potential to produce a flow of gasoline directly from sunlight and CO2 using a symbiotic system of two organisms."

Carbon Capture Using Artificial Enzymes -- United Technologies Research Center is working on developing new synthetic enzymes which aim to make capturing carbon emissions from power plants easier and more affordable.

Success of this project could substantially lower the cost of carbon capture relative to current, state-of-the-art amine and ammonia based processes.  This would represent a major breakthrough that could make it affordable to capture the carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants around the world.

Low Cost Crystals for LED Lighting -- Momentive Performance Materials hopes to develop new crystal growth technology in order to lower the cost of producing LEDs, which the DoE reminds us are 30 times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and four times more efficient than CFLs.

Here's a complete list of projects funded: ARPA-E Project Selections, 10/26/2009 [PDF]

High-Risk, High-Reward Research
In making the funding announcement, Secretary Chu said the selection process was the most rigorous peer review process the DoE had ever engaged in and the concepts being developed here are potentially revolutionary."

Yes, they are risky...but this is high-risk, high-reward research: If even one or two of these ideas become transformative technologies this will be among the best investments we've ever made.

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