News and Events February 29, 2012
DOE announced on February 23 that $3 million is available this year to support research to significantly lower the cost of solar energy. The Bridging Research Interactions through Collaborative Development Grants in Energy (BRIDGE) funding will enable collaborative research teams from industry, universities, and national laboratories to work together in DOE's research centers. The research teams will support the goal of DOE's SunShot Initiative to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.
The BRIDGE funding will enable researchers to leverage the tools and expertise of scientists at DOE research facilities so that fundamental scientific discoveries can be rapidly transitioned to existing product lines and projects. The BRIDGE program is the first to provide engineers and scientists developing photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies with the tools and expertise of DOE's research facilities. Those will include major facilities for x-ray and neutron scattering, nanoscale science, advanced microcharacterization, environmental molecular sciences, and advanced scientific computing. This collaborative approach will accelerate innovations to lower the cost of photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies. Full applications are due May 21, 2012. See the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy progress alert, the Funding Opportunity Exchange Web page for details, and the SunShot Initiative website.
DOE announced on February 23 that eight of its national laboratories will participate in a pilot initiative to make it easier for private companies to use the laboratories' research capabilities. The participating labs are Ames, Brookhaven, Idaho, Lawrence Livermore, National Renewable Energy, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, and Savannah River national laboratories. The Agreements for Commercializing Technology (ACT) program will harness the United States' advantages in innovation to create jobs and accelerate the development of new clean energy technologies.
Previously, companies wishing to partner with the laboratories for commercial research had two options: signing a cooperative research and development agreement or a work-for-others agreement. The eight laboratories participating in this pilot program intend to offer a less constrained ACT option. Under an ACT, more flexibility will be available to negotiate the intellectual property rights for technologies created at a laboratory; there will also be more adaptability in other issues ranging from payment to project structures. The ACT agreements will also make it easier to develop multi-party partnerships. See the DOE press release and a list of frequently asked questions about the ACT option.
President Obama announced on February 23 new funding to catalyze breakthrough technologies for two alternative fuels, natural gas and biofuels. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renwable Energy will make $14 million available to support research and development into biofuels from algae. Also, through its Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA—E), DOE will make $30 million available for a new research competition that will engage scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to find ways to harness domestic natural gas for vehicles. The goal is to spur American innovation and encourage scientific breakthroughs that will help diversify the nation's energy portfolio, grow U.S. companies, and develop alternative vehicle technologies.
DOE will seek proposals from small businesses, universities, and national laboratories to modify existing facilities for long-term algae research and test new production processes that could lead to commercial biofuels made from algae. Awardees will establish and operate research "test beds" for algal biofuels that can facilitate development, test new approaches to algae production, and discover innovative ways to minimize the water and nutrients needed to mass produce algae for commercial biofuels. These advanced research projects will aim to significantly improve the sustainability of algae-based biofuels and accelerate technological breakthroughs. The awards represent the first phase in a total $30 million investment in algal biofuels in fiscal year 2012. Applications are due April 18. See the Funding Opportunity Exchange website for more information on the algal biofuels opportunity.
Also, ARPA-E intends to fund projects that will develop lightweight fuel tanks for cars that can run on natural gas and can fit into modern passenger vehicles. This approach includes developing affordable natural gas compressors that can efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home. ARPA-E also seeks to fund projects that will develop absorbing materials that are able to hold gas, similar to how a sponge holds water. Such materials could lower pressure in vehicle tanks that hold and release natural gas, making them safer and more affordable for consumers. See the DOE press release and the Funding Opportunity Exchange website for more information on the ARPA-E natural gas opportunity.
The U.S. Army unveiled on February 22 a fleet of 16 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines in Hawaii are testing in an effort to research renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil. The zero-emission vehicles were funded by the Army Tank Automotive Research Development Engineering Center, Office of Naval Research, and Air Force Research Laboratories. The fuel cell vehicles, powered by renewable hydrogen, travel up to 200 miles on a single charge and refuel in five minutes.
The fleet of fuel cell vehicles is the latest effort of the Hawaii Hydrogen Initiative, a partnership of 13 agencies, companies, and universities. The group is also testing hydrogen infrastructure elements so that other states can adopt a similar approach. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is providing technical and economic analysis of the vehicles. DOE has been funding the research and development of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, such as catalysts and membranes, over the last decade. Such technologies are enabling the deployment of fuel cell vehicles and stations like those in Hawaii. See the Army press release and DOE's Fuel Cell Technologies Program website.
The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released on February 16 the draft plan for the Restoration Design Energy Project. The initiative seeks to identify lands across Arizona most suitable for wind and solar power projects, with a focus on areas that are previously disturbed or have low natural and cultural resource conflicts. The project seeks to establish "renewable energy development areas" on lands that include former landfills, brownfields, mines, isolated BLM parcels, and canal rights-of-way that are part of the Central Arizona Project.
The draft environmental impact study (EIS) also proposes a baseline for environmental protection measures for facilities sited in these areas. The areas could be used for wind or solar projects, both utility-scale projects with more than 20 megawatts capacity and smaller distributed-scale development. The preferred alternative identified in the draft EIS calls for designating lands within five miles of utility corridors and existing transmission lines or near a point of power demand, such as a city, town or industrial area. And the draft EIS addresses water issues by instituting design features to avoid negative impacts to watersheds, groundwater supply, and water quality. The BLM manages about 237,100 acres in Arizona that meet these criteria. Public comments will be accepted until May 17, 2012. See the Interior Department press release and the Restoration Design Energy Project Web page.
New Ideas Spring from the SunShot Incubator
In order to hatch a new idea, solar startups often need a supportive environment to help them take their first steps on the path of introducing novel technologies into the marketplace. Over the past five years, DOE's SunShot Incubator program has invested in nearly 40 small businesses to help them get off the ground.
A $17.5 million investment in the seven companies that made it through the first round of the incubator program has gone on to attract more than $1.6 billion of private financing as the companies develop and manufacture innovative solar technologies. DOE announced on February 8 that it will provide $12 million for the next generation of solar-related technologies in the seventh round of the successful SunShot Incubator program. The goal of this funding opportunity is to support solar energy hardware advancements and soft cost reductions, and to pilot manufacturing projects. Read the complete story in DOE's Energy Blog.