When it comes to renewable energy and the fight against global warming, innovation is the key.
Recognizing the role of research and imagination in the quest for more efficient use of fuels, the Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a large award to several dozen ambitious research projects. In May, the DOE awarded $106 million in funding for 37 research projects that could fundamentally alter energy production and consumption in the United States.
The recipient projects fell into one of three categories. The first involves projects that could produce advanced biofuels more efficiently from renewable electricity instead of sunlight. An example is a “reverse fuel cell” project at the Harvard Medical School that would develop a bacterium to use electricity (which could come from renewable sources such as solar or wind) to convert carbon dioxide into gasoline. Unlike fuel cells that use a fuel to produce electricity, this bacterium would start with electricity and produce a fuel. The project received $4 million in funding.
The second category involves the design of completely new types of batteries to make electric vehicles more affordable. For example, the semi-solid rechargeable flow battery project at MIT would develop a new type of battery that doesn’t exist today, one that combines the best characteristics of rechargeable batteries and fuel cells. It could enable batteries for electric vehicles that are much lighter and smaller and less than one-eighth the cost of today’s batteries. This project was selected for a $5 million grant.
The third category includes projects that explore the removal of carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants in a more cost-effective way. In this category, GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y., was awarded a $3 million grant for its CO2 capture process using phase-changing absorbents. It involves the use of a certain liquid, which turns into a solid powder when it reacts with carbon dioxide. This could lead to a much less expensive way to capture carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants.
Overall, awards were given to projects in 17 states. Of the lead recipients, 24 percent are small businesses, 57 percent are educational institutions, 11 percent are national labs, and 8 percent are large corporations. Funding is provided by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.