ARPA-E and Transportation: Transforming Energy in Mobility
Every year, convention centers around the world fill with eager attendees looking for a chance to experience firsthand the latest and greatest in the world of automobile innovation. Whether you’re a classic gearhead or technology enthusiast, the auto manufacturers’ annual showcase season is truly a sight to behold.
ARPA-E supports early-stage energy technologies, concepts that are too early for private-sector investment and might not become commercial products for many years. ARPA-E doesn’t build cars, but transportation plays a significant role in the agency’s mission to redefine how Americans get, use, and store energy. Energy is critical to mobility, which means the agency is free to explore many different white spaces, including new fuel types, revolutionary batteries, connectivity between vehicles, and how traffic paths and patterns can effect vehicle efficiency and emissions.
To celebrate car show season, here’s a quick look at some of ARPA-E’s transportation portfolio and a few projects that could one day shape how Americans get around.
The projects of ARPA-E's RANGE Program, short for "Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems," seek to develop transformational battery technologies to accelerate the widespread adoption of electric vehicles by dramatically improving their driving range, cost, and safety. RANGE focuses on four specific areas 1) water-based batteries to improve safety and reduce costs, 2) non-water-based batteries that incorporate inherent safety mechanisms, 3) solid-state batteries that use no liquids or pastes in their construction, and 4) multifunctional batteries that contribute to both vehicle structure and energy storage.
Project highlight: Cadenza Innovation
Cadenza sought to make traditional lithium-ion batteries more energy dense while improving safety. Their “SuperCell” integrates a package of multiple cells in a single module, reducing overall structural requirements. Individual cells are surrounded with a ceramic structure that absorbs heat, helping prevent thermal runaway events that can lead to dangerous fires.
Recent, rapid advances in advanced driver assistance technologies and the deployment of vehicles with increased connectivity and automation, primarily for improving vehicle safety, have also created opportunities to improve the efficiency of future vehicles in exciting new ways. The projects that make up ARPA-E's NEXTCAR Program, short for "NEXT-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles," are enabling technologies that use connectivity and automation to co-optimize vehicle dynamic controls and powertrain operation, reducing overall energy consumption of the vehicle.
Project highlight: Ohio State University
Ohio State University is developing a transformational powertrain control technology using look-ahead data, vehicle connectivity, and automation to improve on the energy consumption of light-duty passenger vehicles. The project uses the combination of smart, predictive powertrain optimization systems including power-split optimization and cylinder deactivation using dynamic skip firing and eco-routing, which takes into account route, terrain, and traffic conditions in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle. These technologies optimize the vehicle speed and powertrain operation, improving the fuel economy of the vehicle.
Innovation in transportation technology to decrease emissions and increase efficiency has recently been on the rise, but efforts tend to focus on public and commercial transit and less in the commuter and personal transportation space. ARPA-E’s TRANSNET Program – short for Traveler Response Architecture using Novel Signaling for Network Efficiency in Transportation – aims to minimize personal transportation energy consumption in ways that don’t address improvements to current infrastructure or vehicle efficiency. These projects develop network control devices and architectures with the aim of widely optimizing the entire transportation system of a city. They encourage individual travelers to take specific energy-relevant and efficiency-increasing actions to reduce total miles traveled and increase vehicle occupancy rates.
Project highlight: University of Maryland
The University of Maryland’s project team developed a trip-planning program called incenTrip – a system capable of simulating trips for vehicles in the Baltimore-Washington metro area and incentivizing users to adopt energy-efficient travel options. The project utilizes real-time traffic information and archived data to simulate traffic models and estimate energy use for commuter trips. It combines that information with an incentive structure to help allocate real time options via mobile app and offer a personalized rewards program for users to promote and improve energy savings.
Fossil energy extraction technology has dramatically increased the nation’s natural gas reserves. Abundant, affordable natural gas has expanded market opportunities for natural gas use through power production, liquid natural gas exports, and gas-to-liquid (GTL) conversion. The projects of ARPA-E’s REMOTE program, short for Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy, develop technologies for the biological conversion of natural gas to liquid transportation fuel. Current GTL fuel conversion processes operate at large scale in order to be competitive in the market with traditional fuels derived from petroleum. REMOTE projects work to develop efficient technologies that address the challenges of small scale GTL conversion, which have the potential to be more widely distributed and more deployable in the U.S. than in large-scale GTL refineries.
Project highlight: University of Delaware
ARPA-E awarded The University of Delaware’s (UD) REMOTE project additional funding to continue to develop a new methane conversion bioprocess which integrates UD’s methanol utilization technology with Industrial Microbes’ unique methane utilization technology. The project’s goal is to develop and deliver a “super methanotroph” microorganism that utilizes an integrated process to convert methane to acetone, a commodity chemical. This new bioprocess is created through metabolic engineering and synthetic biology techniques to enable methane utilization in a microorganism that is not naturally able to do so on their own. If successful, the project will deliver a first-of-kind GTL bioprocess capable of leveraging natural gas for the production of fuels and chemicals.
These programs and projects are only a small selection of how ARPA-E projects continue to innovate transportation technologies. For more information on ARPA-E’s Transportation project portfolio, as well as information about all of our exciting projects head over our Projects page, and subscribe to our newsletter for the latest in ARPA-E news and future funding opportunities.