The objective of the Creating Revolutionary Energy And Technology Endeavors (CREATE) Exploratory Topic is to identify and support disruptive energy-related technologies. Projects funded through CREATE should have the potential for large-scale impact. If successful, projects should create new paradigms in energy technology and have the potential to achieve significant advances in any of the following ARPA-E Mission Areas:
- reducing energy imports;
- improving energy efficiency of all economic sectors;
- reducing energy-related emissions, including greenhouse gas emissions;
- improving management, clean-up and disposal of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel; and
- improving resilience, reliability and security of infrastructure to produce, deliver and store energy.
Awards under this program will support research projects that establish potential new areas of technology development and provide ARPA-E with information that could lead to new focused funding programs. Awards may support exploratory research to establish viability, proof-of-concept demonstration for new energy technology and/or modeling and simulation efforts to guide development of new energy technologies.
Dr. Olga Spahn, Dr. Jim Seaba, Dr. Bob Ledoux, Dr. Ahmed Diallo, Dr. Marina Sofos, Dr. Laurent Pilon, Dr. Philseok Kim, Dr. Bill Horak
Projects Funded Within This Exploratory Topic
TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY
Development of Cubic Boron Nitride (c-BN) Ultrawide Bandgap Semiconductors
Texas Tech University will develop a novel method for producing electronic grade cubic boron nitride semiconductor wafers that could equip electronic devices to operate in extreme temperatures and conditions. The wafers—formed from microwave plasma chemical vapor deposition—would enable power devices that handle higher voltages and currents, furthering advancements in power distributions, electric transportation, nuclear energy, national security, health care, and material sciences.
Accelerating Electrocatalyst Innovation: High-Throughput Automated Microkinetic, Multiscale, and Techno-economic Modeling
Northeastern University will develop a computer model that could identify new avenues for producing essential chemical ingredients using carbon dioxide, a waste product of fossil fuels. Computer modeling would save time and money compared with running experiments that often focus on a single reaction pathway, whereas computer models seamlessly detect promising pathways from thousands of options. The project’s first steps will focus on producing propanol, a useful hydrocarbon found in cosmetics, cleaning, printing, motors, and other products.
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
High-Entropy Glass-Ceramics for Nuclear Waste Immobilization
Johns Hopkins University will develop a new class of materials called high-entropy glass-ceramics that could store more nuclear waste by percent weight than industry-standard glasses. The novel materials could significantly lower the infrastructure cost of nuclear waste disposal deep underground by reducing the volume of deep earth that must be excavated for every kilogram of waste.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY
HVPE Grown GaN Conductive Substrates for Power Electronics
North Carolina State University will develop a method to fabricate electrically conductive thick gallium nitride crystals that could be used in the manufacturing of substrates for vertical gallium nitride semiconductors. North Carolina State University’s pristine semiconductor substrates—composed of a material that can operate at higher temperatures and withstand higher voltages than silicon—would enable more efficient power delivery, bringing higher currents and voltages within reach in power electronics.
UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME
GaN Core-shell Nanofin Vertical Transistor (CoNVerT): A New Direction for Power Electronics
University of Notre Dame will develop a novel low-cost power transistor design that leverages the properties of the semiconductor gallium nitride for mid-range voltage applications and could disrupt the market for devices in electric vehicles, renewable energy grid integration, industrial power control, and grid resilience. The proposed design could lead to possible energy savings of one quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTU) per year, roughly equivalent to 1% of annual energy consumption in the U.S.
Advanced Metal Foil Pumps and Integrated Test Environment for the Fusion Fuel Cycle
Marathon Fusion will develop a test stand to support the evaluation of metal foil pumps in nuclear fusion systems that could propel the novel technology into pilot plants within a decade. Metal foil pumps tested by the proposed device could drastically reduce tritium inventories and the cost of tritium processing, significantly improving the fuel cycle cost for fusion power.
Highly Efficient Charged Particle Beam Injection into Magnetically Confined Plasmas
Princeton University will develop a new method for particle beam injection that could boost the energy efficiency of plasma ignition to all-time highs. The proposed technology would avoid the major inefficiencies and operational complications associated with the beam neutralization process and strengthen the domestic energy sector through efficiently delivering plasma heating to fusion reactors.
Zero-GWP Air Source Heat Pump Steam Generation Using Ionocalorics
Calion Technologies will develop an air source heat pump steam generator that could seamlessly replace natural gas boilers for industrial processes and introduce heat pumps to a new swath of customers. Calion Technologies’ unique device would harness ionocaloric heat pumping technology to generate steam at very high temperatures compared with current heat pumps and accelerate the decarbonization of industrial heating, which accounts for 9% U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
Enantioselective Electrosynthesis of Amino Acids
Johns Hopkins University will develop a process using new electrocatalysts to make amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, that could accelerate the development of chemicals and food. The novel process would synthesize amino acids using chemical feedstocks that can be derived from merely air, water, and renewable electricity to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions in food and chemical production.
50-kV/1-A Sub-Microsecond Power Switch for Gyrotron Modulation
GaNify will develop a unique power switch for gyrotron modulators in nuclear fusion systems that could switch 50-kV/1-A in less than a microsecond without the need to stack multiple switches in series. Their design would significantly reduce the complexity and shorten the modulation voltage rise time, effectively pushing the voltage limit of solid-state power switches toward the high voltage regime.
Variable Cross-sectional Casting: New Composite Fabrication Process for Wind Turbine Blades
Perseus Materials will develop a new mode of composite manufacturing for wind turbine blades that could rapidly replace vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding as the dominant blade manufacturing process. Perseus’s unique additive manufacturing method—known as variable cross-sectional molding—could significantly reduce labor costs, cycle times, and factory footprints for blade manufacturers at the same output levels.
Low Cost All Temperature Zinc-pulp Battery for Stationary Storage
WH-Power (WHP) will develop a high-entropy electrolyte and pulp-based zinc battery that could operate in temperature ranges from -80°C to 80°C and can be used for both residential and grid-scale energy storage applications. WHP’s battery would be inherently safer and lower cost than existing batteries and could be produced from abundant materials that are readily available domestically.
Sequential Advancement of Technology for Deep Borehole Disposal (SAVANT)
Deep Isolation will test a range of canister designs in boreholes at the Deep Borehole Demonstration Center in Texas and assess US-based supplier capabilities in the hopes of identifying a universal canister design. Advancing a universal canister system from a conceptual development stage to a licensing stage would require full-scale test data, and help enable safe, scalable, and cost-effective disposal of the current stored used nuclear fuel as well as fuels from advanced nuclear reactors in development.
Active-target Muon Source for Muon-catalyzed Fusion
NK Labs will improve the efficiency of muon production to enable cost-effective muon-catalyzed fusion, a process that can operate at much lower temperatures than traditional approaches to fusion. NK Labs would improve the design of the target that gets bombarded with high-energy protons to generate particles called pions, which rapidly decay into muons that are then routed toward the fusion fuel to catalyze a fusion reaction. Instead of the standard sheet or rod-shaped targets, NK Labs will use machine-learning-based optimization methods to design improved targets which increase the efficiency and economics of muon-catalyzed fusion plants.
High Performance Nanocomposite Kraft Papers to Improve Insulation and Lifetime of Large Power Transformers
C-Crete Technologies will develop high-performance nanocomposite kraft papers to improve the insulation of large power transformers. C-Crete’s advanced kraft paper would offer high thermal conductivity, high dielectric strength, low moisture content, and other features that translate to longer transformer lifetimes. This technology could potentially reduce the number of power outages associated with transformer failures, saving the U.S. economy tens of billions of dollars each year.
PACIFIC INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
Biomimetic CO2 to Fuel Enabled by Scalable Catalyst Development and Synthetic Electrochemistry
Pacific Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) will develop a novel synthetic pathway to create methane fuel from carbon dioxide (CO2) at room temperature. Leveraging their expertise in inorganic materials synthesis and catalyst development, PIDC’s CO2-to-fuel conversion process could help drive down emissions and increase energy efficiency when implemented at scale at a target cost of $50 per kilogram.
FOUNDATION ALLOY TECHNOLOGY EXPLORATIONS
Enabling Resilient and Secure Domestic Supply Chains for Critical Reactor Components with Novel Materials and Additive Manufacturing
Foundation Alloy Technology Explorations will develop a new class of alloys specifically engineered for powder metallurgy-based processing. These new alloys would be engineered at the atomic level for improved properties and for potential applications in critical reactor components. Foundation Alloy’s integration of new material design with part production could enable rapid delivery times, lower costs, and more consistent part quality.
Nanoprotonic Devices for >240x Performance Analog AI Hardware
Eva will develop novel devices to build analog processors that could drastically improve the energy efficiency of training complex artificial intelligence (AI) models. Eva’s proposed technology—a new class of nanoprotonic programmable resistors—would reduce the programming voltage of the devices for integration compatibility with standard circuit drivers and overhaul the device structures with an encapsulant to enable monolithic integration. The resulting processors could outperform existing digital AI training hardware solutions by over 240 times.