This Exploratory Topic seeks to support entrepreneurial energy discoveries, by identifying and supporting disruptive concepts in energy-related technologies within small businesses and collaborations with universities and national labs. These projects have the potential for large-scale impact, and if successful could create new paradigms in energy technology with the potential to achieve significant reductions in U.S. energy consumption, energy-related imports, or energy-related emissions.
Three cohorts of selections were awarded for a range of technologies across ARPA-E’s mission spaces through this Exploratory Topic.
Potential topics of focus through the first cohort of project selections included:
- - Advanced bioreactors
- - Approaches and tools to create enhanced geothermal systems
- - Non-evaporative dehydration and drying technologies Approaches to significantly enhance the rate and/or potential scale of carbon mineralization
- - Separation of CO2 from ambient air (direct air capture) High-rate separation of dissolved inorganic carbon from the ocean to produce a CO2 stream
- - Advanced trees and other engineered biological systems for carbon sequestration
- - Innovative deep ocean collector designs for mining polymetallic nodules
- - Environmental sensors capable of operation in deep ocean environments for mining polymetallic nodules
- - Non-carbothermic smelting technologies
Potential topics of focus through the second cohort of project selections included:
- - Transformative, efficient technologies for controlled comminution (grinding, crushing, etc.)
- - Nontraditional smelting approaches that significantly reduce the energy intensity of primary metals production or scrap metal recycling
- - Advanced trees (or other plants) as high-performance, durable structural materials (far beyond existing technologies like mass timber) and/or as permanent carbon sequestration solutions
- - Novel, scalable, highly energy-efficient industrial drying technologies for, e.g., lumber, pulp and paper, textile, grain, etc.
- - Novel building climate control technologies, including cooling topologies, energy efficient ventilation approaches, and isothermal dehumidification technologies
- - Approaches to significantly enhance the rate and/or potential scale of carbon mineralization, either in situ or ex situ, as a means of long-term CO2 storage
- - Scalable, disruptive, economically viable separation of CO2 from ambient air (direct air capture), with a focus on the potential to scale to Gt-levels of CO2 capture.
- - Scalable, disruptive, economically viable separation of dissolved inorganic carbon from the ocean (direct ocean capture) to produce a CO2 stream, with a focus on the potential to scale to Gt-levels of CO2 capture.
- - Novel technologies to cost-effectively repurpose or recover energy or materials from emerging technologies at end-of-life (e.g., photovoltaics, wind turbine blades, EV batteries, fuel cells, related e-waste)
- - Technologies to efficiently recover high-value resources from mine tailings
Potential topics of focus through the third cohort of project selections included:
- - Making biofuels in fundamentally new ways
- - Efficiently extracting, concentrating and purifying critical metals and rare earth elements;
- - Producing sustainable aviation fuels and renewable diesel
- - Developing data center cooling systems.
Awards under this topic are working to support research and establish potential new areas for technology development, while providing ARPA-E with information that could lead to new focused funding programs. The focus of these projects is to support exploratory research to establish viability, proof-of-concept demonstration for new energy technology, and/or modeling and simulation efforts to guide development for new energy technologies.
Take a look at specific projects ARPA-E has funded under this opportunity across the broad range of technical areas outlined below.
Projects Funded Within This Exploratory Topic - Cohort 1
CO-GENERATION OF LOW-ENERGY, CO2-FREE HYDROGEN AND ORDINARY PORTLAND CEMENT FROM CA-RICH BASALTS
Brimstone Energy is advancing next-generation reactor technologies related to cement production. These processes could potentially reduce U.S. energy consumption by 0.4 quads/year, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 90 megatons/year, and industrial expenditures by $1.8 billion/year across the cement industry.
REAL-TIME, IN-SITU SENSING OF SEDIMENT PROPERTIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING OF DEEP-SEA POLYMETALLIC NODULE MINING
Sequoia Scientific will develop a monitoring system to assess the concentrations and properties of sediment stirred up during deep-sea mining activities. The technology uses novel laser-light scattering and high‑resolution video imagery and processing to measure the concentration, size, and settling speed of the sediment in situ. The technology will help determine the environmental impact of deep-sea mining activities.
ENABLING TECHNOLOGY - REDUCING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS AND ENERGY DEMANDS VIA SCALING ADVANCED 3D CULTURE BIOREACTORS - $500,000
Cambridge Crops will develop two advanced bioreactor systems to assess scaling and outcomes for the production of complex, value-added biomaterials as a method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The technology will determine the feasibility of scaling complex 3D cultures and provide data on suitable mass and energy balances to predict greenhouse gases and energy savings.
DEEP REACH TECHNOLOGY
IMPROVED NODULE COLLECTOR DESIGN TO MITIGATE SEDIMENT PLUMES
Seabed mining may be the best option to fill the impending gap in terrestrial supplies for nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements, which are increasingly used to manufacture electric vehicles and large lithium-ion batteries. Deep Reach Technology will design a novel nodule collector to minimize the impact of sediment plumes, which may disperse and cover the seabed beyond the mining area. The project uses augmented screening and seabed electrocoagulation to achieve this goal. The proposed technology has the potential to fast-track deep sea mining.
MOGENE GREEN CHEMICALS
PHOTOSYNTHETIC MICROORGANISM-BASED CONSORTIA TO CAPTURE CARBON AND BUILD SOIL ORGANIC MATTER
MOgene Green Chemicals will develop a novel photosynthetic microorganism-based consortia to capture carbon and build soil organic matter. Intensive agriculture practices, including the removal of residual crops, use of synthetic fertilizer and herbicides, and tillage practices, have led to lost organic matter, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced capacity of the soil to store carbon. If successful, the team’s technology could increase organic matter production, help soil store additional carbon, and create more utilizable nitrogen.
HYPERJET FUSION CORPORATION
PLASMA GUNS FOR MAGNETIZED FUEL TARGETS FOR PJMIF
HyperJet Fusion is advancing a potentially faster and cheaper approach to fusion energy. In plasma jet driven magneto-inertial fusion (PJMIF), an array of discrete supersonic plasma jets is used to form a spherically imploding plasma liner, which then compresses a magnetized plasma target to fusion conditions. Under this project HyperJet Fusion proposes to advance development of the PJMIF magnetized plasma target by adding a bias field coil to the previously developed plasma liner gun. If successful, the team will produce a plasma target with an embedded magnetic field. The concept could potentially help advance an innovative and highly attractive reactor technology.
CHEMICALLY ENGINEERED PROCESS FOR ENHANCED CARBON MINERALIZATION POTENTIAL
Carbon mineralization, a promising carbon management technology, is the reaction of CO2 gas with minerals containing magnesium and/or calcium. The reaction forms a stable, solid carbonate, which can be used in building materials. Community Energy will use minerals from the waste produced at mining facilities to enhance the rate of carbon mineralization, increase the amount of available minerals used to capture CO2, and produce building materials, such as aggregate for making cement, which can offset some of the carbon footprint associated with the cement industry.
HIGHLY EFFICIENT VACUUM SMELTING OF ALUMINUM
UHV Technologies will develop and demonstrate an innovative aluminum smelting technology that will significantly increase the range of aluminum alloys that can be manufactured from recycled scrap aluminum. This will reduce the need for primary aluminum with corresponding energy and environmental benefits. Using UHV’s patented high-throughput sorter, aluminum alloys will be pre-sorted, then melted in an energy-efficient vacuum furnace to avoid the typical 5% metal loss from molten metal oxidation, allowing for lower-cost production of high-value aluminum alloys. Currently ~60% of total U.S. aluminum usage comes from recycling. The proposed technology can be used as a point-of-use smelter at various foundries resulting in almost 50% energy savings during the melting of recycled aluminum to make products.
ADVANCED CATALYST MANUFACTURING ENABLED BY DIRECT JOULE HEATING - $500,000
Ammonia synthesis reactions, enabled by the Haber–Bosch process, account for approximately 3% of the world’s total energy use. HIGHT-TECH proposes a novel, direct joule (electric current) heating process to enable synthesis of high-entropy alloy nanoparticles with various catalyst compositions. When used in a cascade reactor with a sequence of non- platinum group metals catalyst compositions tailored to a specific stage of the synthesis reaction, this method will produce ammonia synthesis catalysts that deliver more ammonia per pass and require significantly less capital cost and energy to operate
ULTRASONIC TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS
EXTREMELY FAST AND EFFICIENT DIRECT CONTACT ULTRASONIC DRYING FOR ROLL TO ROLL MANUFACTURING
Direct contact ultrasonic drying is a novel, non-evaporative dewatering process that uses no heat to significantly lower the energy required for industrial drying. The technology mechanically removes water by shaking the object rapidly, on the micron scale, using piezoelectric transducers. The technology can achieve 5X higher efficiency and 2-3X faster drying rates than traditional dryers on typical textiles. UTS will develop and demonstrate a proof of concept prototype expanding the technology’s application from a batch into a continuous process, enabling easy integration into roll to roll manufacturing production lines. The technology could have wide application in the textile, pulp and paper, chemical, carbon fiber, and food industries.
SEASTAR: SELECTIVE THALASSIC AMBULATORY RETRIEVER
The abyssal plain contains concentrated deposits of polymetallic nodules (critical minerals), an untapped resource of relevant minerals. Current prototype polymetallic nodule collectors propose to function as indiscriminate vacuums, strip-mining the sea floor and transporting everything to the surface to be filtered, with significant ecological and economic costs. Otherlab proposes to develop the “SeaSTAR” nodule collector, a large platform attached to a vacuum funnel ringed by robot arms. The arms would walk the collector across the abyssal plain while selectively picking up nodules and depositing them into a vacuum for transport to the surface. This selectivity will reduce the environmental impact and cost of deep-sea mining operations.
NANOIONICS ENABLED PROTON CONDUCTING IONOMERS
Celadyne Technologies will develop an innovative elevated temperature proton conducting ionomer material. The team improves upon existing technology relying on acid-base chemistry in favor of an approach driven by defect chemistry and interfacial nanoionic interactions. The technology could improve efficiency in proton exchange membrane fuel cells and electrolyzers and reduce CO2 emissions.
RECHARGEABLE CARBON-OXYGEN BATTERY: A NEW CLASS OF ULTRA LOW-COST, LIGHTWEIGHT ENERGY STORAGE TECHNOLOGY
Noon will create a rechargeable battery that turns solar and wind electricity into on-demand power. The battery uses ultra-low-cost storage media and stores energy by splitting CO2 into solid carbon and oxygen. Noon’s technology could provide a low-cost storage option compared with existing batteries.
TRANSFORMATION OF CARBON EMISSIONS TO HIGH-VALUE PRODUCTS THROUGH A TWO-STEP ELECTROCHEMICAL PLATFORM
Carbon dioxide utilization can help reduce carbon emissions, but gaps remain in the value chain from initial capture to high-value products. Lectrolyst LLC will develop an electrochemical platform centered on selective two-step conversion of CO2 to acetic acid and ethylene, to fill this need. Preliminary life cycle assessment and techno-economic analyses indicate ~200 million metric tons of CO2 emissions reduction when targeting these products at global scale while also competing on a cost basis without considering carbon pricing. Development of this platform is intended to lead to full commercialization.
ULTRA-LOW LOSS TECHNOLOGIES
SPACE DIVISION MULTIPLEXING WITH MULTI-CORE FIBER FOR ENERGY EFFICIENT INTEGRATED PHOTONIC NETWORKING TECHNOLOGIES
To further the development of energy efficient networking technologies for data centers and high-performance computing (HPC) systems, Ultra-low Loss Technologies (ULL) proposes to revolutionize chip-to-chip interconnects through leveraging multi-core fiber (MCF)-based space division multiplexing (SDM) enabled by a novel integrated photonics platform. Success of this technology is projected to bring orders of magnitude reduction in losses compared with competing technologies, directly translating to lower power consumption in computing networks and data centers.
FUNCTIONAL ENGINEERING OF A PHOTOSYNTHETIC DESALINATION PUMP CIRCUIT
Phytodetectors will design and engineer a synthetic biological pump circuit to increase the volume of water produced via photosynthetic desalination. This project builds off previous technology designed by Phytodetectors: a mangrove-inspired ultra-filter that allows plants to purify salt water as well as secrete water with properties comparable to bottled water. The partnership seeks to demonstrate the commercial viability of photosynthetic desalination.
ELECTRO-SWING ADSORPTION FOR HIGH EFFICIENCY DIRECT AIR CAPTURE
Verdox will develop a scalable, proof-of-concept direct air capture (DAC) prototype used for capturing carbon. The technology uses electrochemical cells to facilitate carbon capture upon charging and releases carbon upon discharging (the “electro-swing”). The proposed project involves development of new materials and electrochemical cells and the fabrication and testing of a prototype.
Projects Funded Within This Exploratory Topic - Cohort 2
NON-EQUILIBRIUM PLASMA FOR ENERGY-EFFICIENT NITROGEN FIXATION
Nitricity Inc. is developing a non-thermal plasma reactor that uses air, water, and renewable electricity to produce nitrogen fertilizer. If successful, this technology has the potential to economically decarbonize fertilizer production from the Haber-Bosch process, which produces more CO2 than any other chemical-making reaction. Literature and modeling analysis suggest that an energy efficiency ten times better than present plasma values and equal to or better than that of the conventional Haber-Bosch process could be achieved, which represents a $68B global market and gigaton CO2 equivalent per year mitigation opportunity.
A TRANSFORMATIVE LOW-COST APPROACH FOR DIRECT AIR MINERALIZATION OF CO2 VIA REPEATED CYCLES OF AMBIENT WEATHERING OF METAL OXIDES
One promising method for reducing atmospheric CO2 is a repeated enhanced weathering process, in which a natural reaction between CO2 in air and magnesium- and/or calcium-rich minerals is accelerated to form a solid carbonate that can be processed to regenerate the minerals for reuse and create a captured CO2 stream. The proposed technology combines enhanced weathering innovations with an engineered system that passively exposes these reactive minerals to the air. The approach may significantly reduce the cost of permanent, high-quality carbon removal, and the resulting pure CO2 can be permanently stored or sold for use. The process has the potential to remove 1 gigaton of CO2 by 2035, at a cost of $50/tCO2.
INCREASING CARBON DRAWDOWN AND RETENTION IN TERRESTRIAL BIOMASS USING BIOENGINEERED TREES
The rate of photosynthetic assimilation and decay of lignocellulosic biomass currently limits carbon drawdown and retention in terrestrial biomass. Living Carbon is developing innovative methods to reduce the susceptibility of vegetative biomass to decay by lignin-eating fungi, thereby reducing the rate of release of carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere through fungal respiration. Living Carbon’s trees resist fungal decay through absorbing small amounts of nickel and copper from the soil and depositing these metals in their xylem (wood) tissue as they grow, which offers a biological strategy to mimic the pressure treatment process that forces copper-based preservatives into lumber to increase its longevity. If these results translate at scale, these trees will improve carbon drawdown on the gigaton scale when planted in managed forests, and lumber from these trees may not require costly and emissions-intensive pressure treatment.
MICRO NANO TECHNOLOGIES
THERMALLY DRIVEN INDUSTRIAL SEMI-OPEN ABSORPTION HEAT PUMP DRYER
Micro Nano Technologies (MNT) proposes a proof-of-concept, thermally driven industrial semi-open absorption heat pump drying system to address current drying technology limitations and increase energy efficiency by 40% over state of the art. Because it is heat source flexible, this efficient, compact, and cost-effective drying system will permit the use of the lowest cost fuel per location, reducing operating costs, saving energy, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions at the grid/system level.
NOMIS POWER GROUP
6.5 KV, 100 A SIC POWER MODULE TECHNOLOGY TO MEET 21ST CENTURY ENERGY DEMANDS
NoMIS Power Group (NoMIS) aims to bring to market within two years silicon carbide (SiC) power semiconductor devices and modules at less than half the cost of today’s commercial-off-the-shelf-solutions. The team will achieve this by sourcing chips from U.S. suppliers, in-house development of an innovative SiC module design, and outsourced module manufacturing in the U.S. The team will rigorously test the devices at leading U.S. research institutions. In the process, NoMIS will help develop an indigenous U.S.-based supply chain for this critical technology, such as electric vehicle fast chargers, solid-state transformers, and direct current (DC) protection equipment, high-voltage DC converters, and locomotive traction motor drives.
KV-CLASS GAN-BASED JUNCTION BARRIER SCHOTTKY DIODES USING ION IMPLANTATION
Adroit Materials aims to grow and fabricate gallium nitride (GaN)-based Junction Barrier Schottky (JBS) diodes using a novel ion implantation process. These JBS diodes are targeted for use in adjustable speed drive (ASD) motor systems, replacing silicon and silicon carbide (Si and SiC)-based diodes. Compared with existing Si diode-based systems, the energy loss in the diode front end rectifier system could be reduced by about 50%. The team will perform selective area doping via implantation of magnesium ions in combination with high pressure, high temperature activation annealing.
ION IMPLANTATION-ENABLED FABRICATION OF ALN BASED SCHOTTKY DIODES
Adroit Materials will grow and fabricate aluminum nitride (AlN)-based Schottky diodes with electrical properties that will drastically reduce forward conduction (energy) losses compared with existing high-power diodes. The team will achieve this objective through implanting silicon ions in AlN, a wide bandgap semiconductor, combined with sophisticated point defect control processes to achieve controlled low doping. These breakthroughs enable a paradigm shift for the feasibility of AlN in next-generation power electronics.
BLUE SKY MEASUREMENTS
OPTICAL NIR FIXED-POSITION PASSIVE SCANNER FOR METHANE DETECTION AND MEASUREMENT
Blue Sky Measurements will develop a near-infrared passive scanner using sunlight to detect and measure methane emissions at an oil or gas production well pad or drilling site. The proposed system will provide continuous daily measurements for less than the annualized cost of currently mandated twice-a-year surveys. This fixed-position sensor system will enable operators to continuously monitor their operations for fugitive emissions and enable owners to take corrective action when a leak occurs, minimizing the time between when a leak develops and when it is fixed. This enabling technology promises to help the oil and gas industry achieve the aggressive EPA-targeted 45% reduction in related methane emissions by 2025, a value equivalent to the emissions from one-third of coal-fired power plants.
HIGH ASPECT RATIO CO2 REDUCTION ELECTROLYZER VIA NOVEL GAS DIFFUSION ELECTRODE - DESIGN
OCO Inc. (OCO) proposes to build a tall (1800 cm2 ) electrochemical cell, addressing a critical scale-up issue for many processes seeking to convert carbon dioxide into useful products. The cell will be used to convert carbon dioxide, water, and renewable electricity into formic acid. The project will integrate multiple innovative electrolyzer components and materials into a first-of-its-kind single design. If successful, the new process will reduce the cost of formic acid 33%, be based exclusively on renewable energy and feeds, and avoid the use fossil-based inputs. Formic acid has several commercial uses today and could be a building block for future chemical routes based on “recycled” carbon dioxide. This project could open up new options for converting carbon dioxide into many useful products.
FROST METHANE LABS
DESIGN OF SMART MICRO-FLARE FLEET TO MITIGATE DISTRIBUTED METHANE EMISSIONS
Flares are widely used address methane emissions, eliminating a safety issue and reducing greenhouse gas impacts up to 90%. There are many technical and economic challenges for designing small flares that operate reliably with high destruction efficiency, however. Frost Methane Labs proposes to develop a “micro-flare,” capable of handling emissions from sources from 10-200 tonnes of methane per year per site. The micro-flare consists of a combustion chamber, pilot light or electronic ignition source, upstream flow and methane concentration monitoring, controls electronics, and remote communications. The system will have low capital and operating costs. Commercialization of this technology could offset approximately 290 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year worldwide, equivalent to removing 60 million cars from the road.
DIRECT AIR CAPTURE UTILIZING HYDROGEN-ASSISTED CARBONATE ELECTROLYSIS
Direct capture of CO2 from ambient air is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Due to the dilute nature of the CO2, capturing it in ambient air is challenging and requires different strategies than carbon capture from concentrated CO2 waste streams. Giner, Inc., (Giner) proposes a novel process that uses a liquid solvent, regenerated electrochemically, to capture dilute CO2 from air to produce a purified, concentrated CO2 stream. The stream can be redirected for use as a feedstock for a wide variety of applications, including chemical manufacturing and syngas formation. This process has the potential for large scale-up, with no environmental limitations and virtually no chemical waste generated.
INTEGRATION OF ULTRAHIGH CAPACITY SORBENTS INTO DIRECT AIR CAPTURE SYSTEMS
Direct air capture (DAC) of carbon dioxide (CO2) is a promising technology in reversing greenhouse gas emissions. DAC is possible through liquid and solid-sorbent technologies, but the lower energy costs for solid-sorbent technology can facilitate widespread, rapid deployment of DAC systems. Current DAC sorbents are limited in how much CO2 they can remove for a given amount of material, requiring large amounts of sorbent, increased system sizes, and higher cost. Mosaic Materials has developed an ultrahigh capacity sorbent using materials known as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). Mosaic Materials’ MOF sorbent technology significantly outperforms other sorbents with respect to CO2 capacity, selectivity, and removal under extremely low CO2 concentrations. In this project, Mosaic Materials will integrate its MOF sorbent technology into an optimized air contactor to prove their technology’s ability to lower DAC costs.
WOOD HONEYCOMBS FOR LIGHTWEIGHT, ENERGY EFFICIENT STRUCTURAL APPLICATIONS
InventWood proposes to develop and manufacture lightweight 3D wood corrugated honeycomb structures to replace metal counterparts. Compared with widely used aluminum, 3D wood has similar mechanical strength, possesses one-third the density and one-fourteenth the cost, and reduces CO2 emissions by 90% in its manufacture. Project goals include: (1) improving 3D corrugated wood performance to achieve a mechanical strength of up to 500 MPa; (2) improving 3D wood performance to meet structural material requirements, including bending, compression, fatigue resistance, and thermal-cycling and water stability; (3) developing scalable processes for manufacturing the 3D wood honeycomb structure; and (4) conducting life-cycle assessment and modeling of 3D wood’s environmental impact, cost, and energy consumption.
ENGINEERING OF SCALABLE PLATINUM-FREE ELECTRODES FOR PURE-WATER AEM WATER ELECTROLYSIS
Green hydrogen, which is produced with renewable energy and electrolysis, can reduce emissions for the ammonia fertilizer, refineries, chemicals, and steel industries that use hydrogen as a feedstock. Existing water electrolysis technologies are expensive due to high materials cost or complex balance-of-plant systems required when using conventional alkaline electrolysis. The ARPA-E IONICS program developed highly conductive, chemically stable anion exchange membranes that are now commercially produced. Origen Hydrogen aims to develop high-performance, platinum-free electrodes to compliment these breakthrough materials for pure-water electrolysis operation. The team will use engineered low-cost, scalable electrodes that are resistant to the most common degradation pathways.
ELECTRIFIED THERMAL SOLUTIONS
FIREBRICK RESISTANCE-HEATED ENERGY STORAGE (FIRES)
Electrified Thermal Solutions is developing Firebrick Resistance-heated Energy Storage (FIRES), a new energy storage technology that converts surplus renewable electricity into heat. Once stored, the renewable heat can be used to (1) replace fossil fueled heat sources in industrial processes such as steel and cement production or (2) run a heat engine to produce carbon-free, on-demand renewable electricity at a fraction of the cost of Li-ion batteries. FIRES is based on a novel joule-heated system built from electrically conductive ceramics designed at MIT.
BIG BLUE TECHNOLOGIES
CARBON NEGATIVE MAGNESIUM METAL PRODUCTION USING A CYCLIC BATCH HIGH TEMPERATURE CONDENSER
Big Blue Technologies (BBT) proposes the world’s most efficient method to produce magnesium (Mg), a light metal with a high energy and carbon footprint whose demand is increasing due to its application in vehicle and aircraft light-weighting and portable electronics. BBT will demonstrate a continuous production system with best-in-class material and energy efficiency by extracting crude Mg from ore in a 50-kW electric arc furnace and purifying it using a dual high-temperature condenser. If successful and scaled, BBT will produce Mg at the globally competitive cost of <$2/kg, reduce total process energy consumption (<15 kWh/kg), and establish a path for net-zero process emissions, providing a cleaner, cheaper, domestic source of this critical metal.
NOVEL TECHNIQUE FOR DOMESTIC RARE EARTH OXIDE SEPARATION AND RARE EARTH METAL REDUCTION
Rare earth metals (REMs) are crucial for a domestic clean energy future, as they are key to several emerging technologies from wind turbines to electric vehicles. Currently, high energy requirements, hazardous waste generation, and the associated costs inhibit domestic commercial viability of rare earth separation and metallization processes, so rare earth material is sent to China for processing. Phoenix Tailings (PT) has developed novel techniques to separate rare earth oxides (REOs) without the use of hazardous chemicals and reduce them to REMs using 35-45% less energy. PT will separate REOs through selective halogenation and use mixed halide salts to reduce them. The result is a new domestic rare earth supply chain that removes cost-preventative energy requirements and environmentally unacceptable solvents.
ELECTROCHEMICAL SYNTHESIS OF LOW-CARBON CEMENT
Cement is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Currently, the only economical way to make Portland cement’s key ingredient, lime, is by thermally decomposing limestone. This reaction contributes ~75% of cement’s emissions. Sublime Systems (Sublime) will build an electrochemical system to produce lime using off-peak renewable electricity and calcium sources that do not release CO2. The lime produced may possess exceptional purity, consistency, and reactivity, enabling next-generation low-carbon cements. If successful and scaled, Sublime’s electrochemical synthesis of lime would reduce energy-related emissions in the U.S. from lime and cement making while simultaneously providing ancillary grid services, enabling proliferation of renewables.
LOW-COST WIND ENERGY THROUGH DENSE VAWT ARRAYS: FATIGUE LOADS AND POWER PERFORMANCE RISK MITIGATION
The proposed technology will boost the power production and increase the density of utility wind farms, resulting in at least a 23% reduction in levelized cost of energy (LCOE) from the wind. The flow dynamics of vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) enable constructive interactions between rotors in a wind farm, increasing power up to 30% over non-interacting turbines, and increasing VAWT density per unit land-area an order of magnitude compared with state-of-the-art wind farms. XFlow Energy Company (XFlow) will perform simulations to examine the impacts of close turbine spacing on rotor fatigue and power performance coupled with experimental studies to validate and refine the simulation models.
LOW-COST RECYCLING OF LITHIUM FROM BATTERIES VIA CONDUCTIVE MEMBRANE NANOFILTRATION
The demand for lithium, a critical component of lithium-ion batteries, is expected to soar over the coming decades. As favorable sources are depleted, a new source must be tapped: recycling end-of-life lithium-ion batteries. SiTration is developing a new type of filtration membrane that is well suited to selectively extract lithium in the existing battery recycling process flow. Today’s commercial membranes are either incompatible with the harsh chemical environments of battery recycling or not selective enough to extract lithium from a complex solution. SiTration’s nanofiltration technology provides significant advantages in these areas. It can be dropped into the existing recycling process, ultimately extracting lithium more efficiently and at a lower cost.
Projects Funded Within This Exploratory Topic - Cohort 3
SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY APPROACH TO CRITICAL METAL EXTRACTION FROM WASTE ELECTRONIC COMPONENTS TO ENSURE A ROBUST SUPPLY OF CRITICAL MATERIALS FOR CLEAN ENERGY
Metalx Biocycle aims to enable the recycling of critical metals from electronic waste (e-waste) at a cost that is competitive against extraction via conventional mining. Most e-waste ends up in landfills where it causes serious environmental issues; and conventional extraction methods rely on inefficient, expensive, energyintensive processes. The Metalx Biocycle team will leverage biological processes to efficiently extract, concentrate, and purify critical metals and rare earth elements from e-waste and low-grade mineral ores. They plan to develop a biological recovery platform that provides fossil fuel-free metal reclamation and minimizes environmental impact, ensuring a secure closed-loop life cycle for critical metals in the U.S.
TYPE V VESSEL-AIDED ELECTROCHEMICAL COMPRESSION FOR ULTRA-HIGH-PRESSURE ELECTROLYSIS
pH Matter will use electrochemical compression within an electrolysis stack and contained in a Type V vessel to eliminate or reduce the amount of additional mechanical compression required to make high-pressure hydrogen (200-700 bar). Historically, mechanical stability, hydrogen crossover, or diffusion problems made such an approach very challenging. In addition to the Type V vessel, pH Matter will utilize their patented, hybrid liquid alkaline-anion exchange membrane electrolysis cell that has 30x less crossover than a state-of-the-art proton exchange membrane electrolyzer. Current hydrogen compression, storing, and dispensing costs add $2.70/kg to the cost of heavy-duty hydrogen fuel, which must cost between $3-4/kg to be competitive with fossil fuels. If successful, this approach could reduce the cost of 700 bar hydrogen fuel by $0.50-2.00/kg.
DISCOVERY PLATFORM FOR LOW-IR ANODE CATALYSTS IN PEM ELECTROLYZERS
Stoicheia aims to accelerate the discovery of proton exchange membrane electrolyzer (PEM) anode catalysts to reduce or eliminate the rare, expensive iridium oxide (IrOx) that is currently the industry standard. Stoicheia’s novel combinatorial process and Megalibrary platform enables the rapid synthesis and characterization of hundreds of thousands of unique materials in a single experiment. Stoicheia seeks to use this approach to accelerate the discovery of reduced IrOX options. PEMs enable both water and CO2 electrolysis to hydrogen and valuable hydrocarbons, respectively, at net-zero carbon. This enables the decarbonization of hard-to-abate sectors like chemicals, industrial heat, and heavy transportation. Low-cost catalyst alternatives are necessary to approach modest projections for electrolyzer deployment and enable corresponding decarbonization efforts in those sectors.
EFFICIENT RECOVERY OF DILUTE HELIUM GAS USING MOLECULAR SIEVE MEMBRANES
Domestic helium supplies are diminishing, while global demand is rising due to high-tech industries, medical diagnosis, chip manufacturing, and space exploration. Osmoses will develop of a novel family of ultrapermeable and ultra-selective polymer membranes that can efficiently capture dilute sources of this critical gas from feedstocks that are otherwise wasted. Osmoses will optimize its proprietary polymer synthesis procedure to reduce costs and enable rapid scale-up. The polymer will then be formed into an ultra-thin membrane film for helium recovery from natural gas streams, which in the US contain an estimated 306 billion cubic feet of recoverable helium and represent a significant opportunity. The Osmoses team will develop a techno-economic process model to minimize helium’s production price as a function of helium feed composition.
AMBIENT SEISMIC IMAGING TECHNOLOGY FOR LOW COST AND EFFECTIVE GEOTHERMAL RESOURCE EXPLORATION, DEVELOPMENT, AND MANAGEMENT
Enegis will use Ambient Seismic Imaging (ASI) to image permeability pathways and fluid flow in rock to advance geothermal development. Proper geothermal resource development must ensure project feasibility and integrity, improve targeting of permeability structures, and control induced seismicity. ASI overcomes the need for a controlled signal source (e.g., vibroseis) by using seismic emission tomography methods and passively listens to vibrations due to stress changes by fluid-rock interactions during the creation of permeability pathways. The team will adapt ASI to map the permeability architecture of the Newberry geothermal field in Oregon, focusing on measurement methods, network designs, and deployment campaigns to provide more robust characterization, thereby lowering risk and cost. ASI contrasts with status quo reflection seismology’s use of induced earthquakes, which are suboptimal for imaging permeability structure and fluid flow.
SIMPLIFYING REACTOR SETUP FOR CELL-FREE BIOFUEL PRODUCTION
Invizyne will develop efficient cell-free enzyme cascade reactions as an alternative, more commercially competitive approach to microbe-produced biofuels. Cell-free technology is still relatively new. However, Invizyne has already been successful in improving enzyme stability and process optimization to push down the cost curve of biofuels. The team seeks to address a barrier to market penetration for cell-free technologies by simplifying and reducing the cost of enzyme production. If successful, this approach could enable a cell-free enzyme system that produces isobutanol at below $3 per gallon gasoline equivalent.
DEVELOPMENT OF THIN FILM COMPOSITE HOLLOW FIBER MEMBRANES FOR DIRECT OCEAN CAPTURE
Captura will demonstrate efficient CO2 stripping from oceanwater using low-cost thin film composite hollow fiber membranes. The team will use ultra-low-cost hollow fiber membranes, traditionally used in water filtration applications, as a structural support, and modify their outer layers with highly CO2 permeable polydimethylsiloxane layers to selectively strip CO2 from oceanwater. Captura will also employ a computational model-assisted design and rapidly prototype new gas liquid contactor designs that use counterflow and cross-flow design for efficient CO2 stripping from oceanwater. The team estimates a >10x cost reduction in the capital expenditure for the CO2 stripping unit.
HIGH DENSITY COOLING SYSTEM FOR ULTRA-LOW PUE DATA CENTERS
Impact Cooling will develop a novel data center cooling solution that can cool server equipment efficiently using only air. Data centers are predicted to consume 8% of global electricity by 2030; approximately one-third of that energy is used for cooling server equipment rather than actual computations. State-of-the-art data center cooling has come from better separation of hot and cold air. State-of-the-art air-cooled data centers use air at ambient atmospheric pressure to cool the server equipment. Impact Cooling’s patented air jet impingement cooling technology can achieve dramatically improved heat transfer at minimal energy cost. By leveraging elevated working pressures rather than being limited to ambient conditions, Impact Cooling’s solution can achieve a remarkable cooling coefficient of performance exceeding 20, even in hot, humid environments.
AIR CONDITIONING VIA LIQUID DESICCANT DEHUMIDIFICATION
Zephyr is developing an alternative to the standard, vapor-compression (VC) driven air conditioner that uses no synthetic refrigerants. Zephyr’s solution employs evaporative cooling preceded by efficient liquid desiccant dehumidification. The key challenge in any desiccant-based dehumidification system is the removal of moisture from the desiccant so it can be reused. This is typically done by heating the desiccant to boil off water. Zephyr’s differentiator is its desiccant regeneration system which avoids direct desiccant heating and doubles dehumidification and cooling efficiency over today’s most efficient VC systems.
HEAT PUMP TO DECARBONIZE INDUSTRIAL HEAT
AtmosZero, in partnership with Colorado State University, seeks to develop a modular high-temperature heat pump system with the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions from on-site heat generation in the U.S. industrial sector. Approximately 75% of all on-site energy consumption in the U.S. manufacturing sector is used to generate heat, which means industrial process heat must be decarbonized to substantially reduce U.S. emissions. The team will use a combination of strategic approaches, including: heat recuperation strategies, optimized heat exchanger selection and sizing, and high-efficiency, high-temperature compressors to achieve the desired heat pump performance. Preliminary analysis indicates the AtmosZero system will be competitive with today’s fossil fuel fired systems, reducing heat costs by leveraging the declining costs of zero-carbon electricity sources.
BIOGAS TO RENEWABLE FUELS VIA THERMAL REFORMING
Molten Industries is using a new reactor technology to enable the direct conversion of biogas into sustainable aviation fuels and renewable diesel. Molten Industries' thermal reforming reactor powered by renewable electricity enables high energy efficiency at significant gas throughputs. If successful, this project will open a new route to upgrade biogas to fuels to increase U.S. sustainable fuel production.
LOW-COST ELECTRONICS FOR PRESSURE-AGNOSTIC ACTUATORS DRIVING BIO-INSPIRED VEHICLES FOR DEEP SEA MINING
Artimus Robotics aims to enable environmentally conscious deep-sea mining of rare earth elements and precious metals using next-generation bio-inspired unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). The team will focus on developing inexpensive electronics for its hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic (HASEL) actuators, which enable ‘soft’ autonomous vehicles that can facilitate environmentally conscious mineral collection methods to access the deep ocean. More than 50% of the total UUV cost is attributed to the motors and associated drive systems. Replacing such a system with a HASEL-based system would reduce the cost by 50x, enabling greater access to the billions of tons of critical minerals in polymetallic nodules on the ocean floor. UUVs based on the new technologies have applications in other initiatives including carbon dioxide monitoring and mitigation and ocean agriculture for biomass production.
HIGH-PERFORMANCE AND MANUFACTURABLE MEDIUM VOLTAGE POWER DIODES
GaNify seeks to develop 10-kV/10-A power diode prototypes for medium-voltage power electronics systems. Medium-voltage power switches are needed for a range of power electronics. GaNify’s medium-voltage power diodes are based on a novel charge-balanced GaN super-heterojunction technology, which has already demonstrated ~2X higher effective electric field, scalability to over 10 kV, and ~3X lower on-resistance over the existing wide bandgap semiconductor technology. The team will study scalability, manufacturability, and reliability of this technology and seek to develop engineering prototypes to be used in the next stage of research and development. The outcome of this project will inform future directions of medium-voltage power electronics technology.
THE SALT AND IRON PATH TO RENEWABLES INTEGRATION
Inlyte Energy will engineer robust cyclability of the sodium metal halide (NaMx) battery’s iron chemistry for next-generation grid storage. The NaMx iron chemistry’s raw storage materials are table salt and iron, two of Earth’s most abundant and low-cost materials. The NaMx battery displays excellent safety, high efficiency, and a long life. Limited research on the sodium/iron chloride battery chemistry has shown variable cycling performance, the number of charge/discharge cycles it can complete before losing performance. Inlyte Energy will perform a systematic study, using a sodium/iron chloride cell, using electrochemical measurements and materials characterization to isolate the factors that allow for long cyclability and engage in a parallel effort in scaling NaMx battery manufacturing for the grid.
DECOUPLING HIGH-DENSITY HYDROGEN FROM THE LIQUID HYDROGEN INFRASTRUCTURE: CATALYST-FILLED HEAT EXCHANGERS FOR MODULAR CRYO-COMPRESSORS
Verne is developing a cryo-compressor technology platform that will convert gaseous hydrogen (GH2) at low pressures (e.g., 20 bar) and ambient temperature (e.g., 300K) to cryo-compressed hydrogen (CcH2) at 60–80K and 300–500 bar. CcH2 is thermodynamically optimal for high-density, low-cost storage in achieving an economical hydrogen infrastructure. This platform will provide hydrogen with liquid-like densities using half the energy intensity and at smaller scales relative to liquefaction. If successful, this work will validate cryocompressors as a way to decentralize high-density hydrogen and accelerate deployment and utilization of electrolysis and the broader hydrogen infrastructure of the U.S. and globally.
MEDIA AND PROCESS TECHNOLOGY
SUPERCRITICAL FLUID BASED WET SUBSTRATE DEWATERING WITHOUT EVAPORATION
Media and Process Technology (MPT) proposed a process to convert high-energy evaporative drying into lowenergy filtration with the potential to reduce energy consumption in wet substrate dewatering by up to 90%. The team will demonstrate the technical feasibility and energy and cost savings potential of a non-evaporative substrate drying process based upon supercritical CO2 (scCO2) extraction combined with downstream ceramic membrane filtration. In addition, MPT will conduct ceramic membrane permeation study for low cost scCO2 recovery and recycle for the proposed drying process as well as other industrial scCO2 extraction processes. The proposed concept has lower capital costs than conventional scCO2 extraction.
BREAKTHROUGH PROCESS TO MANUFACTURE VERY LOW-COST LFP CATHODE FOR LI-ION BATTERIES
Sylvatex will use a low-cost, high-yield, and simplified continuous approach to synthesize lithium iron phosphate iron (LFP) based cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) where the reactants flow and mix continuously. Sylvatex’s proprietary nanomaterial platform has already demonstrated a significant breakthrough in synthesizing cathode materials for LIBs. This project will demonstrate the feasibility of producing LFP-based materials with a controlled continuous approach which could reduce energy consumption by 80%, waste by 60%, and cost by 60% relative to the incumbent commercial process. The performance of the cathode materials will be validated in two common LIB design types.
SIMPLIFIED STEAM ELECTROLYSIS: HYDROGEN FOR HARD-TO-ABATE INDUSTRIES
Advanced Ionics (AI) aims to advance its high-efficiency low-cost hydrogen electrolyzer technology to gigawatt-scale production within the next decade. If successful, AI’s system will enable and catalyze decarbonization in refining, ammonia production, chemicals production, steel, glass, methanol, and other highconsumption industries that currently rely on steam methane reforming (SMR) for hydrogen production. Today, electrolyzers suffer from low efficiencies and high capital cost, causing the price of hydrogen from electrolysis to be many times that of conventional SMR. AI’s technology will integrate with existing industrial processes and utilize abundant, low-grade process and waste heat, achieving price points that are otherwise challenging for other electrolyzer technologies.
IMPROVING OCEAN CO2 CAPTURE WITH BIPOLAR MEMBRANE ELECTRODIALYSIS OF SEAWATER
Oceans are responsible for ~25% of all CO2 capture, but increased acidification decreases CO2 uptake. Heimdal aims to remove excess acidity introduced by CO2 and return mineral hydroxides to the oceans, enabling additional CO2 uptake from the atmosphere. Renewably generated electricity will drive bipolar membrane electrodialysis with seawater or concentrated brine as an input and produce acid and base byproducts, introducing the latter back into the oceans to increase alkalinity. Heimdal’s goal is to make the electrochemical cell lifetime costs 10x cheaper than currently available commercial systems to achieve target CO2 sequestration costs of $100/ton.
DIGITAL AND COST-EFFICIENT PRODUCTION OF HYBRID POLYMETHACRYLIMIDE FOAM CORES FOR RADICAL LIGHTWEIGHTING OF LIGHT-DUTY VEHICLES
Gencores, Inc. enables technology for ultra-light vehicles to decarbonize transportation. Herein they demonstrate a scalable and digital production of low-cost and high-performance hybrid Polymethacrylimide (PMI) foam cores for sandwich composite constructions. Sandwich composites feature a foam core wrapped in fiber-reinforced skins and offer a 40-75% weight reduction potential compared with traditional metal alternatives. Current PMI foam cores are costly and time-consuming to produce in complex shapes. Gencores’ hybrid material and digital manufacturing technology will reduce the production cost of complex PMI foam components by up to 75%, unlocking the production of complex structural composites designs for cost-driven marketplaces.