Less than a week after winning Congressional approval for a $180 million appropriation for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year for DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), DOE Secretary Steven Chu announced five new project areas on Wednesday, April 20, to be funded through ARPA-E.

Of ARPA-E’s $180 million budget for FY 2011, Secretary Chu announced that approximately $130 million would be set aside for five new project areas focused on energy storage, solar energy technologies, oil and rare earth alternatives, and integration of green energy.  These new programmatic areas build on ARPA-E’s previous focus areas in power technologies (ADEPT); battery technologies (BEEST); building cooling (BEETIT); non-photosynthetic biofuels (Electrofuels); grid energy storage (GRIDS); carbon capture technologies (IMPACCT); and the Department’s open solicitation process for projects not in one of these defined categories. 

 Specifically, the five new focus areas announced this week are as follows:

  1. Plants Engineered to Replace Oil (PETRO): Seeks to fund technologies that optimize the biochemical processes of energy capture and conversion to develop robust, farm-ready crops that deliver more energy per acre with less processing prior to the pump. The goal of the PETRO program is to create biofuels for half their current cost, making them cost-competitive with fuels from oil.
  2. High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage (HEATS): Seeks to develop revolutionary cost-effective thermal energy storage technologies in three focus areas: 1) high temperature storage systems to deliver solar electricity more efficiently around the clock and allow nuclear and fossil baseload resources the flexibility to meet peak demand, 2) fuel produced from the sun’s heat, and 3) HVAC systems that use thermal storage to improve the driving range of electric vehicles by up to 40 percent.
  3. Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies (REACT): Seeks to fund early-stage technology alternatives that reduce or eliminate the dependence on rare earth materials by developing substitutes in two key areas: electric vehicle motors and wind generators.
  4. Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI): Seeks to fund innovative control software and high-voltage hardware to reliably control the electricity grid, specifically: 1) controls able to manage 10 times more intermittently available wind and solar electricity than currently on the grid, and 2) resilient power flow control hardware – or the energy equivalent of an internet router – to enable significantly more electricity to flow over existing network of transmission lines.
  5. Solar Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (Solar ADEPT): Part of DOE’s SunShot Initiative to reduce the total cost of utility-scale solar systems by 75 percent by the end of the decade, the Solar ADEPT program aims to invest in key advances in magnetics, semiconductor switches, and charge storage, with a goal to reduce power conversion costs by up to 50 percent for utilities and 80 percent for homeowners.

Originally created as part of the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (America COMPETES) Act of 2007, ARPA-E received its first funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  Of the $400 million provided in ARRA funding, ARPA-E has to this point invested $363 million in 121 energy projects.  In February, DOE announced that six of these projects focused on solar and wind energy technologies and advanced batteries and energy storage had secured more than $100 million in private capital following an initial ARPA-E investment of $23.4 million.