ARPA-E Third Round: $100M for Grid Storage, Power Converters, Building Cooling

Energy Secretary Steven Chu — the rockstar geek Nobel Prize winner — announced at the first ARPA-E summit on Tuesday that the Department of Energy will hand out $100 million in a third round of grants to early stage greentech startups through the ARPA-E program. Specifically this round of grants will focus on energy efficiency technologies including grid storage, power converter technology, and building cooling technology.

The ARPA-E program, which plans to allocate a total of $400 million out of the stimulus funds to high risk green technologies, has already awarded a total of $151 million for 37 projects, and is in the process of awarding another $100 million for companies developing liquid transportation fuels, carbon capture technology, and batteries for transportation. The ARPA-E grants average $4 million each and are given to promising but high-risk startups.

Once this third round of funding is awarded the ARPA-E program will have spent a little over $350 million, and will have around $50 million of the pot left to dole out (it’s not clear if this is the last round of funds or not, but I’ll update when I know more). After that the program will have to find a new set of funds to keep ARPA-E funded.

ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar said at the summit this morning that the ARPA-E program identified its specific areas of funding by discussing what sectors need innovation in a “pull and push” manner. What energy technologies are researchers eagerly developing and what technologies are sorely needed, asked Majumdar.

We’re particularly excited to see that ARPA-E is focusing on various energy efficiency innovation, and looking at areas that are under funded. The DOE describes its goals for funding power grid storage innovation — or Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS) — as focusing on “developing energy storage technologies to balance the short-duration variability in renewable generation.” ARPA-E is looking at two areas of grid storage: “proof of concept storage component projects focused on validating new, over-the-horizon electrical energy storage concepts,” and “advanced system prototypes that address critical shortcomings of existing grid-scale energy storage technologies.”

Power converter technology also isn’t exactly a sexy technology, and the DOE says it will use some of the grants to focus on finding materials to develop new “soft magnetics, high voltage switches, and reliable, high-density charge storage,” which will deliver better performance while offering reductions in cost. In particular the DOE is looking for chip-scale power converters for solid-state lighting, micro-inverters for solar PV, and “single-chip power supplies for computers.”

Interested entrepreneurs, don’t forget that these grants are very competitive. Only 1 percent of the initial round of applicants received funds (37 out of 3700). The ARPA-E summit today is chock full of all the companies that didn’t win those initial funds.

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