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Department of Energy Announces 18 New Projects to Accelerate Technologies for Efficient Residential Combined Heat and Power Generation and Bioenergy Crop Development

June 18, 2015 - 12:31pm


The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) today announced $55 million in funding for 18 innovative projects as part of ARPA-E’s two newest programs: GENerators for Small Electrical and Thermal Systems (GENSETS) and Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA). GENSETS projects are aimed at developing generator technologies that will improve efficiencies in residential Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generation, and TERRA projects will accelerate energy crop development for the production of renewable transportation fuels from biomass.

“The GENSETS and TERRA programs demonstrate ARPA-E's unique approach to developing innovative ideas to advance energy technologies,” said ARPA-E Director Dr. Ellen D. Williams. “By accelerating the development of residential CHP generators in GENSETS and by using cutting-edge robotics, plant physiology and information technology to make bioenergy crop development faster in TERRA, ARPA-E is pushing the boundaries of current energy technologies to create a more secure, sustainable and affordable American energy future.”

Additional information on ARPA-E’s GENSETS and TERRA programs may be found below. Details on the 12 GENSETS projects may be found HERE and details on the six TERRA projects may be found HERE.

GENerators for Small Electrical and Thermal Systems (GENSETS) - $25 Million

The GENSETS program will accelerate the development of generator technologies to enable more affordable and efficient residential Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems. Compared to conventional electricity generation and transmission, CHP captures the otherwise wasted heat and makes it available for useful application. By making CHP affordable for home use, this heat can be used for water and home heating, reducing the residents’ energy costs. GENSETS project teams will develop advanced generators to produce electricity from piped-in natural gas while using the ‘waste’ heat to reduce the energy used by furnaces and water heaters. Widespread adoption of CHP systems in the residential sector would lead to significant energy savings, along with increased reliability for residential power supply and a large reduction in CO2 emissions.

The program will provide $25 million to support 12 project teams to design, build and test improved natural gas-powered generators for residential use. These generators can supply the majority of a household’s electricity while producing thermal energy for space and water heating. In order to make small-scale CHP systems more economical and to stimulate widespread adoption, the GENSETS program aims to develop one kilowatt systems that are affordable, efficient and durable. The selected project teams are grouped into four areas of technology focus: internal combustion engines, Stirling engines, microturbines and solid state devices.

Example of a selected GENSETS project:

Brayton Energy | Hampton, N.H. |1kW Recuperated Brayton-Cycle Engine Using Positive-Displacement Components

Brayton Energy will lead a team in developing a high efficiency microturbine CHP system that employs a thermodynamic cycle commonly used for large scale turbines. The key innovation for making an effective microturbine is to adapt this technology to use a lower input pressure. This will improve durability and increase efficiency by enabling use of a larger screw compressor for low viscous losses. The planned device also includes a silicon nitride screw expander, which enables high temperature operation. Brayton Energy will use its patented intake air recuperator and existing ultra-low emissions combustor to complete the CHP system.

View details on GENSETS 12 projects HERE.

Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA) - $30 Million

ARPA-E’s TERRA program uniquely integrates agriculture, information technology and engineering to address major global challenges in developing crops that are sustainable, affordable and yield abundant plant feedstocks for bioenergy. The program will encourage systems that couple large scale physical and genetic characterization with advanced algorithms in order to accelerate the year-over-year yield gains of traditional plant breeding and the discovery of crop traits that improve water productivity, nutrient use and our ability to mitigate greenhouse gases. The TERRA program provides $30 million to support six project teams in the development of improved varieties of sorghum, a crop used to produce biofuel, by developing improved plant remote sensing, analysis and breeding methods.

TERRA project teams will address the limitations surrounding crop phenotyping (identifying and measuring the physical characteristics of plants) and genotyping (decoding the DNA of a plant), which are both manual and time-intensive processes. Project teams will develop mobile platforms with sensory systems to observe and record the characteristics of plants and create advanced algorithms to analyze data and predict plant growth potential. Additionally, the TERRA program will fund the creation of a large public database comprised of sorghum genotypes and field phenotypes. This database will provide the greater community of plant physiologists, bioinformaticians and geneticists with the knowledge to improve sorghum and bioenergy crops.

Example of a selected TERRA project:

University of Illinois | Urbana-Champaign, Ill. | Mobile Energy-Crop Phenotyping Platform

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), with its partners Cornell University and Signetron Inc., will develop small-scale, automated ground rovers with the distinct capability to travel within the crops between rows. Phenotyping platforms will measure crop growth via 3-D reconstruction of plants and stands, and assess physiological indicators of performance using reflectance and LiDAR (laser light detection and ranging) sensors. The team will also use sophisticated biophysical growth models and DNA-sequencing technologies to develop innovative methods for accelerating improvement of energy sorghum and identifying key genes controlling plant performance.

View details on TERRA’s six projects HERE.