DOE Offers Support for Breakthroughs in Alternative Fuels

February 29, 2012

President Obama announced on February 23 new funding to catalyze breakthrough technologies for two alternative fuels, natural gas and biofuels. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renwable Energy will make $14 million available to support research and development into biofuels from algae. Also, through its Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA—E), DOE will make $30 million available for a new research competition that will engage scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to find ways to harness domestic natural gas for vehicles. The goal is to spur American innovation and encourage scientific breakthroughs that will help diversify the nation's energy portfolio, grow U.S. companies, and develop alternative vehicle technologies.

DOE will seek proposals from small businesses, universities, and national laboratories to modify existing facilities for long-term algae research and test new production processes that could lead to commercial biofuels made from algae. Awardees will establish and operate research "test beds" for algal biofuels that can facilitate development, test new approaches to algae production, and discover innovative ways to minimize the water and nutrients needed to mass produce algae for commercial biofuels. These advanced research projects will aim to significantly improve the sustainability of algae-based biofuels and accelerate technological breakthroughs. The awards represent the first phase in a total $30 million investment in algal biofuels in fiscal year 2012. Applications are due April 18. See the Funding Opportunity Exchange website for more information on the algal biofuels opportunity.

Also, ARPA-E intends to fund projects that will develop lightweight fuel tanks for cars that can run on natural gas and can fit into modern passenger vehicles. This approach includes developing affordable natural gas compressors that can efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home. ARPA-E also seeks to fund projects that will develop absorbing materials that are able to hold gas, similar to how a sponge holds water. Such materials could lower pressure in vehicle tanks that hold and release natural gas, making them safer and more affordable for consumers. See the DOE press release and the Funding Opportunity Exchange website for more information on the ARPA-E natural gas opportunity.