Case Studies Used to Assess ARPA-E’s Operations and Potential to Achieve Energy Impacts
Case studies were one of the methods used by the committee to assess ARPA-E’s operations and its progress toward achieving its statutory mission and goals. This appendix presents the findings from the case studies; the approach used in conducting the case studies is described in Appendix C. The case studies focus on the role ARPA-E played in managing these projects and programs and the committee’s assessment of the potential transformative nature of the technology, the impact on the field, and expectations for market adoption. The committee is aware of the limitations of using case studies to draw overarching conclusions about ARPA-E—in particular, that these case studies are not representative of all agency programs and projects. As described in Appendix C, the case studies were just one of the methods used for the committee’s assessment of the agency. Each case study was reviewed and approved by the respective performers.
An important consideration when attempting to evaluate the success of the programs and projects described in the case studies was the state of maturity of ARPA-E. As emphasized throughout this report, at the beginning of the committee’s assessment, ARPA-E had been in operation for 6 years, a relatively brief time. Because most agency projects are funded for approximately 3 years, there were roughly 3 years’ worth of complete projects to examine for this assessment. Therefore, the focus was on evaluating ARPA-E’s operations and providing a technical assessment of whether the selected programs and projects met ARPA-E criteria of funding potentially transformative or white space technologies not already being funded by industry or other funding agencies because of technical and financial uncertainty.
Three types of case studies are presented in this appendix. The first focuses on a single program—Strategies for Wide-bandgap, Inexpensive Transistors for Controlling High-Efficiency Systems (SWITCHES); the second
on a portfolio of electricity storage projects; and the third on 10 individual cases studies grouped into three categories—successful, cancelled, and other projects.
ONE PROGRAM: SWITCHES
To understand the implementation of and impacts from a broad set of projects, the committee undertook a case study of a single program—SWITCHES—and the broad set of projects on electric battery storage described in the next section. In both instances, the committee purposely selected cases with the potential for a broad set of impacts. The following description of the SWITCHES program highlights many of the hallmarks of ARPA-E, including program director autonomy; investments in high-risk technology; and plans for ensuring commercialization pathways, including the need to keep manufacturing of power electronics in the United States.
Power electronics are ubiquitous and key to modern life and infrastructure. Vast efforts go into making electronic switching work better. Specifically, this means developing devices that are more efficient, longer-lasting, lower-cost, and useful in new applications. For example, improvements in power electronics can make the grid more efficient and reliable and improve integration of renewables, with known benefits from these capabilities amounting to many billions of dollars per year. Less clear but also compelling are the possibilities for improvements in power electronics to lead to completely different strategies for electric vehicles or lighting whose impact may be much greater if realized in conjunction with other innovations. The power electronics toolkit used by the industry is focused on well-understood and proven materials. The SWITCHES program sought proposals for using less well-understood materials with the potential to be tens or hundreds of times better for some vital applications, but not being pursued because the risks of failure were too high and time to market was too long. Specifically, the program is funding transformational advances in wide-bandgap (WBG) materials, device fabrication, and device architectures to develop new types of semiconductors. The outcomes of the program have involved many paths that will lead not to products (as expected and intended) but to several highly promising performance records and prototypes than now can be considered worth developing alongside more traditional approaches.
The objective of this program is not only to reduce the barriers to ubiquitous deployment of low-loss WBG power semiconductors but also to develop approaches that will bring the costs of these devices to functional parity
with those of silicon transistors while offering better performance. The program encompasses four major tasks: (1) creating crack-free device substrates using an economically promising method, (2) growing a doped semiconductor layer on these substrates with necessary electronic properties, (3) demonstrating working electronic devices with increasing levels of voltage capability using these new materials, and (4) completing a technology-to-market (T2M) plan. Based on the price of existing high-voltage silicon power semiconductor devices (shown in Figure D-1), ARPA-E considered WBG devices achieving costs of below $0.10/A for a 1,200 V, 100 A device to be a primary technical target (ARPA-E, 2013e). Further, the agency considered the SWITCHES program to be a complement to the New Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute, which is working to help create and manufacture WBG semiconductor-based power electronics in the United States (ARPA-E, 2014e; DOE, 2014).
Table D-1 lists the companies and projects in the SWITCHES program. Within the program, ARPA-E has funded 14 projects: 2 on diamond, 1 on silicon carbide (SiC), and 11 on gallium nitride (GaN). The emphasis is clearly on GaN. ARPA-E’s focus in this program is to fund work designed to reduce the real and perceived risks of using nonstandard materials in power electronics
TABLE D-1 Projects Funded under the SWITCHES Program
|Project||PI and Lead||Collaborators||Description||Remarks||Years|
|P Doped Diamond Power Transistors||ASU||Diamond, vertical devices||Use innovative diamond growth approach||2014–2016|
|Vertical GaN Transistors on Bulk GaN||Avogy||ABB, NCSU, ORNL, Soraa||Vertical devices||30 times smaller transistor than Si, cost parity with Si in 3 years||2014–2017|
|Vertical GaN Power Transistors on Spalled GaN Layers||Columbia||IBM, IQE, MIT, Veeco||Vertical devices||Spalled GaN layers from bulk GaN that are transferred to Si||2014–2017|
|Polar JFET||Cornell||IQE, Triquint, United Tech.||Vertical devices||2015–2017|
|GaN Single Crystal Substrates||Fairfield crystal||Stony Brook||Bulk GaN||Use unique boule growth||2014–2015|
|Vertical GaN Transistor||HRL||Kyma, Malibu, Virginia Tech||Vertical devices||Develop a vertical GaN transistor process||2014–2017|
|GaN on Flexible Metal Tape||iBeam materials||Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories||Thin-film GaN||Develop GaN thin films using ion beam alignment on metal tapes using superconductor film technology||2014–2016|
|Transformational GaN Substrate Technology||Kyma||Avogy, Soraa, White Light, PSU||Bulk GaN||Convert seeds to boules using HVPE||2014–2018|
|Diamond Diode and Transistors||Michigan State||Fraunhofer||Diamond||Diamond—better way of doping diamond and making devices with doped components||2014–2016|
|Project||PI and Lead||Collaborators||Description||Remarks||Years|
|Vertical Junction FETs on Epitaxial Liftoff Substrates||Micro Link||Ammono, ND, VPI, Triquint||Vertical junc. FETs||Use epitaxial lift-off techniques to reuse GaN substrates||2014–2017|
|Advanced Manufacturing and Performance Enhancements for Reduced Cost SiC Devices||Monolith||RPI||SiC||Use existing SiC manufacturing facilities, but design efficient process flows and device designs to make more efficient/cheaper high-power SiC transistors||2014–2016|
|HVPE of GaN on GaN Wafers—Homoepitaxy||Six Point||Cornell, ND||GaN substrates||Will do HVPE on bulk GaN||2014–2017|
|High-quality GaN Substrates||Soraa||GaN substrates||GaN substrates growth in ammonothermal reactor||2014–2015|
|Current Aperture Vertical GaN Transistor||UCSB||Transphorm, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory||GaN vertical transistor||Development of compact transistors||2014–2017|
NOTE: ASU = Arizona State University; FET = field effect transistor; GaN = gallium nitrate; HVPE = hydride vapor phase epitaxy; JFET = junction field effect transistor; MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology; NCSU = North Carolina State University; ND = Notre Dame; P = phosphorus; ORNL = Oak Ridge National Laboratory; PI = principal investigator; PSU = Pennsylvania State University; Si = silicon; SiC = silicon carbide; UCSB = University of California, Santa Barbara; VPI = Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
switching. The scope of the work is intended to bring to practice complete devices (working prototypes) that can
- show that the new architecture, manufacturing technique, and/or materials set is feasible;
- demonstrate the well-known theoretical potential of these materials to set records in the key enabling metrics of the field (i.e., voltage, current density, switching frequency); and
- establish partnerships among materials scientists, device architects, technology companies, and original equipment managers to improve the chances that the work will be both relevant and perceived as such by eventual commercial adopters.
Roughly half of the funded projects are related to transistor technology and design, and roughly half to the synthesis of better substrate materials on which to build the transistor technology. This is a good mix that underscores the importance of materials issues in the development of the technology. The topics for the materials projects are well chosen and represent a balanced mix of bulk boule (single-crystal ingot)–based material and lift-off/spalling/thin film–based approaches. It is too early to tell whether the right ideas and principal investigators have been chosen. Nonetheless, the program directors have not hesitated to terminate projects when it makes sense to do so—2 of the 14 projects were cancelled within 2 years, actions that represent a robust and active oversight policy.
Power electronics are projected to play an increasing role in the delivery of electricity, with as much as 80 percent of electricity passing through power electronics devices between generation and consumption by 2030 (Tolbert et al., 2005). These devices are used in the control and conversion of electricity. At one end of the spectrum, they can involve the use of transistor devices that switch circuits operating at high power, with currents of approximately 100 A or higher and voltages of approximately a few hundred to a few thousand volts, and high temperatures (100–700 °C). Such circuits are increasingly desirable in such applications as electric power generation and distribution circuitry (e.g., inverters), automotive electronics, and motor drives. This is in contrast with transistors that are used in microprocessors for computing, where the currents are in the micro-amp range, and the voltages are less than 1 V.
Within the SWITCHES program, ARPA-E recognized the substantial potential for WBG semiconductor materials to provide energy savings and new designs for these applications over current technologies. The agency sought to fund transformational advances in WBG materials, device fabrication, and device architectures. The goal of this program was to enable the development of
high-voltage (approximately 200−2,000 V), high-current power semiconductor devices and circuits that, upon ultimately reaching scale, would have the potential to offer affordable breakthrough performance in terms of low losses, high switching frequencies (and therefore smaller packages), and high-voltage operation (ARPA-E, 2013e). Currently, industrial power electronics circuits are overwhelmingly (>95 percent) built with transistors made out of silicon. Silicon power transistors, however, become increasingly inefficient beyond operating voltages of 400−500 V. There is demand today for power transistors that operate in the approximately 650 V range for circuits that can be plugged into the wall. A second set of needs is in the 1.2−1.7 kV range for automotive applications. The adoption of WGB semiconductors is a move toward higher-frequency circuits, which allow decreased component sizes and increased efficiencies. Figure D-2 shows the improvements afforded by various WBG semiconductors over conventional silicon.
Overall, the move to low-loss WBG power semiconductor devices would enable enhanced efficiency of electric motors through improvements to variable-frequency drives; substantially reduce the weight and additional cost of power electronic systems for plug-in electric vehicles; and reduce the cost, weight, and volume of and losses from wind and solar electric power inverters. There would be other potential applications as well. Engineers do not wait for innovations from the science world before designing things. The corollary is that, once scientific discoveries have been brought into the design space,
engineers will find applications not fully conceived of today. Thus, ARPA-E’s efforts in the SWITCHES program are consistent with its goal of bringing potentially transformational technologies beyond discovery into the demonstration phase.
The power electronics market has been growing at about 10 percent per year, which is considered relatively high for the semiconductor industry. New power transistors and circuits that satisfy the above needs will introduce a disruptive change in this field. A few new semiconducting materials that have wider band gaps than silicon, are more refractory (i.e., stable at high temperatures) in nature, and have higher electric breakdown fields are being explored actively for these power transistor applications. Among these WBG materials, GaN and SiC are the top two candidates. GaN is targeted for 650 V operation and for higher-frequency operation at lower temperatures because of its higher carrier mobilities and efficiencies. SiC’s sweet spot is greater than 1 kV, and work is ongoing on increasing its attractiveness for lower voltages. Other less-developed but promising materials are diamond, gallium oxide (Ga2O3), and aluminum nitride (AlN).
Role of ARPA-E Program Director
The ultimate responsibility for a program like SWITCHES lies with its program director. The full team monitoring and supervising projects consists of a front office team and a back office team. The former, which includes the program director, contractors with technical expertise that are hired to augment the program director, and T2M staff, is responsible for quarterly reviews, contractor site visits, and annual reporting. The back office team is responsible for maintaining administrative, legal, and financial precision. This arrangement appears to provide an appropriate mix of project rigor and project leadership discretion. For the SWITCHES program, this means that goals, schedules, and expectations have been stated clearly from the outset, and each project is subject to 10 or more “touches” per year by the front office team, including quarterly reviews, annual reviews, teleconferences, site visits, and other events. “Pivots,” or changes in milestones, are rigorously documented and tracked. In general, the committee observed that the program directors and the core staff are highly competent, dedicated, and responsive.
The committee noted that Tim Heidel, program director for SWITCHES, has been active in presenting the SWITCHES program, both in the peer-reviewed literature (Heidel and Gradzki, 2014) and at seminars and conferences (Heidel, 2014; Heidel et al., 2015). The committee’s case studies include two projects for which Dr. Heidel served as program director—the Low-Cost Gallium Nitride Vertical Transistor project in the SWITCHES program and the Distributed Power Flow Control project in the Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) program. The performers for these projects highlight that Dr. Heidel and his team have scoped, shaped, and supported their projects productively and efficiently.
The SWITCHES program clearly aspires to have a transformational impact on power semiconductor devices. As described in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), the potential energy-efficiency gains from WBG materials in the areas of motor drives, automatable applications, and electric power generation are substantial. More fundamentally, if the boundaries on switching frequency, voltage, and temperature can be significantly moved, the design space changes. Some devices can become cheaper, smaller, and more efficient, but more important, some applications that were otherwise impossible will become feasible. It is likely that, moreover, the near-term applications of improved switches using WBG semiconductors greatly understate their impact because many of the systems that will utilize these devices have not yet been conceived. The impact of changing the engineering toolkit for all electrical systems is large but also difficult to predict. The development of disruptive power electronics technologies from these emerging WBG materials is a timely and worthwhile objective that has the potential to enable significant technology advancements.
The combination of potential impact and risk associated with launching a new materials set for power electronics is high. The default material choice is always silicon because it is cheap and has established supply chains. The risk is that the WBG devices could be a decade away from invention to profit, let alone broad application, and the tooling is costly. So the largest producers of power electronics are likely to continue using the silicon devices that are supplied by the foundries with which they have established relationships. Only if the producers are confronted with the real likelihood that someone can beat the performance of the incumbent devices by a significant margin will they consider making the significant investments required to change materials sets. The case of GaN blue and green light-emitting diodes, introduced by Nichia, a new entrant to this space in the early 1990s, is just such an example of a new technology shaking up entrenched manufacturers.
The committee’s assessment is that the overall project participant mix within the SWITCHES program has been good in terms of mixing materials, devices, and university and industry skills. However, the absence of most of the major industry players (with the possible exception of Triquint) on the list of funded power electronics projects is significant. It represents a lack of suitable “catchers” should the technology be successful, a risk profile that may be somewhat extreme, and a T2M strategy (specific to semiconductor technology) that may require some refinement. Some of the notable manufacturers, leading technology providers, and new entrants to the area of high-power electronics technologies are Infineon (which recently acquired a major player, International Rectifiers), Panasonic, Cree, Rohm, Texas Instruments, ST Micro, Transphorm, TSMC, On-Semi, NXP, and EPC. Other than Transphorm, none of these companies appears to be participating formally in the ARPA-E SWITCHES projects.
The path to developing a semiconductor technology can be complicated. At the end of a typical 3-year project cycle, a good technical concept that has undergone a well-executed development process will lead to a promising technology—typically one for which most of the risk elements entailed in feasibility and scalability demonstration have been eliminated. The path from there to a manufacturable product with satisfactory cost, yield, and performance is one that requires sustained additional funding over a period of an additional 2–5 years. In the instance of silicon technology for microprocessors, large companies such as IBM, Intel, and Samsung have accomplished this either through internal funding (Intel) or through consortia or alliances in which the investment and risk are shared (IBM and Samsung). In the case of WBG power electronics, this path lacks clarity: most of the companies involved are not large enough (except for companies such as Infineon) to sustain this type of technology development. The 3-year timeframe for these projects has started the research and development (R&D) process, but more research is required to evaluate the promise of semiconductor technology in power electronics.
As noted earlier, ARPA-E is coordinating with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) New Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute, which is working to help create and manufacture WBG semiconductor-based power electronics in the United States. Further, while ARPA-E has not provided funding to move a technology from prototype to scalable product to date, the agency’s most recent budget request included a proposal for an “ARPA-E Trust” to address scale-up and system-level challenges. Given where WBG semiconductors are on their development pathway, they may be a good target for such funding.
ONE PORTFOLIO: ELECTRICITY STORAGE
ARPA-E funds its electricity storage (primarily electric battery) projects through the Batteries for Electrical Energy Storage in Transportation (BEEST), Grid-scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS), and Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy storage systems (RANGE) programs, as well as through its OPEN 2009, 2012, and 2015 solicitations. The projects in the GRIDS program, which began in 2010, focused on developing technologies that can store renewable energy for use at any location on the grid at an investment cost below $100 per kilowatt hour (kWh). The projects in the BEEST program, which began in 2011, focused on developing a variety of rechargeable battery technologies for plug-in electric vehicles to meet or beat the price and performance of gasoline-powered cars. The program considered radical improvement of current lithium-ion technologies and new designs using other battery chemistries that incorporate magnesium, sodium, zinc, lithium-sulfur,
and lithium-air designs. The projects in the RANGE program, which began in 2013, continued efforts to develop rechargeable battery technologies for plug-in electric vehicles (focusing on battery designs that would enhance safety), to maximize the overall energy stored in a vehicle, and to minimize manufacturing costs. The OPEN 2009, 2012, and 2015 solicitations were designed to fund transformational breakthroughs across the entire spectrum of energy technologies, including stationary and transportation electricity storage projects. A number of storage projects were funded by the OPEN 2015 call; as these are very new projects, however, the committee did not include them in any of the analyses provided below.
Electricity storage at ARPA-E represents approximately 10–15 percent of all projects funded by the agency, making this thrust area clearly one of the largest classes of technologies funded through the past 6 years. The committee therefore performed a high-level assessment of the ARPA-E electricity storage technology portfolio to examine how, at least for this field, the agency has had impact and whether any broader trends within this group of projects may reflect the strengths and weaknesses of its approaches. It should be noted, however, that the extent to which this collection of projects can be thought of as a true portfolio is unknown—specifically, the extent to which the agency considers prior electricity storage funding decisions and technical content in weighing the relative programmatic merits of new proposals, especially for those storage projects awarded in the OPEN calls.
The purpose of this exercise was to examine numerically all of the electricity storage–themed projects that ARPA-E funded from its inception through 2014. The goals were to
- provide additional analysis for the case study effort to show how a single class of technologies (electricity storage) within ARPA-E functioned;
- search for patterns or trends;
- examine whether the narrative ARPA-E portrays is reflected in reality;
- compare data from the storage field with the quantitative analyses applied to all ARPA-E projects; and
- provide the committee’s other working groups with additional data.
For this analysis, the committee looked only at electricity, not thermal storage projects. Additionally, the committee did not consider programs or projects designed to explore improvements to battery management systems, sensors, or testing. The data, descriptions, and other information on these projects used in this section were obtained from the ARPA-E projects website.1
1 See https://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=arpa-e-site-page/projects (accessed April 26, 2017).
Project Funding Characteristics
As shown in Figure D-3, ARPA-E funded 63 electricity storage projects through 2014; 5 have been cancelled, 30 are still active, and 28 have been completed. This record can be compared with ARPA-E’s overall project funding: according to the agency’s website,2 a total of 484 projects have been funded, 25 have been cancelled, 249 are still active, and 210 have been completed. Thus, the cancellation rate of electricity storage projects (8 percent) is somewhat higher than that of ARPA-E’s projects in general (5 percent). While storage projects may be inherently risker than other types of projects, the committee noted no obvious patterns or similarities among the cancelled projects.
Table D-2 shows the funding for the electricity storage projects. ARPA-E spent a total of just over $170 million and garnered $65 million of cost-share contribution for electricity storage projects in the timeframe analyzed. This level of funding rivals that provided by DOE for storage efforts in the same timeframe, even when the founding of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) at Argonne National Laboratory is included.
The ARPA-E funds were distributed approximately equally among the five different programs that sponsored electricity storage projects considered here (RANGE, BEEST, GRIDS, and OPEN 2009 and 2012), although the programs that funded more individual projects, in particular the RANGE program, received lower per-project funding. The typical electricity storage
2 ARPA-E’s website is http://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=arpa-e-site-page/projects (accessed August 8, 2016).
TABLE D-2 Funding for Electricity Storage Projects, 2009−2014
|Total ARPA-E Funding||$170,738,843|
|Total Cost Share||$64,422,468|
|Program Name||# of Awards||ARPA-E Funding ($)||Cost Share ($)||Total Funding ($)||Average Per Project ($)|
|ARPA-E Funding ($)||Cost Share ($)||Total Funding ($)||Duration (Years)||ARPA-E Funds Per Year ($)||Cost Share Per Year ($)||Total Funds Per Year ($)|
project lasted 2.7 years and consumed approximately $980,000 per year of ARPA-E funding; however, funding levels and durations varied by project. For example, the longest project stretched just over 6 years, and the most expensive project received more than $10 million in funds.
Focus Areas and Project Types
From a technology maturity perspective, the electricity storage projects were divided between proof-of-concept and prototyping and were shared between the stationary and transportation application spaces (Figure D-4). A healthy fraction of the projects (17/63) were “crossover” in nature in that the technology was intended to address both the stationary and transportation markets if successful. Importantly, no project focused its activities on scaling the production level of materials or devices, which would be expected given ARPA-E’s explicit emphasis on early-stage R&D and device proof-of-concept.
As noted above in the description of the SWITCHES program, ARPA-E’s most recent budget proposal included a request for $150 million for an “ARPA-E Trust” that would address scale-up and system-level challenges. The committee notes that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) already has this capability. Moreover, the long timeline and large capital requirements for scaling up new battery technologies mean that such longer-term funding streams may be appropriate for especially promising electricity storage projects.
The committee reviewed the project descriptions and classified the projects based on their technical focus (Figure D-5). Of interest, the focus of
these projects was not solely technical; some were focused mainly on safety, and others on durability. Not surprisingly, the majority of the projects were at least partially cost-focused, while 6 had technology cost as a singular focus.
Project Principal Investigators and Collaborators
The committee reviewed the expertise of the principal investigators who were funded for storage projects. This review included whether the principal investigator had previous research published in the literature, patents, or industry experience related to storage technologies. In approximately 90 percent of the projects, the principal investigator had demonstrated a strong background in the key required technical fields, indicating that in most cases, the principal investigators for the funded projects were established in the necessary fields.3
The committee also looked at the primary affiliations of the principal investigators and project collaborators, as well as the profiles of the collaborations. University and small company principal investigators were dominant awardees, and a diverse range of collaborator combinations was observed. Figure D-6 shows that there was no dominant combination of principal investigators/co-principal investigators, although there were no instances in which project participants consisted of only national laboratory
3 This analysis did not consider the backgrounds of the co-principal investigators and other project collaborators.
performers, as mandated by the ARPA-E funding rules. Notably, there was only one case in which the project had only university team members. The extent to which this collaboration profile reflects the applicant pool and whether certain types of collaborations were emphasized are unclear.
Outcomes and Role of ARPA-E Program Directors
The committee compiled three metrics of impacts—publications, patents, and follow-on funding—for the electricity storage projects, shown in Table D-3. These projects had produced a total of 115 peer-reviewed papers and 22 patents as of January 2016. Of the published papers, 37 appeared in high-impact journals, and 5 were highly cited, while a total of 20 companies (approximately 30 percent) received follow-on funding from public and/or private entities. As of the end of 2015, 4 companies had a manufactured product on the market that had been developed during or after the receipt of ARPA-E funding. However, it is not completely clear that all these products were the same as those developed with ARPA-E support.
The committee also looked at how the outcomes from the electricity storage portfolio compared with those of the entire collection of projects funded by ARPA-E. Company formation has occurred with 7.5 percent of ARPA-E-funded projects, compared with 9.5 percent of the electricity storage projects; the corresponding figures for follow-on funding are 9.5 percent for all of ARPA-E versus 19 percent for the electricity storage projects. Thus it appears
TABLE D-3 Impact Analysis of the 63 Electricity Storage Projects Funded by ARPA-E from 2009 to 2014
|Publications in high-impact journals||37|
|Number of highly cited papers||5|
|Total number of patents||22|
|Number of companies formed||6|
|Number of projects receiving follow-on funding||20|
|Number of projects receiving private funding||12|
|Number of projects receiving subsequent public funding||14|
|Number of companies with a product in the market in 2015||4|
that the electricity storage portfolio has produced similar or slightly better outcomes in terms of funding and technical development relative to all ARPA-E projects.
In total, there have been 15 different program directors for these electricity storage projects, and in nearly every case, the projects were transferred to new directors. This is because the typical tenure of ARPA-E program directors is approximately the same as the average project length, and as described earlier in this report, it typically takes program directors at least 9 months after joining the agency before a program for them to direct is initiated. Most of the program directors had the appropriate technical background for their projects, as well as significant experience in the entrepreneurial space.
ARPA-E was mandated to pursue and fund transformational ideas and to find technical white space lacking significant prior work. For about half of the electricity storage projects, there is clear evidence of technical white space being addressed (Figure D-7); that is, the project was using novel or underexplored approaches to address electricity storage problems. Further, while there is evidence of significant prior work in the public domain for 50 of the 63 projects, in half of these cases (25/50), this was work demonstrated at the principal investigator’s institution.
The committee also looked at the storyline of the projects, meaning the combination of the type of project lead and type of project. Of the 63 electricity storage projects, 47 fall into the category of either “small company principal investigator further developing a novel technology” or “university professor principal investigator gaining support for a new idea.” Additionally, 6 awards went to large companies exploring new concepts.
These data suggest that ARPA-E is doing a reasonable job of funding relatively novel projects in electricity storage that do not overlap significantly with work done elsewhere. Demonstration-style projects require prior work as a base, so it is not surprising that for just over half of the projects, there is
significant evidence of prior similar work being conducted at either the principal investigator’s or another institution (Figure D-7).
Overall, the committee observed that ARPA-E has funded a wide array of projects related to electricity storage, and these generally have been projects that do not overlap significantly with work funded by other sources. Together with other efforts focused on thermal storage technologies (High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage [HEATS]), technologies for improving battery management and sensor systems (Advanced Management and Protection of Energy storage Devices [AMPED]), and approaches for testing and evaluating battery storage systems (Cycling Hardware to Analyze and Ready Grid-scale Electricity Storage [CHARGES]), the electricity storage projects reviewed here reveal that ARPA-E has invested a significant fraction of its resources in improving electricity storage systems. This is a worthy investment given the critical need for improved electricity storage in both the transportation and electricity sectors. The committee considers much of ARPA-E’s electricity storage portfolio to have a medium or high degree of technical risk, meaning that these projects have goals that are beyond current technical capabilities and in many cases are difficult to achieve.
Given the high-risk/high-payoff approach that ARPA-E espouses in creating programs and funding projects, the degree of follow-on support from company founding for the electricity storage projects reviewed for this analysis appears to be reasonable, with a substantial portion of the funded projects finding significant support after the end of their ARPA-E funding. On the other hand, it can also be said that the majority of the companies that have actual electricity storage product offerings on the market today were funded by
ARPA-E after being founded, and in most cases had a well-defined technical path forward. In these cases, the most common scenario is one in which ARPA-E funded either demonstration projects or product improvements. These types of demonstrations of and improvements to more mature concepts tend to make up the bulk of the projects that ARPA-E currently counts as successes, which is not surprising given that it takes 7–10 years to mature a new concept that would not have existed substantially prior to funding. Thus it is quite possible that more of those projects that have received follow-on funding could yield product offerings in the next 5 years.
As noted earlier, the committee’s 10 individual project case studies are grouped in three categories: successes, cancelled, and other (Table D-4). These categories are defined as follows:
- Successes are projects that the committee or the agency considers likely to have or that have had market success in the energy sector and that have received follow-on private-sector funding.
- Cancelled are projects that were terminated before the original end date because they were not meeting their goals and appeared likely not to do so eventually.
- Other are projects that were completed and that to date have resulted in little or no direct energy market success, but still advanced the state of knowledge.
ARPA-E performers (principal investigators) for these individual case studies were asked about the state of their research before applying to ARPA-E, their reasons for responding to the agency’s FOA, their interactions with their respective program directors and T2M teams, their methods for tracking progress against the metrics established for their projects, their accomplishments during the projects, and other observations about their projects that they wished to share. The case studies also include an expert assessment of the technology developed during each project and its potential to be transformational. Committee members provided the expert assessment.
It is important to note, as emphasized earlier, that these 10 case studies are not representative of all ARPA-E projects. In addition, it often takes many years
TABLE D-4 ARPA-E Individual Project Case Studies
|Company Name||Short Project Title||OPEN/Focused||Company Type|
|Successes—projects that the committee or the agency considers likely to have or that have had market success in the energy sector and that have received follow-on funding|
|1366 Technologies||Cost-Effective Silicon Wafers for Solar Cells||OPEN 2009||Small Co.|
|Foro Energy||Laser-Mechanical Drilling for Geothermal Energy||OPEN 2009||Small Co.|
|24M||Semi-Solid Flowable Battery Electrodes||BEEST||Small Co.|
|Harvard University||Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS)||OPEN 2012||Univ.|
|Smart Wires||Distributed Power Flow Control||GENI||Small Co.|
|Cancelled—projects that were ended before the original end date because they were not meeting their goals and appeared likely not to do so eventually|
|General Electric||Nanostructured Scalable Thick-Film Magnetics||ADEPT||Large Co.|
|Other—projects that were completed and that to date have resulted in little or no direct energy market success, but still advanced the state of knowledge|
|Agrivida||Engineering Enzymes in Energy Crops||OPEN 2009||Small Co.|
|Ceres, Inc.||Improving Biomass Yields||OPEN 2009||Small Co.|
|HRL Laboratories||Low-Cost Gallium Nitride Vertical Transistor||SWITCHES||Small Co.|
|Stanford University||Radiative Coolers for Rooftops and Cars||OPEN 2012||Univ.|
NOTE: ADEPT = Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology; BEEST = Batteries for Electrical Energy Storage in Transportation; GENI = Green Electricity Network Integration; SWITCHES = Strategies for Wide-bandgap, Inexpensive Transistors for Controlling High-Efficiency Systems.
for new technologies to be adopted by the market,4 and thus this early assessment allows for the capture of only early outputs and outcomes (Powell and Moris, 2002). Nonetheless the technical assessments of these case studies provide insight into the potential for projects funded by ARPA-E to meet the agency’s objectives of reducing energy imports; decreasing energy-related emissions, including greenhouse gases; improving energy efficiency in all economic sectors; and ensuring that the United States maintains a technological lead in the development and deployment of advanced energy technologies. The descriptions in this appendix focus on the role played by ARPA-E in managing these projects and the committee’s assessment of the potentially transformative nature of the technology, the impact on the field, and expectations for market adoption.
Five cases studies of projects defined as successful are described here (see Table D-4). It should be noted at the outset that, although these projects are categorized as successful in that they show potential for market introduction, none of them has as yet been transformational in the energy sector—as would be expected given the extended period of time in the market required for transformational technologies to become apparent. The five projects in this category include four led by small companies and one led by a university. Three were funded from OPEN FOAs and two from focused FOAs. A unifying characteristic of four of the five projects is that because they have recent and/or ongoing ties to university researchers, they are directly related to university research. In addition to the ARPA-E funding, agency program directors played a significant role in these projects. The performers acknowledged the benefits of the quarterly project meetings in keeping them on track, providing an opportunity to discuss and implement changes in research directions, and encouraging interactions with potential industry customers. Three of the five performers found the T2M team helpful, while the other two performers would
4 The Advanced Technology Program is similar to ARPA-E, so the commercialization timelines are expected to be similar. For successful technologies, the commercialization timing for information technology (IT) projects occurs primarily within 1 year after funding ends. Electronics technologies have some early applications, but then they experience a steep rise in activity in the second year after funding ends, followed by a fall-off more rapid than in any other technology area except IT. Materials-chemistry and manufacturing-based applications build up somewhat more slowly and trail off more slowly than electronics and IT. Biotechnologies have an initial spurt of activity in the second year after funding ends but then have another spurt 5 or more years later.
like to have had more input on potential customers and funders. The five projects are as follows:
- 1366 Technologies is developing a process to reduce the cost of solar electricity by up to 50 percent by 2020—from $0.15 per kWh to less than $0.07 per KWh. 1366’s wafers could directly replace wafers currently on the market, so there would be no interruptions in the delivery of these products to market. As a result of 1366’s technology, the cost of silicon wafers could be reduced by 80 percent.
- Scientists at 24M are developing lithium (Li)-ion battery cells for electricity grid applications that have a higher energy density and are much simpler to manufacture than current state-of-the-art large-format Li-ion batteries.
- Foro Energy has developed a unique system for transmitting high-power laser light over long distances via fiber optic cables to ablate or weld materials. The company’s laser-assisted drill bits have the potential to be up to 10 times more economical than conventional hard-rock drilling technologies, making them an effective way to access the U.S. energy resources currently locked under hard-rock formations. Foro Energy was created based on R&D developed during the previous decade at the Colorado School of Mines.
- Harvard University developed a slippery coating technology that can be used for a number of commercial applications, including oil and water pipelines, wastewater treatment systems, solar panels (to prevent dust accumulation), and refrigeration (to prevent ice buildup), as well as many other energy-relevant applications. The performer started a company called SLIPS Technologies, Inc.
- Smart Wires developed a solution for controlling power flow within the electricity grid to better manage unused and overall transmission capacity. The technology has the potential to support greater use of renewable energy by providing more consistent control over how that energy is routed within the grid on a real-time basis. The project was based on research conducted at Georgia Tech.
Cost-Effective Silicon Wafers for Solar Cells (1366 Technologies)
Project description 1366 Technologies is developing a potentially disruptive solar technology, a process aimed at reducing the cost of solar wafer manufacturing by 50 percent by 2020. Silicon solar wafers are the building block of solar cells and panels, and reducing their costs would have dramatic implications for solar’s adoption rate. Deployments of solar cells are increasing at double-digit annual growth rates (SEIA and GTM Research, 2016) because they are cheaper than ever, reliable, and clean. However, as costs come down on other parts of photovoltaic (PV) installation, manufacturing costs are constrained by wafer production, which accounts for 40 percent of the overall panel cost.
These wafers have been made the same way for decades. Instead of growing expensive crystals and cutting them into thin fragile wafers, 1366 casts the wafers directly from molten silicon and can make shapes that are more durable and use less material. The efficiency of these cells compares favorably with that of today’s advanced technologies, so 1366’s wafers could seamlessly replace wafers currently used in the market while greatly reducing their costs. ARPA-E provided 1366 with funding to investigate the basic science that helped lead to a technology capable of being commercialized. Since most solar panels are made outside of the United States, 1366’s technology and the company’s development of solar wafer manufacturing facilities in this country could increase domestic PV production dramatically, thus increasing U.S. energy security (ARPA-E, 2016d).
Project funding characteristics 1366 Technologies was selected in the OPEN 2009 solicitation. This is one of the few projects funded by ARPA-E in solar and the only one on novel silicon production technologies. It was not part of a managed program and did not benefit from synergies with other programs. ARPA-E funded the project at $3,999,828 between March 2010 and June 2012 (Figure D-8).
Technology overview 1366 Technologies has been consistent in its stated goals and has not wavered in its efforts to manufacture low-cost silicon PV cells. A spin-out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 1366 Technologies built on the ideas of several U.S. companies that preceded it, including Mobil Tyco and General Electric (formally AstroPower). The combination of industrial experience and the talent from America’s best technical universities led to the breakthrough insights that made 1366 possible. The company’s direct wafer technology significantly reduces manufacturing costs by producing wafers directly from a melt rather than cutting ingots of crystallized silicon. 1366’s process avoids the costly step of slicing a large block of silicon crystal into wafers, which turns half the silicon to dust. Instead, the company is producing wafers directly at industry-standard sizes and with efficiencies that compare favorably with those of today’s state-of-the-art technologies. The company also has developed a few manufacturing techniques for incremental improvements in polycrystalline silicon PV efficiency by improving light harvesting through reduced reflectivity that results from texturing the surface and reflective substrates.
1366 has developed a potentially disruptive solar technology that benefited from ARPA-E funding. It is a successful example of the freedom to pursue basic science, turning a promising innovation into a technology that can be commercialized. Developing a new way to manufacture silicon cells is revolutionary, but while the technology is promising, success is not yet assured. The agency estimates that 1366’s technology could reduce the cost of silicon wafers by 80 percent (ARPA-E, 2016d).
Technology-to-market prospects The technology developed by 1366 has the potential to reduce the cost of solar power significantly, making it cost-competitive with coal power in some parts of the United States within 10 years. This technology could help the United States capture a majority of the annual $10 billion silicon wafer market and motivate solar manufacturers to locate in the United States. Positioning solar energy production as a renewable, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective alternative to fossil fuel-based energy production would reduce the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by millions of tons.
Outcomes and ARPA-E’s role 1366 Technologies currently operates a manufacturing site capable of throughput in excess of 15 megawatts (MW) of wafers per year, consisting of three parallel production lines each with one production furnace. This is a demonstration line that is the blueprint for the company’s first commercial-scale facility, which will house 50 direct wafer furnaces. In October 2015, 1366 announced it will build a 250 MW commercial facility in Genesee County, New York. The facility will initially produce 50 million wafers each year and scale to 3 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, manufacturing 600 million wafers each year. 1366 is in a partnership with
Hanwha Q Cells, which has also committed to purchasing 700 MW from the commercial facility during its first 5 years.
At the time of the ARPA-E solicitation, 1366 was a young company seeking funding. It was in the midst of a funding round and growth at the time of the ARPA-E award. ARPA-E funding represents a small fraction of the total capital 1366 has raised to date, but was approximately 20 percent of the total amount raised at the time of the grant. ARPA-E was credited in a press release stating, “The Company’s rapid progress during the last year was triggered by a $4 million grant the company received from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program in December of 2009” (1366 Technologies, 2010). Of the follow-on $50 million in funding, $23 million was foreign investment in the United States, creating U.S. jobs and generating U.S. tax revenue. Further, 1366 benefited from the positive press associated with videos and its presence at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summits.
The flexibility and autonomy of the program director allowed 1366 to demonstrate the wafer-making method that ultimately became the company’s production process (Figure D-9), replacing the leading technology options that had received venture capital funding. No patents were derived from the funded work, which built on demonstrating already-patented inventions, and the company did not publish its results. Neither the seasoned management team nor the ARPA-E program director required T2M involvement as the program director was able to provide both the technical and business advice needed. Both
1366 Technologies and the program director believe this is likely the best scenario, with a single director providing whatever the performer requires so that the project’s direction can pivot to address its greatest challenge. In the case of 1366, this was a technical challenge; in other cases, the challenge relates to the product.
Committee assessment 1366 Technologies is well on its way to becoming a successful company. The company received private-sector investment and construction commenced in 2017 on the first commercial solar power plant utilizing its technology. It has not pivoted away from its initial mission and continues commercialization of the PV technology ARPA-E funded. 1366 benefited from ARPA-E investment since it allowed the company the flexibility to investigate manufacturing options. Follow-on funding was also favorably impacted by ARPA-E selection in a highly competitive OPEN solicitation. If in the future, 1366 Technologies is a successful producer of solar cells that will be due in large part to early ARPA-E funding and the freedom it accorded the company to explore. ARPA-E will have demonstrated the ability to nurture an emergent, transformative technology.
Semi-Solid Flowable Battery Electrodes (24M)
Project description Li-ion batteries offer many advantages for use in vehicle and electricity grid applications because of their higher energy densities, lower weights, and faster charging capabilities compared with other battery chemistries. The 24M team initially proposed crossing a Li-ion battery with a fuel cell to develop a semisolid flow battery, with the conventional Li-ion active materials suspended in a slurry (semisolid mixture). However, the 24M team determined early on that using the slurry to fabricate thick electrodes in a Li-ion battery cell was a more promising approach. The slurry allows the delivery of the active Li material in the form of a film of closely packed particles. The new cells provide higher energy density than state-of-the-art large-format Li-ion cells because they allow a larger ratio of active to inactive material. Further, this design is much simpler to manufacture. The use of a single thick film eliminates the need for alternating thin films of anode and cathode materials as in traditional cells. 24M says its batteries could have a 15–25 percent increase in energy density and be produced in one-fifth the time in much smaller plants compared with traditional Li-ion battery cells. Achieving these metrics could allow batteries to become cost-competitive for grid and vehicle applications (ARPA-E, 2016h; Woyke, 2016).
Project funding characteristics 24M received an ARPA-E award of $5,975,331 as part of the BEEST competition in the technical category of transportation storage (Figure D-10). The project term was from September 1, 2010, to February 28, 2014.
Early project challenges In 2008, Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang of MIT was on a 1-year sabbatical as a full-time employee at A123 Systems, a battery company that he had previously founded. During that sabbatical, he conceived the idea of a semisolid Li-ion flow battery. A123 was unable to fund the development of an entirely new technology at that time but gave Dr. Chiang its blessing to pursue the concept at his MIT research lab. Dr. Chiang subsequently obtained a $50,000 DARPA seed grant to develop the idea. However, at that point, DARPA was reducing its support for energy research, in part because of DOE’s increased investments in the area, and Dr. Chiang needed additional sources of funding to continue the research. He faced two main challenges in getting funding from ARPA-E.
The first challenge was developing a proposal that ARPA-E would fund. In 2009, ARPA-E was a new agency, and Dr. Chiang applied to its OPEN funding solicitation of that year, the agency’s first funding solicitation. The reviews of the proposal were generally negative, including the comment, “As novel as this idea is, it is not clear if it would have a transformational impact on the industry.…” The proposal evaluation procedure in place did not allow for
rebuttals, and the project was not funded. However, Dr. Chiang had previously discussed with the program director, Dr. David Danielson, his past experience in obtaining funding from DARPA—from which ARPA-E had derived its name and some of its mission. Dr. Chiang had pointed out how at DARPA, the program managers did not make decisions based solely on outside peer reviews, and that giving program managers greater discretion was a critical element of DARPA’s ability to select radical and risky new ideas. Dr. Chiang applied a second time, this time to the BEEST program at Dr. Danielson’s recommendation. ARPA-E had by now changed its approach to allow proposers the opportunity to rebut reviewers’ comments. This time the project was funded.
The second major challenge was getting funded by ARPA-E while being affiliated with both a start-up company and MIT. Despite winning the award from ARPA-E, Dr. Chiang still was hampered by the conflict-of-interest policies in place at the university. Specifically, MIT’s Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) did not allow a professor’s MIT laboratory to receive research funds from a sponsor that simultaneously funded a start-up company in which the professor was a shareholder. Although ARPA-E wished to fund the project both in Dr. Chiang’s MIT lab and at 24M, no progress toward allowing this arrangement was being made at MIT. One night Dr. Chiang received a call from a DOE official saying that if MIT could not sort out its policy, the agency would give the funding to another project. This call was groundbreaking because the threat of losing this funding created the urgency for MIT’s OSP to finally sort out the problem. A conflict-of-interest management plan was created in which the dean of engineering and the head of the Materials Science and Engineering Department had oversight, and this solution finally allowed for the research to be conducted.
Project execution In the early years of ARPA-E, venture capital interest in clean technology was very high. In this environment, ARPA-E funding almost had the role of being a “stamp of approval.” Specifically, in a way that is probably not as prevalent today, ARPA-E funding in those early years of the agency’s existence could help make follow-on funding more likely. In the case of 24M, just after receiving ARPA-E funding, the company received $5 million each from North Bridge Venture Partners and Charles River Ventures.
A critical element of this project was the open communications Dr. Chiang had with his initial program director, Dr. Danielson. In Dr. Chiang’s words, “Everyone knows, when pitching a proposal to DARPA, you need to have very aggressive milestones. As soon as DARPA decides to fund you, you then want to make sure you can meet your milestones, and there’s always a significant negotiation with your [program manager] on the details of the milestones.”
Within the first 3 months of obtaining ARPA-E funding, 24M realized that its semisolid flow cells concept was actually less commercially promising than recent results focused on flowable and manufacturable binder-free electrode
structures.5 With this knowledge, 24M made a significant pivot and abandoned the entire concept of a flow cell to start working on thick electrode batteries that do not flow at all but can be made cheaply and efficiently relative to traditional battery structures (Figure D-11). The company believed that these batteries would be accepted more readily by the marketplace for long-duration stationary applications. 24M kept this information to itself, continuing for the next 5 years to let many outside the company believe it was developing a flow battery for automobile applications. At the same time, Dr. Chiang shared openly with Dr. Danielson the insight that the technology could be applied in either market. In Dr. Chiang’s words, “One really good thing about ARPA-E is that the security around information within ARPA-E is great. Sometimes I wish they would tell me more about other performers, but they don’t.” As a consequence of the ability to be open with his ARPA-E program director, Dr. Chiang and his colleagues were able to execute such a fundamental pivot and to secure follow-on funding from the GRIDS program, led by Dr. Mark Johnson.
One of the early views Dr. Chiang shared with Dr. Danielson was that he believed it was critical for ARPA-E to retain DARPA’s go/no-go milestones. From Dr. Chiang’s perspective, the path of 24M had changed so much that the particular milestones themselves were not as important as the pressure and expectation for output created by having milestones (which had been negotiated to accommodate the significant change in technology direction).
5 24M ran its own internal techno-economic analysis (something ARPA-E later developed internally) and realized that the cost advantage of a flow battery diminished as the energy density of the flow electrodes increased, such that the high energy density of 24M’s flow electrodes favored a nonflow architecture.
Technology-to-market prospects Although 24M raised funding from U.S.based venture capitalists in its Series A round, it was unable to attract U.S.based strategic investments for its Series B round. Of three potential U.S.-based strategic investors, each a large company, one was focused on developing a market for new active materials of its own and was not sure that 24M’s approach would help it grow that market. A second potential strategic investor with which 24M had discussions was already deeply committed to developing a new battery technology of its own. A third company told 24M that its reason for not investing was that by the time 24M approached the technology, it was too far along for the company to capture core intellectual property. As a consequence, 24M ended up with two strategic investments coming from Japanese companies and one from the former national oil company of Thailand.
Despite being a world expert in battery technology and an experienced serial entrepreneur and having the opportunity to obtain input during the early stages of ARPA-E funding, Dr. Chiang believes in retrospect that 24M would have benefited from earlier connections to U.S.-based strategic investors, since they are the most likely funders of developing energy technology companies. Dr. Chiang suggested that making connections with strategic investors and experienced venture capitalists who are creative thinkers is an important area for growth within ARPA-E. He also emphasized that ARPA-E needs to recognize that the path to commercialization is scale-sensitive. How best to demonstrate a prototype or engage a commercial partner depends on the scale of the product. There is much greater risk in demonstrating large-scale projects—for example, nuclear power plants or even large-scale flow batteries. Requiring that the demonstration work the first time in such large-scale projects can kill important technologies. 24M’s ARPA-E project produced three issued patents during its duration; today that portfolio has grown to about two dozen.
ARPA-E’s role In this project, ARPA-E was very amenable to changing goals and milestones to accommodate 24M’s new findings as it changed technical directions. ARPA-E appears to have succeeded in supporting the new concepts being introduced and in helping the project team maintain momentum while it altered some key aspects of the project. The leadership of 24M is extremely seasoned and as such clearly did not need a significant amount of T2M support, although as noted above, connections with more strategic U.S. investors would have helped. The company did, however, benefit from the support and oversight of some particularly strong program directors.
Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS): Harvard University
Project description Harvard University developed various slippery surface technologies for making materials and coatings that can achieve extreme energy savings in many industrial settings, including merchant shipping, oil and water pipelines, wastewater treatment systems, solar panels (to prevent dust accumulation), and refrigeration (to prevent ice buildup). The idea for
SLIPS was inspired by the slippery surface of the carnivorous pitcher plant, which uses liquids and a mechanical trap to catch insects. By copying the plant’s systems, the Harvard team developed a porous material that could hold liquid similarly to the way a sponge holds water. ARPA-E guided the team to investigate commercial applications for the technology and select those with the greatest promise. After a 6-month exploratory effort, the team, together with ARPA-E, chose to develop a SLIPS coating for refrigeration coils that would reduce defrost cycles by enabling faster shedding of frost and water from the surface of the coils. The team tested large-scale SLIPS-coated coils at LG and other local coil-producing companies and demonstrated significant energy savings. After 2 years, sufficient proof-of-concept had been established to prompt the launch of a start-up company, SLIPS Technologies, Inc. (STI) to commercialize SLIPS. STI was launched in October 2014 with financing from the venture capital arm of BASF, a chemical company. Following the spin-off, ARPA-E extended funding for a third year to enable exploration of SLIPS coatings that could prevent marine fouling on ship hulls so as to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency in various marine applications. Early results demonstrate the potential of SLIPS to address unmet needs in that market with a nontoxic alternative to current antifouling coatings (ARPA-E, 2016j).
Project funding characteristics Harvard received an ARPA-E award of $2,749,998.00 as part of the OPEN 2012 competition (Figure D-12). The project term was from April 26, 2013, to July 25, 2016.
Technology overview A team of scientists led by Harvard University Professor Joanna Aizenberg submitted a proposal to ARPA-E for the development of SLIPS. Dr. Aizenberg and her team are part of the Harvard University Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). The SLIPS technology repels virtually all liquids and biological fouling agents from almost any surface and under many different conditions. It does so by attaching a liquid to the substrate in a novel way to produce a nonsticky slippery surface (see Figure D-13). SLIPS is a friction-free coating with the goal of achieving extreme energy savings in many industrial settings.
Technology-to-market prospects The proposal to ARPA-E outlined a plan for developing the technology and applying it to fluid handling in oil pipelines and water circulation systems. New systems in these sectors often take 20–25 years to adopt new technologies. During the project’s kickoff meeting, Dr. Aizenberg highlighted the numerous industrial uses of the technology—for example, reducing the effects of icing on refrigeration coils, repelling marine fouling, and preventing bacteria from sticking on medical equipment.
Given the many potential applications for SLIPS, ARPA-E asked Dr. Aizenberg to spend the first few months of the project evaluating 10 different energy sectors through small proof-of-concept experiments, market research, and discussions with potential industrial partners. Dr. Aizenberg described the process as a combination of spreadsheet analysis with go/no-go questions to analyze trade-offs of costs, timing, and impact, and assessment of feasibility through small experiments. This process took 6 months and identified two applications viewed as having near-term probabilities of success: (1) refrigeration and reduction of defrosting cycles and frost formation on refrigeration coils, and (2) wastewater membranes and reduction of membrane fouling. Neither of these two applications was in the original proposal to ARPA-E. The project team chose refrigeration as its primary focus, and ARPA-E agreed to fund the project for 2 years, which included the time spent on the market analysis.
Dr. Aizenberg met with representatives from BASF at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. BASF also had a history of working with and sponsoring research programs at Harvard University and had followed the progress of SLIPS with great interest. In June 2014, Dr. Aizenberg and her collaborator, Dr. Philseok Kim, founded STI. With help from BASF, Drs. Aizenberg and Kim brought in an experienced start-up chief executive officer to run the company, and Dr. Kim left Harvard to join the company full time as chief technology officer. The company is commercializing SLIPS materials and coatings for applications in industrial, consumer, and medical applications, with the development of a marine foul-release coating being a major emphasis. This project is a successful example of ARPA-E helping a principal investigator’s team scout out commercially relevant applications for an innovative material, establish proof-of-concept, and then transition the effort to a commercialization path via a start-up company.
Following the spin-off, ARPA-E extended funding for a third year to enable further exploration of marine applications. Dr. Aizenberg said, “Testing and applying SLIPS to the marine environments area is challenging and interesting because nobody has solved it yet.” Initial research indicated that SLIPS has the potential to be a useful, environment-friendly substitute for toxic antifouling paints and coatings and to address the need for an effective foul-release coating for slow-moving merchant vessels.
Outcomes and ARPA-E’s role As described above, the project led to the creation of a company, STI. The principal investigator, Dr. Aizenberg, is a co-founder, a director, and chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of STI. The project produced five to seven patents, more than 10 publications (including 6 in Nature family journals), and several press releases. In addition, according to Dr. Aizenberg, ARPA-E transitioned the “down-selection” spreadsheet analysis developed by her team to help other companies and ARPA-E teams.
From the principal investigator’s perspective, ARPA-E’s flexibility and ability to adjust project goals and metrics helped the project team achieve
meaningful technology goals. Dr. Aizenberg highlighted ARPA-E’s deliberate interest in identifying the right technology and market for their innovation, as well as its insistence on a rigorous due diligence process to identify such markets. She was particularly appreciative of the support and guidance she received in areas in which her team (at that time) was not proficient—such as market analysis—and noted that ARPA-E was able to connect her to an external market analysis team when necessary. Focusing on early market adoption enabled research to continue on applying the technology in more complex areas. The principal investigator did note, however, that a quarterly reporting process with less paperwork, fewer meetings, and simplified reporting would have allowed more time to be devoted to research.
Committee assessment The idea of using a liquid–liquid interface (with one liquid adhered to a solid surface) as a mechanism for reducing friction is a novel one. ARPA-E’s decision to fund this project even without concrete results and then guide the team through an exploratory evaluation is representative of a bold approach to funding. The first application of the technology (refrigerator coils) required out-of-the-box thinking, meeting ARPA-E’s mandate specifically to deploy advanced energy technologies to reduce energy usage. Following the spin-off dealing with refrigerator coil development, the team correctly focused its attention on exploring marine antifouling applications. This is the current way to develop technologies based on a materials innovation—identify specific applications that can offer commercial value quickly and then build upon them. However, it is too early to say whether this technology will change how industry deals with friction.
Laser-Mechanical Drilling for Geothermal Energy (Foro Energy)
Project description Foro Energy has developed a unique capability and hardware system for transmitting high-power laser light over long distances via fiber optic cables to ablate or weld materials. Long-distance transmission of high-power lasers was believed to be impossible because of distortions to light that would occur through fiber optic cables. Foro’s system engineers the cable, laser source, and system simultaneously to eliminate these distortions. This laser power is integrated with a mechanical drilling bit, and the laser energy softens the rock, allowing the mechanical bit to remove the rock more easily. This system enables rapid and sustained penetration of hard-rock formations that are too costly to drill with mechanical drilling bits alone. Not only did ARPA-E provide critical early funding, but it also provided the company with a stamp of technical credibility. This level of due diligence, along with exposure to the technology through the annual Energy Innovation Summit, helped Foro obtain follow-on funding with venture capital and industry partnerships (ARPA-E, 2016i; Foro Energy, 2016).
Project funding characteristics Foro Energy received an ARPA-E award of $9,141,030 as part of the OPEN 2009 competition. The project term was from January 15, 2010, to September 30, 2013. The company has attracted and received significant follow-on funding.
In the economic downturn that began in September 2008, funding for innovative technologies was difficult to find. Soon after the founders created Foro Energy and obtained seed funding from venture capitalists, they learned about the creation of ARPA-E and the OPEN 2009 program.6 They submitted a concept paper to ARPA-E in late spring 2009 and by January 2010, had signed a contract for an award. Executing this funding agreement on a relatively rapid basis was critical for Foro. ARPA-E also negotiated a technology investment agreement,7 which was a deviation from a standard cooperative award. The technology investment agreement allowed Foro Energy to pay back the award with interest and thus have complete ownership of its intellectual property, without the possibility that the government could “march in” and provide licenses to other companies for development of the technology.8 Foro Energy’s founder and principal investigator, Joel Moxley, highlighted the use of the technology investment agreement as an example of ARPA-E’s willingness to be responsive to the needs of a small company.
Technology overview Foro Energy was officially started up in early June 2009, although the move to launch the company started in 2008. The company was created based on R&D during the previous decade in academic and industry research settings, including Colorado School of Mines. Foro’s next steps were to test its hypotheses through experimentation and application. By the time the company learned it would receive an ARPA-E award, it had resolved some of the scientific challenges related to the light-scattering issue.
The key technology developed by Foro Energy was marrying advances in high-power fiber lasers to fiber optic technology to deliver high-power laser light to hard rock down a bore hole. High-power kilowatt fiber lasers that were
6 The website for the OPEN program is http://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=arpa-eprograms/open-2009 (accessed July 28, 2016).
7 The contract states that “ARPA-E may negotiate a TIA [technology investment agreement] or ‘other transactions’ agreement in order (1) to encourage for-profit entities to participate in projects in which they would not otherwise participate; (2) to facilitate the creation of new relationships among participants in a team that will foster better technology; (3) to encourage Prime Recipients to use new business practices that will foster better technology or new technology more quickly or less expensively; or (4) to enhance U.S. economic and energy security and/or maintain U.S. technological leadership in key energy sectors.” The website for the award guidance is http://arpae.energy.gov/?q=arpa-e-site-page/award-guidance#Patent%20Class%20Waiver%20for%20FY13%20and%20FY14 (accessed July 28, 2016).
8 35 U.S. Code § 203. March-in rights allow the government to require licenses to be granted, or to grant licenses, in certain circumstances, such as if the organization has not taken effective steps to achieve practical application of the invention.
compact, transportable, and efficient became available. Optical fiber technology was readily available for the communication industry. The challenge for Foro Energy was to eliminate nonlinear optical effects such as stimulated Brillouin scattering, which limited optical power transmission through an optical fiber. The solution to this problem was to modify the spectrum of the high-power laser in such a way that these coherent nonlinear optical effects were suppressed. With this advance, Foro was able to field a system useful for boring holes in hard rock and welding metal pipes.
Foro has created a fiber optic cable that is protected from high temperature, pressure, and vibration with packaging techniques similar to those of low-power fiber counterparts, including corrosion- and crush-resistant armoring and vibration-isolating buffers. Conventional methods drill, work over, and complete energy wells using mechanical cutting/grinding, explosives, harsh chemicals, and high pressures. High-power lasers enable fundamentally new performance capabilities, including
- precision, because they can be directed with millimeter accuracy;
- speed, because they can cut and destroy materials rapidly; and
- safety, because they can be controlled at the speed of light.
The original proposal by Foro was to develop this high-power laser technology for drilling in hard rock to tap geothermal energy. Hard rock is particularly difficult to drill. With Foro’s system, the laser light is combined with a mechanical drill to enable a new efficient drilling technology. Although the Foro system appears promising for the geothermal energy application, numerous uses for the technology are still being developed. The system is currently well suited for cutting and welding metal.
Technology-to-market prospects Foro Energy worked with ARPA-E to create technical and quantitative metrics that initially aligned with what the company proposed in its application. After a surface demonstration with a customer, Foro realized that the metrics needed to be adjusted to put more emphasis on near-term commercialization applications (well decommissioning) and stretch goals for drilling in hard rock. Foro therefore turned its attention to the development of the power cord for the final phases of the project.
Based on feedback from potential customers, Foro undertook the negotiation of new milestones with ARPA-E. According to Foro, “ARPA-E pushed back and wanted to understand the drivers for changes; they [ARPA-E] worked through those changes as a team…and we [Foro] met all of their milestones.” The new metrics allowed Foro to focus on core hardware aligned with customer needs, which kept its start-up roadmap on track. The flexibility to modify milestones is an important tool for ensuring that resources are expended on solving problems to optimize the overall success of the effort.
Foro obtained follow-on support from a customer to continue its system development, including building on the original platform to increase the bit size and significantly increase the laser power. These system enhancements are operational as an ongoing program. This program ventures into proprietary material, but it is being pursued aggressively within the company. Intermediate markets have had economically attractive and transformative impacts on health, safety, and the environment, and these enormous societal benefits have been realized even though they were never a specific focus of ARPA-E.
Outcomes and ARPA-E’s role Foro Energy has 45 patents, 17 of which list ARPA-E in the government interest section. These patents have more than 2,000 patent claims.9 According to the company’s chief technology officer, Foro’s method of using fibers is proprietary, but the goal is to optimize the efficiency of the fibers. The ARPA-E award allowed Foro to develop its intellectual property and, through experimentation, put it into practice. The company’s focus during its Series A financing was on the ARPA-E project. The funding allowed the company to focus on nearer-term goals, such as decommissioning and the development of a specialized power cord, which set the stage for achieving its longer-term goal of drilling hard rock. In 2013, Foro received additional funding from DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office “to design a high-power laser system and laser-based well completion tool that could enable unique geothermal downhole well applications with the potential for superior thermal contacting between the wellbore and the surrounding geological formation” (DOE, 2013c).
By the end of ARPA-E funding in mid-2013, Foro Energy had created customer programs and developed offerings in four main application areas: (1) decommissioning, (2) production, (3) pressure control, and (4) drilling. The company is currently in the early stages of commercializing the decommissioning application and expects revenues soon, as it has created commercial units and obtained signed contracts and is conducting field demonstrations on remaining applications.
Joel Moxley noted that this project is a good example of the need for an ecosystem that includes academic research, venture capitalist financing, government funding, and industry interactions to scale up and commercialize the technology. The different perspectives and insights from these voices and partnerships provide the energy and stimulation to accelerate the research.
Over the course of the project, Foro Energy had three program directors who provided targeted guidance and were described as “excellent.” The transitions to each new program director were seamless. The ARPA-E contractor, a former weapons inspector, was described as a “technical asset”
9 35 U.S. Code § 112. The law requires that, to obtain exclusive rights on an invention, the patent applicant point out and distinctly claim in technical terms the subject matter that the inventor regards as his or her invention.
throughout the project. He also helped with billing and other logistics. The ARPA-E program directors and contractor worked as a team to provide continuity. Moxley stated that “there’s a huge value to having a quarterly technical check-in. This is a big forcing function. On the T2M side, we received introductions via ARPA-E and many that led to partnerships.”
ARPA-E funding gave the company credibility, and many customers heard about Foro Energy through ARPA-E. The agency’s Energy Innovation Summit is the only energy technology conference that Foro attends. The summit has critical mass around the ecosystem and has value for Foro as a company and as individuals given that the peer support network is critical in innovation ecosystems. The company continues to attend the summit annually, in part because ARPA-E has been such a good partner, and Foro wants to support other companies on the same path.
Committee assessment While the process of drilling holes into the earth has changed since its earliest days, it still involves shattering rock and removing the chips for such varied purposes as extracting geothermal energy, crude oil, and natural gas and tunneling. The novel application of well-known laser technology developed by Foro Energy may facilitate a radical new drilling method. This project was envisioned as an enabler for creating cost-effective geothermal energy power plants. The initial goal of the project was to drill hard rock. Foro Energy had the capability to accomplish the laser portion of the project but not to make a drill bit. The company has recognized this and has formed partnerships to implement a laser-augmented drill bit. It appears that Foro is on track to test the feasibility of the proposed approach.
The laser fiber optics of the project have already been developed and demonstrated; the major technical risk that remains is whether a kilowatt of laser light power can be integrated into a drill bit with the Foro technology. Integration with a drill bit is a work in progress. If everything is successful, this new technology could lower the cost of drilling through hard rock, and geothermal energy could become a viable and important energy resource. It is too soon to measure the impact of the ARPA-E project on the technical world, but Foro did deliver high-power laser energy at a distance using an optical fiber. This approach would also be useful for welding or cutting metal in such areas as manufacturing and oil well decommissioning. While there are other ways of achieving improvements in these applications, the fiber optic approach appears most promising. The ARPA-E investment in Foro has accelerated the application of a technology that has the potential to create a sustainable and carbon-free energy resource. At the moment, what has been achieved would tend to be described as more evolutionary than revolutionary. If, however, dramatic success is achieved in drilling hard rock very cost-effectively, this evaluation may have to be revisited.
Distributed Power Flow Control (Smart Wires)
Project description Modernizing the electrical grid requires the ability to integrate renewable energy sources into the grid and increase controllability to obtain more throughput. Research aimed at achieving these two goals is high-risk. The 300,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the United States today are congested and inefficient, with only around 50 percent of all transmission capacity being utilized at any given time. ARPA-E funding allowed Smart Wires to develop a solution for controlling power flow within the electrical grid to better manage unused and overall transmission capacity. Smart Wires’ devices clamp onto existing transmission lines and control the flow of power within the lines, similar to how Internet routers allocate bandwidth throughout the web. This technology could support greater use of renewable energy by providing more consistent control over how that energy is routed within the grid on a real-time basis. This capability would alleviate concerns surrounding the grid’s inability to store intermittent energy from renewables effectively for later use. The Smart Wires technology provides a new way of thinking about how grids should be planned and how power flows can be controlled. The principles behind this technology are modularity with rapid deployment and ease of redeployment. Utilities can now invest in a scalable and mobile solution that can be redeployed as needs change. ARPA-E played an important role in guiding the research, introducing funders, and creating an advisory board to assist in testing and demonstration of the technology (ARPA-E, 2016f).
Project funding characteristics Smart Wires received an ARPA-E award of $3,977,745 as part of the GENI competition (Figure D-14). The project term was from April 23, 2012, to September 30, 2014.
Technology overview In the early 2000s, Dr. Deepak Divan, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), used steel alloys to create a prototype of a distributed series reactor (DSR), a device for controlling power flows over electrical grids by changing the degree of resistance on individual lines. The basic concept was that because electric power flows along the line of least impedance, a device that could modify the degree of impedance on a given line could increase or decrease the flow of power over that line without physically closing the wire. The potential value of the technology was to provide congestion relief on overloaded lines by redistributing power flows, thus improving the performance of the entire system.
A group of utilities interested in the DSR concept incubated the work at Georgia Tech for roughly 9 years, with each utility contributing small increments of funding to enable Divan’s team to continue its research, as well as to support preparation of several small-scale studies of the potential benefits of the technology (the so-called “focus initiative”). The utilities supported DSR
research through the National Electric Energy Testing Research and Applications Center (NEETRAC) at Georgia Tech, a research center comprised of energy companies and utilities. Divan’s research assistant, Frank Kreikebaum, moved to NEETRAC to serve as project manager. In 2009, Kreikebaum formed a consortium within NEETRAC—the Smart Wire Focused Initiative (SWFI)—with a group of utilities (including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Co., Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative). NEETRAC worked with SWFI to develop specifications for DSR, including high-current fault testing (63,000 A or 63 kA), impulse testing (±750,000 V or 750 kV), and Aeolian vibration testing. Participating utilities established rigorous performance targets for DSRs, which included speed of installation, high levels of fault withstand, and low power losses. SWFI utilities and Smart Wire Grid jointly designed an installation tool for use on bucket trucks, enabling quick installation of DSRs.
Technology-to-market prospects While DSR technology initially appeared promising, no utility was likely to adopt an untested technology for deployment on an existing grid. Utilities have long regarded their primary mission as resiliency (i.e., keeping the lights on). Planning cycles have been long—10–20 years—and institutional resistance to the risks associated with innovation has
been high. Given this reality, even if a new technology appeared to be very compelling, investors were resistant to business plans based on a protracted effort to sell a new technology to utilities. It was apparent that the new technology needed to be tested and proven in an operating environment, generating sufficient data and experience to satisfy utilities that the technology was both effective and very safe. But no funding source could be found for such an experiment.
ARPA-E’s GENI focused program was created to address challenges to the U.S. transmission system, which included aging infrastructure, short-term changes in demand, and the growing deployment of nondispatchable generation characterized by intermittency (e.g., wind-and solar-generated power). At present, reflecting congestion and inefficiency, only about 50 percent of U.S. transmission capacity is utilized at any given time. ARPA-E sought to fund research themes addressing power flow control in the distribution and transmission of electricity. Goals included enabling 40 percent variable-generation penetration, a greater than 10-times reduction in power flow control hardware, and a greater than 4-times reduction in high-voltage direct current terminal/line cost relative to the state of the art. GENI was budgeted at $39 million with a target kickoff year of 2011.
In 2010, SWFI spun out Smart Wire Grid, Inc. (later renamed Smart Wires), a start-up based in Oakland, California, to participate in ARPA-E’s GENI solicitation and to develop prototypes built to utility standards. The founder and CEO was entrepreneur Woody Gibson, co-founder of more than a dozen technology-based start-ups in the energy and environmental areas. Smart Wire Grid licensed DSR technology from Georgia Tech Research Corp. in 2011. Smart Wire Grid was backed by a private equity fund run by Arnerich Massena, an investment and wealth-management firm based in Portland, Oregon. Smart Wire Grid developed three product prototypes:
- The PowerLine Guardian uses DSRs to increase impedance and diminish power flows on overloaded wires.
- The Router redirects power flows to less heavily utilized lines.
- The PowerLine Commander monitors control and data aggregation software that enables utility personnel to monitor the system remotely and reroute power if necessary.
In 2012, Smart Wires won a $4 million ARPA-E award pursuant to the GENI FOA to undertake pilot demonstrations of DSR systems on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) transmission system. In October 2012, 99 Smart Wire DSRs were attached to approximately 20 miles of 161 kV TVA transmission lines near Knoxville, Tennessee. The DSR units, resembling rectangular boxes, weighed about 150 pounds each and were capable of operating either autonomously or with operator control. ARPA-E monitored the performance of the 99 boxes for a year, establishing the fact that the technology relieved
congestion on overloaded lines and redistributed power, thereby optimizing operations of the transmission system.
Outcomes and ARPA-E’s role Smart Wires is currently facing a different challenge than it did in its early stages—scaling up to meet demand from utilities for its technologies. It created a new product, the Tower Router, for application in 2016, which directly increases the throughput on underutilized lines. The Tower Router is important as it offers utilities a method that transforms the way power is handled on the grid. In 2015, Smart Wires’ CEO indicated that the company was collaborating with 25 of the largest global transmission organizations to “see how we can help them achieve their top strategic priorities.” In 2015, Smart Wires raised $30.8 million to bring its first product to commercial production. Smart Wires has brought in a former utility CEO, Thomas Voss, as company chairman, and David Ratcliffe, also a former utility CEO, as a member of the company’s advisory board. Michael Walsh, an executive at EirGrid, an Irish transmission company, joined Smart Wires in 2015 to support the company’s future operations.
The TVA pilot project generated 2 years of data establishing the trustworthiness of the DSR technology and highlighting necessary corrective measures. The TVA reported in 2014 that the installed DSR systems had run continuously for 21 months and remained available 100 percent of the time to provide power flow control and sensing to support TVA’s system reliability. The project demonstrated the ability of the DSR technology to reduce power flow by more than 2.5 percent.
A key lesson learned was that acoustic vibration from PowerLine Guardian devices can significantly affect noise levels in the transmission line right-of-way, a problem that was addressed by improving the bolt design and increasing the torque on the bolts securing the units to the transmission lines. In addition, the communication system on three units proved unreliable, a problem resolved by enabling every unit to act as a Cellular Enabled PowerLine Guardian with backhaul communication capability.
In a second demonstration project (not funded by ARPA-E), Southern Co. initially installed 33 PowerLine Guardian devices along two 115 kW transmission lines managed by Georgia Power Co. Southern Co. subsequently doubled the number of devices used in the demonstration. In 2015, Pacific Gas and Electric Company was reportedly conducting pilot testing of Smart Wires technologies on its system.
ARPA-E’s role in the Smart Wires project was to enable the start-up to build, deploy, and test prototype devices in a real operating environment. Quarterly oversight meetings were held with the project manager, Timothy Heidel, and an ARPA-E systems engineering and technical assistance (SETA) consultant, Colin Shouder. The project represented an instance of very late-stage development, with the technology already in existence and ready for field testing. According to Smart Wires, without ARPA-E’s contributions, the company might not have continued to exist or, in the best case, would have been
18–24 months behind where it is today. ARPA-E’s funding, and the field testing it enabled, served to “derisk” the technology for follow-on investors and made it easier for the company to raise capital going forward. Operationally, the SETA consultant presented the Smart Wires team with what-if scenarios as to how the product might fail when deployed—an exercise that the team has incorporated into its own internal design procedures.
ARPA-E created a set of advisers as well as program and funding structures for the project. It helped Smart Wires understand how to conduct demonstrations, recognizing that if field testing failed, the technology might not receive another trial. The SETA consultant, who was very familiar with grid technologies, worked closely with the company on developing the hardware. Smart Wires personnel considered the program director to be remarkably skillful at covering many bases, but when he did not understand details, he knew enough to defer to the SETA consultant. The T2M adviser, Josh Gould, helped connect Smart Wires with stakeholders, including financial backers, and develop and refine its business skills. As the skills of the Smart Wires team improved, the need for ARPA-E T2M assistance declined.
The Smart Wires project had experienced a major problem when a large partner designing software for the DSR system left the project. The software was necessary to operate the system and assess its benefits in the context of a large-scale system. ARPA-E met with the Smart Wires team and rewrote all of the project milestones involving the software. This course correction in the face of a major unforeseen change was a success and an example of flexible project oversight.
Smart Wires’ management attributes the company’s success to ARPA-E’s engagement. ARPA-E brought funding and rigor to its operations. Money alone was not enough; ARPA-E brought the company access to investors, providing a sort of seal of approval for follow-on funders. The agency’s participation generated data and operational test results. Each increment of subsequent investment became easier because ARPA-E made the venture less risky for investors. It is unlikely that Smart Wires would exist today without having had ARPA-E’s support in 2012–2014.
Committee assessment There are two major needs in the electricity grid—storage to integrate renewables and controllability to get more throughput from the existing grid. When Congress first provided funding for ARPA-E, the agency’s charge was to develop transformative energy technologies that would not likely be privately funded and developed because of their high risk.
Smart Wires’ technology has the potential to transform how power grids are planned and operated around the globe. The company has built upon the value developed and tested during the ARPA-E project. The value of Smart Wires is tied to one of the most critical challenges facing the grid—controllability for the known, the unknown, and the unknowable uncertainties. Smart Wires technology is not just a clever set of power electronics; it represents a new way of thinking about how grids should be planned and how
power flows can be controlled. The principles behind Smart Wires are modularity with rapid deployment and ease of redeployment. Given the many challenges to predicting grid needs, investment in a scalable and mobile solution that can be redeployed as needs change is compelling. There are four key areas in which this technology has the potential to be transformative:
- Urgent grid needs—When there is no time to build new infrastructure, Smart Wires technology can be deployed to increase throughput very quickly to solve power flow problems, such as those that result from plant retirements due to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule and the clean power plan.
- Temporary grid needs—Many infrastructure needs are temporary. Permitting, construction of a new line or generator, or loss of a generator can change flows, and some upgrades that are needed in the short term are not necessary in the long term. Smart Wires gives grid planners the ability to fix the problem and redeploy the power electronics when the need no longer exists.
- Difficult-to-build locations—When environmental, land use, or other factors limit the ability to build or upgrade lines, Smart Wires offers a compelling solution entailing considerably less land use and environmental impact.
- Congestion and renewable energy—There is some early but compelling evidence that technologies such as that of Smart Wires could be quite effective in moving larger amounts of power from one region to another. Distributing the Smart Wires devices across multiple lines, thus making more use of the existing grid, could be a game changer for reducing congestion, lowering renewable integration costs, and facilitating the development of distant renewable resources with higher capacity factors.
Smart Wires technology has the potential to increase transmission line utilization from the current average of 45–60 percent to 75–90 percent. The cost of a Smart Wires installation is equal to 1–10 percent of the cost of building a new transmission line, excluding costs associated with right-of-way and permitting. Program director Heidel characterizes the Smart Wires project as “transformational” because the new technology enables utilities to modulate the impedance of lines reliably on command. Previously, impedance could be modulated only with fully rated power converters, which were expensive and characterized by low reliability. The breakthrough achieved by the project was the development of data and experience sufficient to convince conservative utility managers to adopt the new technology. Heidel also believes that utility executives’ realization that they can modulate power flows on command will have transformational effects on their decision making and will result in more efficient, lower-cost transmission.
Cancelled Project: Nanostructured Scalable Thick-Film Magnetics (General Electric)
As noted earlier, ARPA-E cancels projects before their original end date if they are not meeting their goals and appear unlikely to do so eventually. As of September 2015, ARPA-E had cancelled 25 of its 440 funded projects, 7 of which were university-led and 18 private company-led. Ten projects led by small companies (<500 employees) and 8 by larger companies (>1000 employees) were cancelled.
One case study of a project that ARPA-E cancelled is described here. General Electric (GE) is classified as a large company with a project funded through a focused program. GE conducted research aimed at developing smaller magnetic components for power converters that maintain high performance levels. The magnetic components had the potential to be used in a variety of applications, including solar inverters, electric vehicles, and lighting. In this case, the technical background of the project manager may not have aligned with the needs of the ARPA-E project. The case study describes a feasibility study led by GE that was cancelled 3 months early.
Magnetic components are typically the largest components in a power converter. To date, however, researchers have not found an effective way to reduce their size without negatively impacting their performance. GE worked to build smaller components with magnetic thick films, created using the condensation of vaporized forms of magnetic and insulating materials. The project’s failure to achieve its milestones was not due to physical limitations but to a cost nearly twice as high as had been anticipated to overcome the technical challenges involved. Although this ARPA-E project was cancelled, it advanced the learning process for bringing the technology closer to commercial feasibility.
Project Funding Characteristics
GE received an ARPA-E award of $811,520 as part of the Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT) competition. The project term was from January 1, 2011, to July 17, 2012. The project was cancelled after 15 months, 3 months earlier than scheduled.
Devices such as inverters and computer power supplies are part of a broad class of power electronics that use rapid switching and magnetics to convert electric power from one form to another. Examples of these technologies include direct current that can be made into alternating current and vice versa.
The ubiquity of these devices means that improvements in available materials will have large impacts. The cost and performance for power electronics are often limited by the magnetics, which are materials such as iron or ferrite (an iron oxide ceramic) that couple magnetic fields from one part of a device to another. The saturation fields limit the size of the magnetics. A common and useful way to make magnetics is to produce ferrite slurries or “green bodies,” followed by sintering to produce the desired magnet shape. Ferrite’s conformal character, low cost, and adequate magnetic performance make it the default material choice for a wide array of power electronics devices.
GE’s plan for this ARPA-E project was to extend the feasibility testing of a replacement for ferrite in power electronics. GE’s goal was to develop a replacement power converter with a smaller size that would maintain effectiveness. This effort involved physically depositing a metal composite magnetic material. GE conducted research to prove the feasibility of the technology (technology readiness level [TRL] 4/5) so it could be moved to the next stage of development (TRL 6) and be tested as a component in a systems application. At this TRL level, GE might pick up the deposition technology, given its familiarity with the technology, or it might license the technology to a supplier.
GE Research does not usually fund research on components unless they fit within an existing product line. For example, GE does not make magnetics but does source them. Internal GE funding is not generally provided to develop novel processes for suppliers unless the commercial product line is incapable of meeting specifications without changes in supplier capability.
GE did provide limited internal funding for this research in 2004 and received a follow-up DARPA grant during 2004–2005. The research identified a novel iron-based material that had up to four times the magnetic field capability and could also be conformal. GE applied to ARPA-E’s ADEPT program in 2010 for funding to support translating the science to practice by demonstrating that improving the field capability, losses, manufacturing rate, and quality would advance the efficiency of commercial devices. The award had clear milestones and targets. The timeline for the project was very short, as is consistent with a feasibility exercise. The team was unable to accomplish the project goals, and ARPA-E and GE mutually agreed to stop work before expending all of the funding.
The ARPA-E team was very involved technically in the project. The team’s technical expertise was in electrical engineering, with a focus on semiconductor devices, which was somewhat complementary to the GE’s team’s expertise in materials science. Although GE communicated its equipment challenges to its ARPA-E team, a solution that fit with the project’s time and resource constraints could not be found. In hindsight, the project might have benefited from extra time to solve its technical challenges, which an ARPA-E
team with materials science expertise might have supported. The GE team did not work with the T2M team because of the nature of the project.
Although this project was cancelled, the GE Nanostructured Scalable Thick-Film Magnetics project can be viewed as a success in several ways. The project advanced the learning process and state of the art such that the technology more closely approached commercial feasibility. The project ended without arbitrary expenditure of time and effort. The failure to achieve milestones was not due to a physical limitation but to the higher cost (at least twice as high) than had been anticipated. Part of the failure was that the award assumed a well-functioning electron beam physical vapor deposition reactor at GE. Significant unanticipated effort was needed to make the reactor work, by which time the project could not catch up. If the costs can be reduced, renewed efforts to continue to advance this technology are warranted.
The committee categorized projects as “other” if they have resulted in little or no direct energy market success but still have advanced the state of knowledge. Four such case studies are presented here:
- Agrivida genetically engineered plants to contain high concentrations of enzymes that break down cell walls. These enzymes could be “switched on” after harvest so they would not damage the plant while it is growing. If successful, Agrivida’s approach would decrease the production cost of domestic biofuels by up to 20 percent.
- Ceres, Inc. generated new crops using plant biotechnology. Ceres had cloned and sequenced many genes and clustered them into 12,000 functionalities prior to ARPA-E involvement. Traits that affected nitrogen/fertilizer use were discovered. Nitrogen uptake is a challenging trait; little was known about it at the time of ARPA-E funding, and operation at commercial scale with nitrogen genes was (and still would be) a large undertaking.
- HRL Laboratories is conducting research on fabricating transistors vertically to achieve a higher power level. This research is very difficult to accomplish, requiring breakthroughs in processing to achieve manufacturing and economic efficiencies. This is a challenging project that entails many technology ecosystem dependencies and requires manufacturing capabilities.
- Stanford University’s radiative cooling device relied on recently developed state-of-the-art concepts and techniques to tailor the absorption and emission of light and heat in nanostructured materials.
This research had the potential to enable buildings, cars, and electronics to cool without using electric power, a concept that was widely thought to be impossible. The project did not achieve the expected preliminary cost reductions, and its applications appear distant, but it had the effect of changing all engineering understanding of the limits of practical systems in thermal management.
Engineering Enzymes in Energy Crops (Agrivida)
Project description Petroleum-based fuels are the primary source of power for cars, trucks, and planes. Biofuels produced domestically from biomass might be an alternative. However, the methods used to turn biomass into fuel are currently too expensive and inefficient to make these biofuels a commercial alternative to fossil fuels. Expensive enzymes are required to break plant biomass down into the fermentable sugars that are used to create biofuel. Engineering crops to contain these enzymes would reduce costs and produce biomass that could more easily be digested. Agrivida conducted research aimed at genetically engineering plants to contain high concentrations of enzymes that break down cell walls. These enzymes could be “switched on” after harvest so they would not damage the plant while it was growing. If successful, Agrivida’s technology had the potential to significantly decrease the production cost of domestic biofuels, thus helping the United States reduce foreign oil imports. ARPA-E provided plus-up funding for development of the data needed to bring the technology to the market. When a market did not develop, Agrivida changed direction to focus on animal nutrition.
Project funding characteristics Agrivida was funded as part of the OPEN 2009 solicitation at a level of $6,562,723 over the period January 2010 to March 2015. (See Figure D-15.)
Technology-to-market prospects Prior to the ARPA-E grant, Agrivida was an agricultural biotech firm developing crops to produce chemicals, fuels, and bioproducts by engineering the crops to express enzymes. Its research was focused on enabling production of low-cost sugars through the expression of enzymes in the crop. If this approach were successful, Agrivida estimated it could decrease the production cost of domestic biofuels by up to 20 percent. This cost reduction in turn could drive an increase in the production of domestic biofuels and thereby help the United States reduce foreign oil imports by 33 percent in 15 years. The widespread use of biofuels, biopower, and other bio-based products has the potential to conserve 1.26 billion barrels of oil, 58 million tons of coal, and 682 million tons of carbon dioxide from 2020 to 2030. The widespread use of biofuels also would help reduce and stabilize gas prices for consumers.
Outcomes and ARPA-E’s role The project was funded through an open solicitation, and targets were set based largely on work proposed by Agrivida. Agrivida established its technology primarily in corn to make it more easily digestible. The target was to make energy crops of interest to DOE—switchgrass and sorghum—more digestible and converted more efficiently into biofuel.
Agrivida generated promising results, and as the award was winding down, the ARPA-E program director inquired about the next step. It was determined that field trials were needed to attract future customers and development. ARPA-E plus-up funding was granted to provide the extra money and time needed to grow the materials in a pre-pilot-scale processing facility at the University of Illinois. The plus-up funding provided the data that the prospective partners wanted, potentially transitioning the technology to the market. In this case, no significant market developed as a result of the additional funding.
While it is unclear whether the larger goals of ARPA-E were met in this particular case, it is clear that the project was moved further along as a result of ARPA-E’s flexibility and the ability of the program director to adapt to changes that resulted from the research. Subsequent funding was raised, yet the company does not believe that the ARPA-E funding played a significant role in its attaining that funding. The company did not find the T2M efforts fruitful, and
believes this was due to the lack of synergies with other programs within ARPA-E and the soft market for new biofuel technology.
Committee assessment This project is good example of plus-up funding being used in an attempt to provide a ramp to the next step for a project. In this case, the extra funding enabled more laboratory success and thus proceeding to field test. This project is also a good example of the flexibility of the program director in moving the project forward and adapting to changing conditions. However, given that the company pivoted away from the energy-related technologies that prompted ARPA-E funding, it appears that the long-term objectives of ARPA-E were not met in this particular case.
Improving Biomass Yields (Ceres, Inc.)
Project description Ceres’ research focused on developing bigger and better grasses to improve the productivity of biomass-to-biofuel translation per acre. Ceres developed grasses that grow bigger with less fertilizer relative to available grass varieties. Its research led to the production of hardier, higher-yielding grass that requires less land to grow and can be planted in areas where other crops cannot grow. Ceres conducted multiyear trials in Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, and Georgia that resulted in grass yields with as much as 50 percent more biomass than yields from current grass varieties. The company transformed from a start-up to a publicly traded company, completing a successful initial public offering (IPO) while being funded by ARPA-E. The company subsequently moved away from the energy-related technologies that prompted ARPA-E funding and is no longer focused on energy crops. Land O’Lakes recently purchased Ceres. While the company has been successful, ARPA-E appears to have funded a company that was already aligned with an existing DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) biomass program.
Project funding characteristics The work was funded under the OPEN 2009 solicitation, ultimately receiving $5,089,144 between January 2010 and December 2013. Ceres has had a long funding history, as shown in Figure D-16.
Technology overview Ceres has been consistent in its stated goals and has not wavered in its efforts to generate new crops using plant biotechnology. The technologies are used to vary a variety of plant traits. The focus of this project was on energy crops with higher yield and advantaged cultivation properties. Ceres had cloned and sequenced many genes and clustered them into 12,000 functionalities prior to ARPA-E involvement. Notable for energy, traits that affected nitrogen/fertilizer use were discovered. Ceres had good results for genes that enhanced the efficiency of nitrogen use and sought ARPA-E funding
to bring different groups of these genes forward as commercial embodiments. Nitrogen uptake is a challenging trait; little was known at the time, and operation at commercial scale with nitrogen genes was (and still would be) a large undertaking. Ceres’ considerable trove of genetic traits, and specifically traits on nitrogen uptake, was highlighted in its ARPA-E proposal. This project did not fit into an established program within ARPA-E.
Technology-to-market prospects If Ceres had been successful and if markets for cellulosic feedstocks had developed, the technology would have significantly decreased the production cost of advanced biofuels. Ceres’ work could also be applied to food crops—producing more food crops with fewer resources would lower the cost of food and increase the ability to feed the growing world population. The widespread use of advanced biofuels could displace up to 1.26 billion barrels of oil over 10 years, help prevent up to 682 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere over that same period, and decrease nitrogen fertilizer use by 10 percent. Advanced biofuels could
follow a path similar to that of first-generation renewable fuels, which contributed more than $53 billion to the nation’s 2009 gross domestic product.
Outcomes and ARPA-E’s role Ceres’ research produced good results for genes that enhanced nitrogen use efficiency, so it sought ARPA-E funding to bring different groups of these genes forward as commercial embodiments. ARPA-E funded development efforts to field trial the stacked nitrogen traits developed by Ceres, which come with considerable uncertainty. Ceres believes the T2M efforts in support of the project were not particularly effective, although the company had good interactions with the T2M team and considered the T2M component one of the positive differences between its ARPA-E funding and other grants. Being highlighted at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit had positive results for Ceres, and the company extensively used the video about its project that ARPA-E produced (DOE, 2013a).
Toward the end of the project, Ceres became more interested in sorghum than in the other two crops on which it was conducting research. In the final quarter, it made the case for restating and revising its goals and refocusing the final part of the program on biomass and sugar, as it saw the energy crop industry developing in that direction. The program director recognized that the market for biofuels had changed significantly and thus realized that Ceres was right, and worked aggressively to change the goals the project was expected to accomplish. Ceres completed field trials for three crops, with a minor refocus on sorghum, currently a Ceres product, toward the end of the project. As a development effort in which the foundational intellectual property was already in place, the ARPA-E project produced no patents or publications.
Ceres notes that a portion of the R&D used to develop its nitrogen use efficiency trait was funded by an ARPA-E grant. Ceres views the positive press that resulted from being highlighted at the Energy Innovation Summit favorably. The company credits ARPA-E for helping it attract funding and for its completing a successful 2012 IPO.
Committee assessment Ceres transformed from a company that focused on nonfood grasses for advanced biofuels and biopower to one focused on agricultural products. It moved from being a start-up to a publicly traded company, completing a successful IPO while being funded by ARPA-E. The company was bought by Land O’Lakes in June 2017 to work with its subsidiary Forage Genetics International (FGI) (Schaust, 2016).
Ceres raised more than $200 million and, at the time of the ARPA-E funding, had already received other government funding in the biofuels area. In retrospect, it appears that Ceres was on a path that was little altered by the money received from ARPA-E. ARPA-E funding validated the company for investors and, apparently, enhanced the valuation of the company. ARPA-E needs to avoid funding in areas so closely aligned with the main charter of other DOE programs. In this case, during the time of ARPA-E funding for the Ceres project, the Biomass Program within EERE was funding very similar efforts.
The traits being researched were known at the time of the funding. Field testing and commercially proving out technology is a difficult but necessary part of moving technology forward. It is, however, difficult to see as a transformative step in this case. This type of project does not reflect the transformative mission to which ARPA-E aspires.
Low-Cost Gallium Nitride Vertical Transistor (HRL Laboratories)
Project description HRL Laboratories, LLC (HRL), an industrial laboratory, is developing a high-performance, low-cost, vertical GaN transistor that has the potential to displace the silicon transistor technologies used in most high-power switching applications today. GaN transistors are expensive to manufacture but have many positive characteristics—they can operate at higher temperatures, voltages, and currents than their silicon counterparts. (See the discussion of the SWITCHES program earlier in this appendix.) HRL plans to combine innovations in semiconductor material growth, device fabrication, and circuit design to create its high-performance GaN vertical transistor at a competitive manufacturing cost. HRL removed weak company partners from its project but now needs to find a partner with manufacturing expertise. The original ARPA-E program director requested market analysis and helped shape the research (ARPA-E, 2013f).
Project funding characteristics HRL received an ARPA-E award of $2,860,989 as part of the SWITCHES competition. The project term was from March 7, 2014, to March 6, 2017.
Technology overview HRL began discussions on this project with the then SWITCHES program director, Rajeev Ram, and about a year’s worth of internally funded R&D data was required before ARPA-E agreed to fund the project. Most transistors in semiconductor chips are laid out flat. This project aimed to fabricate the transistors vertically (i.e., the source, drain, and channel of the transistor are not in the same horizontal plane and therefore are fabricated side by side) but on top of one another. The expectation is that a vertical transistor will offer a higher power level. Most semiconductor processing is done in the planar geometry (with the exception of a certain kind of transistor in dynamic random-access memory structures), and therefore processes, tools, and techniques have been developed for this approach. A vertical approach is more complicated and may have problems with yield and fabrication costs.
Technology-to-market prospects The application of this approach would be for electrical motors and power conversion circuits. Because GaN is a refractory compound with a high band gap, it is particularly suited for high-current, high-power devices, where it competes with silicon carbide, a material that to date has had more practical applications in this arena.
Outcomes and ARPA-E’s role ARPA-E benchmarked the project on a regular basis, pushing for cost analysis, competitive analysis, and a T2M strategy. The agency was responsive and flexible, accommodating a delay in schedule and helping to prioritize when the delivery of a large metalorganic chemical vapor deposition reactor for synthesizing the material was delayed. The program director helped shape what was most meaningful to do. The annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit helped HRL form networks.
It appears that the project’s selection was due in part to the interest of the program director at the time in GaN technology. There remains some uncertainty about the project’s future with a change in program management, and the principal investigator expressed concern about the potential loss of interest on the part of the incumbent program director, as well as the lack of a clear roadmap from ARPA-E in this regard.
The specific application area in this case appears to have been identified by HRL, and ARPA-E’s role has been mainly along the lines of program management and evaluation. The agency has done this well, but the selection of the project and project team could have been improved. Vertical transistors are not a new concept, but there are good reasons why they have not been prevalent in the market, related to difficulties in fabricating them economically. Radical innovations are required to make their use practical, and the presence of such radical thinking was not obvious among the project team. HRL partnered with three entities, Virginia Tech, Kyma, and MalibuQ. The two company partnerships collapsed quickly. The process leading to the project’s initial selection during the proposal stage was not optimally rigorous.
The principal investigator expressed satisfaction with the thoroughness of the on-site reviews but, echoing other interviewees, expressed some disappointment with the amount of quarterly paperwork that the project team was required to submit.
Committee assessment As noted, the idea of using vertical transistors in semiconductor technology is not new but has not been taken up in the market because it is very difficult to accomplish and would require breakthroughs in processing to be capable of being manufactured and economical. This highly challenging project entailed many technology ecosystem dependencies. If a project with such a mandate is selected for funding, it is important to have a committed partner with experience in manufacturing GaN-based semiconductor products and supporting partners with strong experience if one is to have any chance of success. This did not appear to be the case for this project. Two of the partners, MalibuQ and Kyma, appeared to have little experience in the field. To ARPA-E’s credit, the partners with weak credentials were quickly removed from the project, attesting to the positive involvement of ARPA-E during the project execution stage. Nonetheless, this project appears to have little chance of success absent firm commitment, from the outset, from a partner with strong manufacturing expertise. HRL, which enjoys an excellent reputation as an
industrial R&D laboratory, is not a manufacturer of GaN power semiconductor devices.
Radiative Coolers for Rooftops and Cars (Stanford University)
Project description Stanford University developed and demonstrated a prototype panel of novel cooling material that radiates heat away from structures and sends it directly into space (see Figure D-17). The project team is now scaling its technology to cool water for use in conventional air conditioners and for direct use in the chilled water loops of office buildings, shopping centers, and warehouses. The team is also exploring other commercial applications for its technology, including stand-alone systems or use as a complementary component to larger cooling systems. Reducing building cooling loads reduces pressure on the electrical grid, improving its stability. Better building efficiency and cooling devices would limit electricity consumption and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Improvements in heating and cooling efficiency also could save homeowners and businesses thousands of dollars on their utility bills.
Project funding characteristics Stanford University received an ARPA-E award of $2,943,851 as part of the 2012 OPEN competition. The project term was from February 20, 2013, to September 8, 2016. (See Figure D-18.) The technical category for the project is building efficiency.
Technology overview Engineers and architects usually worry about how to insulate so a hot roof does not heat the space below and make the building’s air conditioners work even harder. Now, imagine a roof on a hot sunny day that can cool the building. Scientists claimed they could make a sheet of material that would radiate heat right out to space and actually become colder than outside air temperature while in full sun. In 2013, Professor Shanhui Fan at Stanford University published a paper in Nano Letters, based on research initiated in 2012, showing that it was theoretically possible to engineer a material that, by reflecting white light, could use the universe as a heat sink, radiating heat out to space and actually becoming cooler than the outside air temperature while in full sun, and helping to cool buildings and other objects. Professor Fan used sold state physics modeling to hypothesize the material structure that would work and to compute its radiation qualities. Just before the paper came out in Nano Letters, the ARPA-E 2012 OPEN solicitation was issued, and Fan’s group, with the theoretical work under way, proposed to ARPA-E an empirical demonstration of the physics principle involved. The group did not discuss its ideas with ARPA-E.
The timing happened to be right, and the group submitted its proposal. If the group had not received funding from ARPA-E, it probably would have submitted its proposal elsewhere.
Technology-to-market prospects The ARPA-E funding approval (for a 1-year seed project) came at approximately the same time that the theoretical paper was published. When the paper was published, it generated a great deal of interest. DARPA contacted Professor Fan about funding the project, but the group did not pursue the opportunity since it already had the seed money from ARPA-E, and did not think it could scale up quickly enough to manage additional funds at that stage.
ARPA-E emphasized that what was needed was a demonstration in which cooling could be seen. The ARPA-E T2M team also emphasized that significant cost savings would be necessary to achieve commercial viability. Professor Fan’s milestone for ARPA-E was to demonstrate a 5 oC drop in temperature, and the project team was able to achieve this milestone. Shortly after receiving the ARPA-E funds, the team decided to use a deposition technique instead of a lithographic technique to build the material structure, which made it possible to greatly reduce costs. The team carried out the deposition work with a small company (LGA) in Silicon Valley that specializes in this type of work for research purposes. At the end of the 1-year seed project, the team published a paper in Nature (November 2014 issue) on the thin films the project had achieved, which demonstrated the predicted cooling effect.
As a consequence of this initial success, the team was able to convince ARPA-E to provide another 2 years of funding. Separate from ARPA-E, as a result of the prominence of the work, Carma Sawyer at EERE commissioned Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to perform a cost analysis of the systemic savings possible with the technology, which proved extremely helpful. Professor Fan expects that if the work had not been funded by ARPA-E, another funder, probably DARPA, would have done so. That said, he believes there was excellent alignment between the group’s interests in demonstrating the theoretical work empirically and ARPA-E’s interests, and this alignment was extremely helpful in achieving good outcomes.
Outcomes and ARPA-E’s role As of February 2016, the project team had generated two invention disclosures with ARPA-E and two U.S. nonprovisional patent applications (ARPA-E, 2016e). It also had published four articles:
- Raman, A., M. Anoma, L. Zhu, E. Rephaeli, and S. Fan. 2014. Passive radiative cooling below ambient air temperature under direct sunlight. Nature 515(7528):540-544.
- Zhu, L., A. Raman, and S. Fan. 2013. Color-preserving daytime radiative cooling. Applied Physics Letters 103(22):223902.
- Zhu, L., A. Raman, and S. Fan. 2015. Radiative cooling of solar absorbers using a visibly-transparent photonic crystal thermal blackbody. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112(40):12282-12287.
- Zhu, L., A. Raman, K. Wang, M. Anoma, and S. Fan. 2014. Radiative cooling of solar cells. Optica 1(1):32-38.
Professor Fan met with the program director every 3 months to provide an update on the project. The program director and the team have provided constructive feedback and advice throughout the project.
Committee assessment The radiative cooling technology translates to practice a concept that was widely thought to be impossible. It is not yet clear why the technology will be important as information on preliminary costs and applications appears distant; however, the technology has had the effect of changing all engineering understanding of the limits of practical systems in thermal management. At this stage, it has the potential to be transformational, but it may end up as just a curiosity. The prototypes performed exactly as modeled, and the follow-on research showed significant cost out. However, at its current stage of development, further development, funding, and likely innovative applications will be required for the technology to progress.
The project goals were met as proposed in the initial milestones. While it remains to be seen how impactful the work will be, the project’s demonstration that a surprising (erroneously thought to be impossible) process can be accomplished relatively simply, quickly, and inexpensively offers the potential to change building envelope design and other thermal management applications. No one knows whether the process will become inexpensive enough to cool large numbers of roofs, but the simple fact that it is possible may be useful in higher-value applications.
After this case study was completed, ARPA-E released an innovation update stating that, as noted earlier, the Stanford team is scaling its technology to cool water for use in conventional air conditioners and for direct use in the chilled water loops of office buildings, shopping centers, and warehouses,10 as well as exploring other commercial applications for its technology, including stand-alone systems or use as a complementary component to larger cooling systems. ARPA-E also stated that Stanford’s successful demonstration has led other groups to propose similar approaches to passive, radiative cooling for thermoelectric power plants, including projects in ARPA-E’s Advanced Research In Dry cooling (ARID) program.11
10 See http://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=slick-sheet-project/radiative-coolers-rooftops-and-cars (accessed April 26, 2017).
11 See http://arpa-e.energy.gov/?q=slick-sheet-project/radiative-coolers-rooftops-and-cars (accessed April 26, 2017).