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ARPA-E funds fuel-making microbes, batteries, carbon capture

ARPA-E, the Department of Energy agency created to research clean-energy breakthroughs, puts an additional $106 million into 37 commercial and academic ventures.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy on Thursday announced $106 million in funding for 37 research projects aimed at energy breakthroughs.

The projects, to be done by university and corporate researchers, are in "electrofuels," or making liquid fuels from electricity; improved auto batteries; and materials for capturing carbon dioxide. It's the second round of awards given out by ARPA-E, a U.S. Department of Energy agency created to pursue high-risk, high-reward clean-energy technologies.

The electrofuels projects were awarded primarily to university groups, with many focusing on engineering microorganisms to create liquid fuels, such as butanol or other biofuels. The goal is to design these microbes so that they can be "fed" from renewable sources, such as electricity from a solar panel or carbon dioxide.

The battery research grants, which tend more toward early-stage companies, were awarded to pursue alternative battery chemistries and low-cost manufacturing techniques.

For example, start-up Planar Energy Devices received over $4 million to pursue its solid-state battery, which can be manufactured with a roll-to-roll production process. Among the others are ReVolt Technologies which received over $5 million to continue development of a zinc-based flow battery, and PolyPlus Battery, which is working with Dow Corning to design lithium air batteries for vehicles.

The third category is aimed at finding materials, such as membrane and catalysts, for capturing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

ARPA-E was funded for the first time last year with a budget of $400 million, but it has not yet been funded for a second year. Perhaps because it has a lofty mission of reinventing energy through technology, it has captured the attention of many entrepreneurs and scientists.