Last month, ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar announced 60 cutting-edge research projects across five programs. All told, the projects are worth $156 million and aim to dramatically improve how the U.S. uses and produces energy. The five new programs each take a unique yet promising approach to supporting “out-of-the-box” transformational energy research.

The five programs—PETRO, REACT, HEATS, GENI and Solar ADEPT—represent cutting-edge projects that range from pine trees turned into biofuel, to the creation of an energy equivalent of an internet router that will improve the electric grid. For more information about all of the projects, read the official FOA 4 technical descriptions.

Read the summaries of each new program below:

  • The Plants Engineered to Replace Oil (PETRO) program will develop farm-ready crops (like tobacco and pine trees) that are more energy-efficient and require less processing to convert into fuel. The PETRO program hopes to cut the current cost of domestic biofuels in half -- making them cost-competitive with fuels from oil.
  • To help reduce the United State’s dependence on rare earth materials, ARPA-E is launching the Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies (REACT) program. Rising rare earth prices have already escalated costs for some energy technologies, and may jeopardize the future of many critical energy solutions by U.S. manufacturers (take a look at DOE’s Critical Materials Strategy to learn more about rare earths). The projects in this program will focus on developing substitutes for electric vehicle motors and wind generators.
  • The High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage (HEATS) program will develop revolutionary cost-effective thermal energy storage technologies that will make the transport and conversion of thermal energy more efficient. As an example, scientists at MIT are developing a heat battery that will capture and store solar energy that can be released onto the grid at a later time. If successful, this heat battery could have an unprecedented impact on efforts to decrease fossil fuel consumption and emissions -- and enable solar energy to be accessible 24 hours a day.
  • ARPA-E is launching the Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) to develop new technologies that will reliably control the electric grid network. Specifically, cost-optimizing controls will help manage sporadically available renewable sources (like wind and solar) alongside coal and nuclear. This resilient power flow control hardware will be the energy equivalent of an internet router, and will enable automated, real-time control of grid components. If successful, these technologies will enable utilities and operators to control the flow of power – and make the grid more secure, resilient, reliable and potentially save billions of dollars every year.
  • Finally, the Solar ADEPT program (short for Solar Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology) aims to reduce the total cost of utility-scale solar systems by 75 percent by the end of the decade. As part of the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, the goal of this program is to help make the U.S. globally competitive in solar technology. Solar ADEPT focuses on integrating advanced power electronics into solar panels and solar farms that will extract and deliver energy more efficiently. This program could reduce power conversion costs by up to 50 percent for utilities and 80 percent for homeowners.

If successful, these research projects will represent significant steps in making new clean energy technologies viable and marketable. “These innovative projects are at the forefront of a new technological frontier that plays a critical role in our future energy security and economic growth," said ARPA-E Director Majumdar. “It is now more important than ever to invest in game-changing ideas that will build the technological infrastructure for a new, clean energy economy.”