Catalyzing Energy Breakthroughs for a Secure American Future is the topic for the Tuesday keynote address at the Energy Challenges 2012: The Next 50 Years Conference.
Arun Majumdar, acting undersecretary for energy and director, U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), said we cannot leave the energy legacy for the future. Our country and public land grant universities must play a leadership role in shaping the domestic and global energy landscape.
Majumdar explained what the role of ARPA-E is in energy innovation. The agency has a portfolio of energy ideas and potential game changers.
"We are hungry for innovation," he said. As innovations are introduced and scaled by industry, the agency moves ahead looking for the next energy discovery.
Some of the areas where ARPA-E sees real potential include:
Plants engineered to produce oil-Corn and sugarcane were not developed to produce oil. Several concepts are being developed that have real potential for oil production.
Electrofuels-Photosynthesis is inefficient in creating fuel. Progress is being made in creating biofuels without the use of the sun.
Natural gas transportation-The use of natural gas for transportation is already being developed in the long-haul trucking industry. To develop a passenger car that is fueled by natural gas would require a significant investment in creating filling stations. Gas-heated houses, however, make up, 60 percent of our housing stock. Breakthroughs in retrofitting homes to allow gas-fueled cars to gas up at home could be a game changer.
Rare earth alternatives-Research is being done at Case Western University and other universities on creation of magnets that do not use rare earth materials. This would allow an expanded use of magnets in energy production which Majumdar said would be a great breakthrough.
Carbon capturing in coal burning-The ability to capture carbon when burning coal and turning it into oil has tremendous potential. Carbon capturing is very expensive and new technologies in bringing that cost down are needed.
Power electronics-The average age of a transformer is 42 years and it weighs 8000 pounds. Innovations in silicon carbide have the potential to reduce transformers to 100 pounds.
He said many called the century from 1900 to 2000 the American century due to the research and development of many technological advancements involving such areas as space, the internet and aviation.
"In 1912 many would not have guessed what the rest of the 20th century held for America. I asked do we know what the future hold for the rest of this century? With this innovation potential there is reason to believe this will also be the American century," said Majumdar.