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US DOE To Fund Sodium-Ion Battery and Methane-Detection Development

The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced $24 million in funding for two projects as part of the first stage for its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Seeding Critical Advances for Leading Energy technologies with Untapped Potential (SCALEUP) program. The SCALEUP Fast-Track teams of Natron Energy and Bridger Photonics will receive $19 million and $5 million, respectively, to help commercialize their efforts in sodium-ion battery development and methane-detection technologies.

The SCALEUP initiative builds on ARPA-E’s research and focus, taking high-risk and potentially disruptive new technologies through the pre-pilot and market stage leading to commercialization.

The Natron Project

California-based Natron Energy’s project for domestic manufacturing of sodium-ion batteries aims to scale up production of its Prussian blue electrode batteries by thirty-fold  to 18,000 trays/year, and de-risk its supply chain and production through continuous production and sales for 6 months. It will also position its batteries for emerging applications such as electric vehicle fast charging and dispatchable storage for grid power.

Its primary product is an 8-kW, 50-volt battery tray for use in data centers to manage peak compute load and provide critical backup power. The tray provides data center operators with twice as much power density and a tenfold longer cycle life than existing products.

To build the supply chain, Natron and its partners will adapt industry-standard chemicals synthesis and battery-manufacturing equipment and processes to produce its cells and battery systems for data center applications.

The Bridger Photonics Project

Montana-based Bridger’s technology scans oil and gas infrastructures to detect and quantify leak magnitude using an aerial platform, which eliminates the need for costly conventional ground-crew site visits. The company plans to scale and expand its Gas Mapping LiDAR (GML) operations with a four-step process that includes:

  1. Automate job planning, data processing and management tools
  2.  Finalizing second-generation hardware designs with improved sensitivity and accuracy and scale manufacturing
  3. Advance its predictive algorithm capabilities
  4.  Integrate into customer operations

Both Fast-Track teams applied under the initial solicitation at their choice and justified their need for funding need in order to receive it at an accelerated pace relative to the full program timeline.

“Many ARPA-E funded projects show immense technical promise, but at the end of their funding cycle are met with the difficult challenge of overcoming the dreaded ‘valley of death’ in securing further funding,” said ARPA-E Director Lane Genatowski. “These two selections directly address this need and provide a mix of government and private resources to bring previously funded ARPA-E technologies out of the lab and into the market.”

The Fast-Track was developed in response to disruptions in the investor and R&D financing communities caused by COVID-19 and capital concerns on the part of several SCALEUP applicants. DOE said teams not selected for the Fast-Track option are still eligible and under consideration for funding under the full SCALEUP program, which anticipates selections in January 2021.

Since its creation in 2007, ARPA-E has received approximately $2.2 trillion in appropriated funding, which has gone to help fund projects and research for areas in fusion energy, net zero carbon, natural gas, nuclear reactors, and methane emissions.

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