Ten Cool Technologies at ARPA-E

During this week’s annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, Acting Director Cheryl Martin sketched a glimpse of what the future of energy may look like. Which ideas was she most excited about? She offered ten example ARPA-E projects, at various stages of development, that could make an impact in transitioning to an alternative energy future.


  1. Foro Energy – uses high power lasers for energy drilling applications. For you physics geeks out there, their lasers can deliver a power density of 7 MW/cm2 using fibers that are several kilometers long. This is roughly the power of ten thousand million (1010) laser pointers. Forget about shooting your eye out, these will vaporize almost any material.
  2. Sunfolding – a spin-out of San Francisco based Otherlab, Sunfolding wants to make solar trackers simple and cheap. They are able to achieve 50% cost reduction by using air power instead of motors, and plastic in place of metal.
  3. Fluidic – provides an energy storage solution based on a high cycle-life zinc-air battery.
  4. A USC/Harvard team – uses quinone chemisty to develop an energy storage solution that would have tremendous potential for providing better grid-scale storage.
  5. ORNL – is building a magnetic amplifier for power flow control. (bonus: magnets are awesome!)
  6. UCLA- re-engineered photosynthetic cycle – fixes carbon more efficiently, with applications in biofuels, chemical, or food production. In this area, even 10% more productivity at the molecular level would make a huge impact.
  7. Ford/Arbin – have partnered to put together a high-precision battery testing system. This is not an ordinary testing system: it allows engineers to test real vehicle systems with real power loads, to better simulate an actual driving environment. This lets them see minor trends that contribute to battery degradation, and could lead to longer-lasting high-performance battery packs for EVs.
  8. CU Boulder – is developing an ionic liquid membrane to take CO2 out of a flue gas stream (from a coal plant, from example) at twice the rate of current systems. This would completely change what we think is possible about carbon capture.
  9. Energy Storage Systems – is putting together an all-iron flow battery system to overcome current Li-ion chemistry limitations. They are successfully emerging from ARPA-E’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and about to close a series A financing.
  10. And the final highlight? In total, 34 companies have raised over $800M in follow-on funding. This is quite impressive given that ARPA-E awardees are truly pushing the boundaries of what is technologically possible.