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UMBC research park company awarded Energy Department grant

A company based in bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park is one of only 66 in the entire country selected by the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to receive a total of $130 million in funding through its "OPEN 2012" program.

Plant Sensory Systems will receive $1.8 million to produce an enhanced energy beet, optimized for biofuel production, according to a release from the Energy Department.

These beets will be engineered to use fertilizer and water more efficiently and produce higher levels of fermentable sugars than most existing crops.

If successful, the new crop would have a lower cost of production and increased yield of biofuels without competing against food-grade sugar.

The only other company in Maryland to receive funding through the OPEN 2012 program to develop energy technology solutions was Vorbeck Materials.

The Jessup company will receive $1.5 million to develop a low-cost, fast-charging storage battery for hybrid vehicles. The battery cells are based on lithium-sulfur chemistries, which have a greater energy density compared to today's lithium-ion batteries.

If successful, the system has the potential to capture more breaking energy, increasing the efficiency of hybrid vehicles by up to 20% while also reducing cost and emissions.

Plant Sensory Systems' mission is to develop technologies that will improve agricultural performance and alleviate negative environmental impact.

Founded in 2007, its revenue has doubled annually, according to the company's website.

The company is led by Kathleen Turano, president, and Frank Turano, chief research officer.

ARPA-E seeks out transformational, breakthrough technologies that show fundamental technical promise but are too early for private-sector investment. These projects have the potential to produce breakthroughs in energy technology, form the foundation for new industries and generate large commercial impacts.

The selected projects in 24 states will focus on technologies such as:

• advanced fuels

• advanced vehicle design and materials

• building efficiency

• carbon capture

• grid modernization

• renewable power

• energy storage.

ARPA-E's total portfolio of projects comprises 285 projects for a total of approximately $770 million in awards.

Previously selected projects have already made major progress. They include:

• the world's first 400 Wh/kg lithium-ion battery, which could revolutionize the electric vehicle industry;

• a wind turbine, inspired by the design of jet engines, that could deliver 300% more power than existing turbines of the same size and cost;

• a laser drilling system that can penetrate hard rock formations over long distances and is 10 times more economical than conventional drilling technologies.

ARPA-E's first funding opportunity was issued three years ago.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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