Argonne National Laboratory received a $2 million federal grant to help develop hybrid fuel cells as part of a move to diversify away from traditional electricity-generating power plants and better incorporate renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar.

While that amount of money alone won't allow America to achieve energy independence, as one local congressman seemed to suggest, it does represent an exciting area of research, said Ted Krause, a chemical engineer at the southwest suburban facility who will head the new project.

"It's a new idea that builds on a number of concepts that Argonne has been working on," Krause said. "We are really excited about the idea."

The latest grant was part of $33 million doled out this week for 13 new projects aimed at developing fuel-cell technologies. It came from an agency within the Department of Energy called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which attempts to invest in "disruptive ideas" and technologies too early for private-sector investment.

Argonne's two-year project will explore the use of fuel cells to create liquid fuels, such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, Krause said.

A news release Friday from Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., who said he helped secure the money, said the technology can "help America reach energy independence." Lipinski is a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Krause said that might be a bit of "hyperbole." The $2 million amounts to just 0.3 percent of last year's $722 million budget at Argonne. However, it's a medium-sized grant for the research facility, Krause said.

Especially for renewable sources of power, generation doesn't always match up with demand, Krause said. For example, wind generation might be highest at night while demand for electricity is highest during the day.

"How can you recover that in a way that you could use later?" Krause said. "People are working on batteries. This is just focused on converting it to a liquid fuel, which can be looked at as an energy storage source. ... The point is, you're storing energy.

"It's sort of a new paradigm for how to use a fuel cell."

The project is a collaborative effort between Argonne and the Illinois Institute of Technology, Krause said.

"Distributed generation technologies like these could fundamentally change the way America generates and stores energy," ARPA-E Acting Director Cheryl Martin said in announcing the grants.