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Equinox Quorum Member Wins $600,000 ARPA-E Grant

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dr. Alán Aspuru-Guzik and his team of chemists and engineers at Harvard University were recently awarded a $600,000 grant to further the development of flow batteries from the US Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E).

In June 2011, Alán contributed his expertise as a quorum member of the  Energy 2030 Summit, where flow batteries were identified as promising contenders for enabling the integration of wind and solar power generation.

As distributed forms of low-carbon generation, wind and solar power are necessary elements of a more intelligent electricity grid. However, they present several challenges due to their intermittent, variable, jagged and geographically dispersed characteristics. The sun doesn’t always shine and wind doesn’t always blow. Thus, some combination of back-up generators are typically required, often from coal and natural gas, to accommodate their integration.

As part of a low-carbon electricity ecosystem proposed from the Equinox Summit: Energy 2030, large-scale storage emerged as an opportunity that could better enable the benefits of these renewables. Among various energy storage technologies, participants identified flow batteries as potential technological solutions.

Flow batteries work by storing energy as charged ions in two separate tanks of solutions. This makes recharging relatively easy – like refilling a fuel tank – as fluid solutions can just be replaced. Their high energy to power ratio also makes it suitable for electric power utility application.

"Based on our group's prior experience in the Clean Energy Project with high-throughput screening of potential molecules for organic solar cells, we will be applying our methods to identify optimal candidate molecules for the battery", says the Aspuru-Guzik group.

More details on Alán's new exciting project can be found here. For more information on ARPA-E, please visit the agency's website at


Photo 1: Alán Aspuru-Guzik [credit: Waterloo Global Science Initiative]