U.S. Department of Energy Awards $18 Million for Cutting-Edge Technologies to Optimize Vehicle Performance and Efficiency

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced $18 million in funding for four cutting-edge projects that will help passenger vehicles operate more efficiently, reduce energy consumption, and contribute to the Biden Administration’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This funding is part of Phase II of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Next-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles (NEXTCAR) program.

“The same nifty features that are making cars easier to drive can also make them way more efficient, use less gas, and save drivers money at the pump,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These technologies are a win-win for drivers, and they’re also going to lead to more jobs, a cleaner transportation sector, and rapid progress towards our carbon-free future.”

Launched in 2016, ARPA-E’s NEXTCAR program focuses on reducing vehicle energy consumption by developing Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) technologies that optimize vehicle dynamic controls and powertrain operation, allowing a vehicle to automatically process and react to its surrounding environment, traffic conditions and nearby vehicles. Current CAV technologies predominantly focus on the improvement of vehicle safety and adding driving convenience, while NEXTCAR is among the first of research efforts in this space to specifically focus on developing CAV technologies to reduce vehicle energy use.  

Phase I of NEXTCAR focused on the development of CAV technologies for use in all vehicle classes, including cars, trucks, and buses, with the goal of enabling a 20% reduction in energy consumption. The teams moving on to Phase II of NEXTCAR are building on these goals with a specific focus on light-duty passenger vehicles, a 30% reduction in energy consumption, and taking vehicles to Level 4 of automation, where a vehicle is able to perform all driving operations on its own with optional human override.

“Michigan workers, manufacturers and universities are the best in the world and continue to lead the development of next generation vehicles. Michigan Tech is one of those institutions leading the way in creating longer range electric and autonomous vehicles, improving safety and making our cars more energy efficient. This investment will ensure Michigan remains a global leader,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow.

The four teams selected to receive $18 million in funding through Phase II of NEXTCAR are:

  • The University of California Berkeley (Berkeley, CA): UC Berkeley will adapt and expand their eco-route, eco-drive, and eco-charge controls to leverage connectivity and Level 4 automation to generate additional efficiency benefits in electrified vehicles. Award amount is $3,474,864.
  • Michigan Technical University (Houghton, MI): MTU will expand its set of test vehicles, leveraging connectivity and Level 4 automation technologies to identify additional opportunities for efficiency and range optimization. Award amount is $4,498,650.
  • Ohio State University (Columbus, OH): OSU will integrate advanced system-level optimization and control technologies for a PHEV with Level 4 automation; working to improve energy efficiency by more than 30%. Award amount is $4,933,933.
  • Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, TX): SwRI will adapt and expand its predictive eco-routing, eco-driving, and hybrid power control strategies using vehicles with L4 automation. Award amount is $5,250,000.

Light-duty vehicles, like those targeted through NEXTCAR Phase II, are responsible for almost 60% of overall energy consumption in all vehicles across the transportation sector. CAV technologies can increase vehicle efficiency, which in turn can drastically reduce emissions across the transportation sector, leading to a more efficient domestic vehicle fleet and further reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

“NEXTCAR Phase I teams successfully demonstrated that technological advancements in connectivity for automated vehicles can greatly improve the efficiency of our transportation sector.” said ARPA-E Acting Director and Deputy Director for Technology Jennifer Gerbi. “We are eager to see how these Phase II teams can continue this crucial work in designing the efficient vehicle fleet of the future.”

Ten teams were originally selected under NEXTCAR Phase I to receive $32 million in funding. In addition to the $18 million being provided to the four teams from Phase II at this time, additional funding will be provided at a later date for program-wide demonstration and testing activities.

Access more information about the Phase II teams and get more details about the NEXTCAR program.

He’s one in a million: Rare yellow cardinal has taken a liking to backyard bird feeders in Rushville, Illinois

Read the full story in the Chicago Tribune.

Yellow cardinals have been spotted in Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio and Florida in recent years. And now, according to Auburn University biological sciences professor Geoffrey Hill, who reviewed photos of the Currys’ cardinal at the request of the Tribune, Illinois has a yellow cardinal of its own.

5 Inspiring Examples of Zero Waste Gardening

Read the full post at Treehugger.

These case studies show how clever reuse and upcycling can lead to significantly reduced waste.

Graphene could be used to recover gold, silver from tailings

Read the full story from Mining.com.

Sparc Technologies (ASX: SPN) announced that the results of its test work on the recovery of gold and silver in solution demonstrate that Sparc graphene-enhanced adsorption material substantially outperforms commercially available adsorbents.

In a press release, Sparc said these results represent a key milestone in the application of its graphene technology in tailings treatment. 

New evidence shows fertile soil gone from Midwestern farms

Read the full story from Minnesota Public Radio.

Farming has destroyed a lot of the rich soil of America’s Midwestern prairie. A team of scientists just came up with a staggering new estimate for just how much has disappeared.

The most fertile topsoil is entirely gone from a third of all the land devoted to growing crops across the upper Midwest, the scientists say. Some of their colleagues, however, remain skeptical about the methods that produced this result.

The new study emerged from a simple observation, one that people flying over Midwestern farms can confirm for themselves. The color of bare soil varies, and that variation is related to soil quality.

The Carbon Emissions Impact of Demand Flexibility

Download the document.

Traditionally, a building acts as a relatively unsophisticated consumer of power from the electrical grid, paying a particular price for the electricity it uses (kWh) and a charge for its peak power (kW). A building consumes energy whenever needed, without regard to potential generation costs or emissions.

Emerging demand flexibility strategies enable buildings to manage their electric demand to provide grid services. Grid services could include capacity reduction (similar to demand response efforts), avoiding renewable curtailment, avoiding high-cost generation resources, or reducing emissions.

Laws setting building performance targets exist across the country, but Local Law 97 (LL97) in New York City is notable because it defines performance expectations based on carbon emissions.

This report provides context for the potential impact of using time-of-use emission factors to reduce emissions associated with electricity use in buildings. It evaluates the technical potential of optimally deployed demand flexibility in an office building and a multi-family building. The results of our analysis isolate the potential emissions savings provided by demand flexibility.

Soil health pays off

Read the full story at the Capital Press.

A walk around McIntyre Family Farms reveals a different kind of operation than it was 12 years ago.

Back then, the farm produced 3,500 acres of alfalfa forage and corn, wheat and beans.

Then in 2009, the McIntyres started down a different path, one following regenerative, nature-mimicking practices and focusing on soil health.

In 2013, they added cattle and free-range laying hens, followed by pigs, turkeys, meat chickens and ducks.

Brad McIntyre, 38, says the previous iteration of his family’s farm, which also does business as McIntyre Pastures, focused too much on yield, and the soil suffered because of it.

Walmart pushes zero waste efforts with ‘bagless’ pilot

Read the full story at Grocery Dive.

In an effort to cut back on the use of disposable plastic bags, Walmart has started a “bagless” pilot in Vermont, according to a blog post on Monday from the retailer.

The pilot started Feb. 15, and Walmart stores in the state are now asking customers to bring their own reusable bags or containers, according to several local media reports. The outcome of the pilot will help guide the company’s future bagless efforts, wrote Jane Ewing, senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart.

The Mexican and Central American Walmart division is also going bagless, and more than 72% of the retailer’s stores in Mexico have already stopped providing plastic bags, Ewing wrote. The bagless efforts come at a time when Walmart and other retailers are continuing to ramp up their sustainability initiatives. 

The Social Cost of Carbon, Risk, Distribution, Market Failures: An Alternative Approach

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Designing policy for climate change requires analyses which integrate the interrelationship
between the economy and environment, including: the immense risks and impacts on distribution across and within generations; the many failures, limitations or absences of key markets; and the limitations on government, both in offsetting these failures and distributional impacts. Much of the standard economic modelling, including Integrated Assessment Models, does not embody key aspects of these essentials. We identify fundamental flaws in both the descriptive and normative methodologies commonly used to assess climate policy, showing systematic biases, with costs of climate action overestimated and benefits underestimated. We provide an alternative methodology by which the social cost of carbon may be calculated, one which embraces the essential elements we have identified.

3M commits to achieving carbon neutrality, reducing water use, and improving water quality

Read the company press release.

3M today announced it expects to invest approximately $1 billion over the next 20 years to accelerate new environmental goals: achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, reduce water use by 25% at its facilities, and return higher quality water to the environment after use in manufacturing operations.