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The U.S. Department of Energy said today it will grant up to $130 million to renewable energy projects that can’t find funding from private investors.

The projects the DOE plans to fund are riskier than their solar and wind power counterparts, focusing on the research and development of technologies that are not yet commercially viable.

The funding will come from the Advanced Research Programs Agency — Energy (ARPA-E). President Barack Obama created the agency in 2009 as part of the stimulus package. The agency has so far received $363 million in federal funding, with an additional $650 million requested by the President in his budget proposal for next fiscal year.

So far, six projects funded by ARPA-E have received around $100 million in funding from private investors.

Here’s a list of the types of projects that are eligible for funding:

1. Plants Engineered to Replace Oil (PETRO, $30 million) These projects focus on genetically engineering plants to be more efficient at capturing sunlight and producing energy to drive down the cost of biofuel.

2. High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage (HEATS, $30 million) Projects that develop new techniques to store thermal energy from sunlight and other sources and transfer it across large distances are eligible under this category.

3. Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies (REACT, $30 million) This type of research aims to eliminate reliance on rare-earth metals for electric vehicles and wind turbines. Prices for rare-earth materials that are found in electric motors and wind turbines have increased between 300 and 700 percent in the past year.

4. Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI, $30 million) These projects focus on developing smart grid technology that efficiently distributes electricity produced from wind and solar power.

5. Solar Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (Solar ADEPT, $10 million) This category covers research on reducing power conversion costs and increasing energy efficiency for solar power, specifically companies that develop semiconductor switches and solar energy storage.

[Photo: jurvetson]

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