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Re-engineering Nature – Hot Topic at ARPA-E Conference


Plants_in_SunlightThe Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, began its three day conference in Washington, DC on Monday. Attendees included the best and brightest from across the US who proposed lots of innovative ideas. To date, the agency has spent $770 million on 285 cutting edge projects

ARPA-E is the Energy Department’s Pentagon-like arm of the Defense Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. DARPA is one of the first Internet pioneers and still finances high-tech ideas in their early R&D. The “cast a wide enough net” approach results in a handful of successful and cutting edge project; ARPA-E tries to do the same in energy.

Some of the ideas discussed at the conference included finding a high-efficiency, inexpensive way to turn surplus natural gas into liquid fuel for cars and trucks, and identifying other materials to burn instead of hydrocarbons in the attempt to eliminate the release of carbon dioxide.

Other ideas include the re-engineering of plants to get their leaves to reflect instead of absorb light. Changing the reflectivity would help in the quest to lower greenhouse gas. This technology would be sparing on water and may demonstrate a way to grow crops with little water or rainfall.

Experts believe that crops will absorb light in the visible spectrum while reflecting some of the infrared and ultraviolet light. Plants have an efficiency up to 6% and regulate their temperature by giving off water, which cools as it evaporates.

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