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Please Note that a Letter of Intent is due Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Program Area Overview


The Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) supports fundamental research to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels in order to provide the foundations for new energy technologies and to support DOE missions in energy, environment, and national security. The results of BES-supported research are routinely published in the open literature.

A key function of the program is to plan, construct, and operate premier scientific user facilities for the development of novel nanomaterials and for materials and chemical characterization through x-ray and neutron scattering; the former is accomplished through five Nanoscale Science Research Centers and the latter is accomplished through the world's largest suite of light source and neutron scattering facilities. These national resources are available free of charge to all researchers based on the quality and importance of proposed nonproprietary experiments.

A major objective of the BES program is to promote the transfer of the results of our basic research to advance and create technologies important to Department of Energy (DOE) missions in areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy resources, improved use of fossil fuels, the mitigation of the adverse impacts of energy production and use, and future nuclear energy sources. The following set of technical topics represents one important mechanism by which the BES program augments its system of university and laboratory research programs and integrates basic science, applied research, and development activities within the DOE.

For additional information regarding the Office of Basic Energy Sciences priorities, click here.



Maximum Phase I Award Amount: $150,000

Maximum Phase II Award Amount: $1,000,000

Accepting SBIR Applications: YES

Accepting STTR Applications: YES


Separation technologies recover, isolate, and purify products in virtually every industrial process. Using membranes rather than conventional energy intensive technologies for separations could dramatically reduce energy use and costs in key industrial processes [1]. Separation processes represent 40 to 70 percent of both capital and operating costs in industry. They also account for 45 percent of all the process energy used by the chemical and petroleum refining industries every year. In response, the Department of Energy supports the development of high-risk, innovative membrane separation technologies and related materials. Many barriers must be overcome before membrane technology becomes widely adopted. Technical barriers include fouling, instability, low flux, low separation factors, and poor durability. Advancements are needed that will lead to new generations of organic, inorganic, and ceramic membranes. These membranes require greater thermal and chemical stability, greater reliability, improved fouling and corrosion resistance, and higher selectivity leading to better performance in existing industrial applications, as well as opportunities for new applications. Materials for energy efficiency include both organic and inorganic types. Their applications can be for supporting structures, such as durable sealing materials to increase reliability of hydrogen storage or for electronics substrates. They also include materials that are key to highly pure hydrogen.

Grant applications are sought in the following subtopics:

a.     Atomically Precise Membranes

This subtopic is focused on the advancement of manufacturing processes that are able to produce atomically precise membranes with exceptional selectivity for separations. Atomically precise is defined as: materials, structures, devices, and finished goods produced in a manner such that every atom is at its specified location relative to the other atoms, and in which there are no defects, missing atoms, extra atoms, or incorrect (impurity) atoms. Spiroligomers and engineered proteins are examples of atomically precise structures. Polymers are not; although the individual molecules in a conventional polymer are atomically precise, their relative positions are not atomically precise; therefore, conventional polymers are not considered to be atomically precise. We seek to promote the development of a new class of strong, thin, and atomically precise membrane materials for separations that provide a 10X permeance improvement over state-of-the-art polymer membranes. They would have thicknesses generally below 10 nm for high permeance, incorporate atomically precise molecular pores for 100% selectivity, be atomically flat to prevent fouling, and heavily cross-linked for environmental stability. These membranes offer the potential to provide game-changing process energy advances. From a strategic perspective, the development of gram-scale and kilogram-scale atomically precise manufacturing processes would bring a new capability to produce materials near their theoretical strength limits—more than an order of magnitude beyond that of current state of the art material production methods.


The application space of special interest includes, but is not restricted to, chemical separations, desalination, and gas separations. Atomically precise membranes that have channels for purposes other than molecular, atomic, or ion transport will also be considered. In desalination, a rate increase of 2-3 orders of magnitude over reverse osmosis is projected for a system with not only controlled pore size but also engineered pore edge composition [1]. In principle, a series of membranes of sufficient selectivity could separate air into its raw components of N2, O2, Ar, CO2, Ne, He, etc. for significant energy savings in a wide range of cryogenic, chemical, and combustion processes [2, 3] and for greenhouse gas reduction.


We seek grant applications to advance scalable technologies that provide order-of-magnitude increments over the performance of current industrial membrane applications. The focus of the proposal must be on methods to produce atomically precise membranes for near 100% selectivity; or in the case of transport that is non-molecular in nature, 2X improvement or better in transport property metric over the comparative state-of-the-art. Consideration must be given to addressing the issues of fouling, stability, scalability, and cost. The choice of membrane material should be appropriate to the target separation or transport in a commercial setting. Target separations with high energy impact are preferred, that result in a minimum of 50% energy savings over competitive state of the art materials. Paper or computation-only studies do not qualify for this subtopic. We require the synthesis and testing of candidate materials. This can include the demonstration of overcoming a key technical barrier to synthesis or scale up. The proposal should include a plan for experimental measurements and supporting calculations to show that costcompetitive energy savings can be achieved with practical economies of scale. The proposal should provide a path to scale up in potential Phase II follow on work.


Questions – contact: David Forrest,


b.     Wide Bandgap Semiconductors

Gallium Nitride (GaN) wafers of 30-60 micrometers thickness and of various dopant compositions are used in a wide variety of applications, such as the amplifier in power electronics and as the light amplifier in “white” light LEDs and UV lasers (eliminating the need for sum-frequency conversion). The GaN wafers are difficult to prepare, however, as it is difficult to prepare bulk GaN crystals and obtain wafers, and it is difficult to grow GaN wafers directly. A near commercial process developed in China applies a chemical vapor deposited layer of GaN to a sapphire or gallium arsenide substrate and physically removes the GaN wafer from the substrate. The process is difficult and time consuming, and the resulting GaN wafers require chemical and mechanical polishing for epitaxially-ready GaN wafers. This subtopic solicits new methods of GaN wafer production that will translate to a high production commercial wafer process. The innovation in production process is expected to produce GaN wafers that require minimal chemical and mechanical polishing for epitaxially-ready GaN wafers for incorporation in a device. Small businesses are encouraged to collaborate with industry, including manufacturers, suppliers, and end users, to commercialize successful new technology.


Questions – contact: Brian Valentine,


c.     Innovative Approaches Toward Discovery and Development of Novel, Durable Supports for LowPlatinum Group Metal (PGM) Catalysts for Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Fuel Cells

Catalyst support composition and structure changes are known to affect electrode performance and durability. This subtopic seeks approaches that address support performance and chemical and structural stability by development of novel carbon-based or non-carbon support compositions and/or structures. The focus of this subtopic is novel catalyst support research with the potential to improve catalyst performance and durability, especially under transient operating conditions, while decreasing cost. DOE is specifically seeking research and development (R&D) on novel supports for low-PGM catalysts.


Concepts should possess appropriate properties such as high surface area, high protonic/electronic conductivities, and facile reactant/product transport. Catalyst deposition and stable anchoring of the catalyst on the support should be discussed. Possible effects of the support on the catalytic activity through modified dispersion or through catalyst-support interactions should be described. Applicants should clearly state the status of their current catalyst support technology as it relates to the state-of-theart and provide sufficient justification that the approach has the potential to meet or exceed relevant DOE targets, including performance at high power density in air, durability, and cost [1].


The work plan should include a discussion of the catalytic activity testing required to show viability, including rotating disk electrode (RDE) and membrane electrode assembly (MEA) testing, and should demonstrate a pathway toward scientific advancement, which may include development of a better understanding of the catalyst-support interaction, and structural degradation, leading to novel strategies to extend electrode durability.


Questions – contact: Bahman Habibzadeh,, or Donna Ho,


d.     Metal Hydride Materials for Compression

Reversible metal hydride materials have great potential to improve the reliability of compressors at hydrogen refueling stations at reasonable cost, but are challenged by efficiency. To achieve the pressures of interest at refueling stations (875 bar), metal hydrides typically require heating well above 100°C as well as substantial cooling to temperatures ranging from 20 to -10°C. Few materials are capable of such pressures, and many are significantly impacted by hysteresis effects that diminish their performance over time. Even at pressures below 200 bar, the efficiency of metal hydride compression is significantly lower than that of mechanical compression.


Research is needed in the discovery of new metal hydride materials for high-pressure compression. Combinatorial approaches to materials discovery have been extremely productive in the study of metal hydrides for hydrogen storage applications. Such approaches have included molecular modeling with new force fields, high throughput synthesis apparatuses, and novel high throughput screening techniques with conventional tools. Phase I proposals are sought to develop a technique that will enable high throughput discovery of metal hydrides for high-pressure hydrogen compression. This includes both high throughput combinatorial synthesis and high throughput characterization. High throughput characterization techniques designed in Phase I should be capable of predicting or evaluating materials’ pressurecomposition-temperature (PCT) curves, and support the development of predictive models. Combinatorial synthesis techniques should target a material class with previously demonstrated potential. Follow on Phase II funding would involve the use of the Phase I tool to screen and down select materials of interest, along with the synthesis and experimental characterization of down-selected materials. Materials of 46 interest are those capable of 875 bar discharge, scale-up to at least 10 kg-H2/day, and cycle lives of at least 100,000 cycles. The suction pressure can be defined by the applicant based on the integration of the metal hydride with the station. If the metal hydride is the sole compressor, it should be capable of receiving a suction pressure of 100 bar. If the metal hydride is a follow-on stage to a mechanical stage of compression, the applicant should describe the inlet temperature and pressure for which the hydride material is being designed.


Questions – contact: Neha Rustagi,


e.     Other

In addition to the specific subtopic listed above, the Department invites grant applications in other areas that fall within the scope of the topic description above.


Questions – contact: Tina Kaarsberg,

References: Subtopic a:

  1. Cohen-Tanugi, D., and Grossman, J.C., 2015, Nanoporous Graphene as a Reverse Osmosis Membrane: Recent Insights from Theory and Simulation, Desalination, Vol. 366, p. 59-70. (
  2. Assanis, et al., 2000, Study of Using Oxygen-Enriched Combustion Air for Locomotive Diesel Engines, Journal of Engineering for Gas Turbines Power, Vol. 123, Issue 1, p. 157-166. (
  3. Kurunov, I.E., and Beresneva, M.P., 1999, Effect of Enriching the Blast with Oxygen on the Production Cost of Pig Iron, Metallurgist, Vol. 43, Issue 5, p. 217-220. (

References: Subtopic c: 

  1. .S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 2012, Technical Plan – Fuel Cells, Multi-Year Research, Development and Demonstration Plan, p. 49 (

References: Subtopic d: 

  1. Lototskyy, M.V., et. al., 2014, Metal Hydride Hydrogen Compressors: A Review, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Vol. 39, Issue 11, p. 5818-5851. (
  2. Klebanoff, L., and Keller, J., 2012, Final Report for the DOE Metal Hydride Center of Excellence, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico, SAND2012-0786. (


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