Fayetteville energy sector shines brighter

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 144 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — The U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy, Daniel Poneman, presented a local company with a $150,000 grant for innovative energy research on Wednesday, May 23, as he visited the Arkansas Research and Technology Park in Fayetteville.

Arkansas Power Electronics International (APEI) in Fayetteville develops state-of-the-art technology in power storage systems for electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies.

Deputy Secretary Poneman toured the facility and looked at a battery charger that's smaller and lighter weight, designed for a Toyota Prius.

The attention to this Fayetteville small business comes during National Small Business Week as the Obama administration focuses on small business growth. Grants are being given in 22 states totaling $11 million with award totals up to $150,000 per company.

"This is about talking to innovators, consumers and utilities and finding solutions. It's not about one piece but an integrated approach to supply and demand," Poneman said.

More than 65 small businesses who were selected to receive grants will work on 75 innovative research projects ranging from designing better wind turbines to fuel cell technology to coal energy analysis.

These small businesses and grant recipients are located in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

"I think it is widely acknowledged Arkansas is a leader in tackling these challenges," said Poneman.

One of the people trying to solve energy problems is Ty McNutt, Ph.D. He works on the battery charger for the Prius.

"It's a 3-year program and a year and a half to get it demonstrated into the Prius," McNutt said.

It would be another two to three years after that for the integration into the vehicle and get the charger to pass Toyota's manufacturing line qualifications, he said.

More than $6 million dollars has been promised to see the battery charger make the assembly line in Michigan. It would be a coup for Fayetteville but also for the eight people working on the project. Their skills include: circuit design, mechanical engineering,  manufacturing and  asset management.

"We're the prime recipient of this grant and we have partners in North Carolina and Toyota in Michigan," McNutt said.

APEI had to submit to rigorous standards to receive the grant.

"It was a competitive process, peer reviews, the topics had to be diverse. We had bio, geothermal, nuclear and applicants had to be reviewed by experts," Poneman said.

The Deputy Secretary said if programs like this continue it could mean 100,000 jobs created. The Production Tax Credit (PTC) is set to expire at the end of this year. It is a federal law which provides an income tax credit for 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for the production of electricity from utility-scale turbines. The incentive was created under the Energy Policy Act of 1992.

"If the production tax credit is allowed to expire we are looking at a loss of jobs of 30,000," said Poneman.

He said small businesses play a critical role in creating jobs and expanding the country's clean energy economy.

"These businesses are helping to reduce our dependence on imported oil and protect our air and water, while ensuring that the United States leads in the global clean energy race," Poneman said to a small group who attended the presentation and tour.