The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, University of Colorado-Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins each will receive a grant from the Department of Energy to pursue research projects that have the potential to produce game-changing breakthroughs in energy technology.

In all, 66 research projects in 24 states were selected to receive a total of $130 million in grants from the department's Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The projects will focus on a wide array of technologies, including advanced fuels, advanced vehicle design and materials, building efficiency, carbon capture, grid modernization, renewable power and energy storage. The projects were selected through a merit-based process from thousands of concept papers and hundreds of applications.

Colorado State University will receive more than $2 million to develop a system to rapidly introduce new genetic traits into crops that cannot be engineered currently. If successful, this technology would widen the variety of plants that could be improved for biofuel production.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden will receive $800,000 to develop a new approach to enhance the efficiency of low-cost plastic solar cells using specially engineered photonic structures to capture a larger part of the solar spectrum. NREL's approach could triple the efficiency of plastic photovoltaics, enabling the adoption of this low-cost, clean and renewable electricity source.

NREL also will receive $890,000 to develop a solar thermal electric generator to directly convert heat from concentrated sunlight to electricity using a new generation of thermoelectric materials that can operate at higher temperatures and efficiencies. The new materials and advanced engineering designs could convert solar heat to electricity at three times the efficiency of current systems.

CU-Boulder will receive $380,000 to use nanotechnology to improve the structure of gas-to-liquids catalysts, increasing surface area and improving heat transfer compared with current catalysts. The new structure of these catalysts would be used to create a small-scale reactor, for converting natural gas to liquid fuels, which could be located at remote sources of gas.