Almost $1.8B in US Funding to Support Energy Research; ARPA-E and Energy Frontier Research Centers
29 April 2009
In a speech before the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, in which he called for the US to surpass its record investment in research and development—set in 1964 at the height of the space race—with an R&D funding commitment to exceed 3% of GDP, President Barack Obama announced the launch of the $400 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
In addition, the Department of Energy announced $777 million in grants to establish 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers.
ARPA-E is a new Department of Energy organization modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The recommendation to create ARPA-E came from a report of the National Academy of Sciences entitled Rising Above The Gathering Storm, and funding for ARPA-E was included in the Recovery Act.
ARPA-E will award grants to recipients that enhance the economic and energy security of the United States through the development of breakthrough energy technologies; reduce the need for consumption of foreign oil; reduce energy-related emissions, including greenhouse gases; improve the energy efficiency of all economic sectors; and ensure that the United States maintains a technological lead in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies.
ARPA-E has issued an initial solicitation that focuses on applicants with a well-formed R&D plan for a transformational concept or new technology that can make a significant contribution towards attainment of the President’s Energy Plan. Under this announcement, ARPA-E will fund energy technology projects that:
Translate scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations; and
Accelerate transformational technological advances in areas that industry is not likely to undertake independently because of high technical or financial risk.
Energy Frontier Research Centers. The 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers will address current fundamental scientific roadblocks to clean energy and energy security. Roughly one-third of the centers will be supported by Recovery Act funding.
These centers, involving almost 1,800 researchers and students from universities, national labs, companies, and non-profits from 36 states and the District of Columbia, will address the full range of energy research challenges in renewable and carbon-neutral energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, and cross-cutting science. Each center will receive $2-$5 million per year for an initial period of five years.
The 46 EFRC awards span the full range of energy research challenges described in the DOE Basic Research Needs (BRN) series of workshop reports, while also addressing one or more of the science grand challenges described in the report, Directing Matter and Energy: Five Challenge for Science and the Imagination.Many of the EFRCs address multiple energy challenges that are linked by common scientific themes—such as interfacial chemistry for solar energy conversion and electrical energy storage or rational design of materials for multiple potential energy applications. The distribution of the EFRC awards by broad topic areas (with the related BRN reports listed in parentheses) can be described as follows:
Renewable and Carbon-Neutral Energy (Solar Energy Utilization, Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, Biofuels, Geological Sequestration of CO2); 20 EFRCs
Energy Efficiency (Clean and Efficient Combustion, Solid State Lighting, Superconductivity); 6 EFRCs
Energy Storage (Hydrogen Research, Electrical Energy Storage); 6 EFRCs
Crosscutting Science (Catalysis, Materials under Extreme Environments, other); 14 EFRCs
"Each center will receive $2-$5 million per year for an initial period of five years."
With 46 centers, it sound like Universities will have some funding, but will anything useful come out of it. $2-$5 million is not a lot of money. You could hope to leverage that with University and private money, but will it?
I am not trying to be skeptical, but this is what people mean when they refer to government waste. Programs that go no where, cost money and seem to go on forever. I would like to see more practical programs like creating 1000 biomass gasification plants across the grain belt than nice programs for students.
Posted by: SJC | 29 April 2009 at 10:58 AM
This sounds like a drop in the bucket compared to the support our schools need to develop clean fuels. But it's a start, right? Glad to see people trying to make others more aware of how we can improve environmental damage. I'm trying to bring awareness by spreading the word on the winners of the Tomorrows World video contest:
They had a competition over videos about water efficiency and flooding. Living off the West Coast, it's a very real worry of mine. I think the winners did a great job! Check out their work and forward the link if you like it.
Posted by: Mark | 29 April 2009 at 11:28 AM
The greatest challenge this agency will have is integration of disruptive technology. The technology will arrive - but it must be carefully introduced so as not to offset its benefits with market collapse. This can be done by confining the the upper bound of capacity such that segmentation of use remains.
The politics are more difficult. Because the desire to co-opt energy is huge. And, should it be allowed to run-away - may well cause self-destruction by over-consumption. A REEL concern.
Posted by: Reel$$ | 29 April 2009 at 03:44 PM
On the contrary, I think the smaller budgets are a good idea. It promotes smaller teams with less bureaucracy. I think it also attracts less 'unwanted' elements whose only interest is a piece of the pie.
Good ideas are not expensive. To develop a good idea into a workable solution, that is expensive. And that's where the commercial enterprises come in, they are very good at that.
Programs that go no where, cost money and seem to go on forever.
That's the other beauty of this concept. If a centre doesn't deliver, you simply stop the funding. Because it's only a few million per year, these are quick and easy decisions. With big budgets, there are many people who want to have their say, and lots of careers are at stake, making it almost impossible to 'pull the plug'.
I would like to see more practical programs like creating 1000 biomass gasification plants across the grain belt
That's where I completely disagree with you. You should never divert R&D money to production. Any company knows that, you need to have R&D to stay competitive. Furthermore, I think that building plants is something to be left to the market, the government should only provide the right conditions (technology, infrastructure, regulation, etc.). After all what we're trying to achieve is that clean energy can stand on its own legs without government support. What is clearly missing right now is the technology. Its either absent or too expensive.
Posted by: Arne | 30 April 2009 at 02:28 AM
Anne, I agree with most of your points. However as to:
"What is clearly missing right now is the technology. Its either absent or too expensive."
I would suggest that some very good technology is absent. Due to various factors. Like a truant school kid, absence is remedied by attendance. There are technologies currently absent that need to be brought to attendance.
Posted by: Reel$$ | 30 April 2009 at 11:57 AM
We agree to disagree. $1.8 billion over 5 years for 46 teams is not a lot of money and $2-5 million each will not get much done. We have had lots of ideas over the last 8 years that have gone no where due to lack of funding. At some point we need to get the funding to the good ideas already conceived. We need to continue to provide funding for research, but we need to do much more.
As far as funding some of the good ideas over the years, we can wait for the market and private capital, which has not been there and in the present climate really is not there or we can start funding them and stop waiting for someone else to fund them when they have not and probably never will.
Many times the country needs to have things done that are not wildly profitable, but are really necessary. Bio fuels may be one of those. The national objective is to reduce oil imports, the private objective is to make as much money as possible in the shortest possible time.
Posted by: SJC | 30 April 2009 at 01:47 PM
I think it is too early to tell.
A significant level of government support is typically good.
A few BIG research programs are good if the outcome is predictable (not intended to be an oxymoron), and risk escalates for issues where the future is cloudy.
Many small programs, if they are scientifically evaluated can clarify the future – or just become money sinkholes that get only political reviews and get political direction, as with earmarks.
Posted by: ToppaTom | 03 May 2009 at 07:51 PM