April 21, 2011

Dept Of Energy Announces $130M Research Investment

The Department of Energy announced on Wednesday that it would invest up to $130 million for projects in its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E.

The funding, which came in part from this month's federal budget deal, will go to five new program areas: producing biofuels as an alternative to oil, finding viable alternatives to rare-earth minerals, storing thermal energy, maintaining electric grid reliability and reducing solar power costs, the Department of Energy said.

"ARPA-E is unleashing American innovation to strengthen America's global competitiveness and win the clean energy race," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement.

"In addition to creating new jobs, breakthroughs in clean energy technologies can reduce our country's dependence of foreign oil, decrease the cost of clean electricity, and build a sustainable infrastructure for future generations of Americans."

The Energy Department created ARPA-E in 2007 to invest in projects with the potential to revolutionize the energy sector, but that are believed too risky for the private sector.

The agency has been primarily funded by the federal government's 2009 stimulus package, which directed $363 million to support 121 energy projects.  Nearly 40 percent of those projects were led by universities, 33 percent by small businesses, 20 percent by large businesses, 5% by national labs and 3% by non-profits, the department said.

The 2011 budget deal reached earlier this month includes $180 million for the agency, despite $38 billion in cuts to the overall budget.

"We do know without additional Congressional funds ... the program essentially would have had to have been put on ice," Chu said during a briefing with reporters.

The new funding announced on Wednesday includes a mix of money from the stimulus and the budget deal reached this month.

President Obama wants $550 million for the ARPA-E for fiscal year 2012, but that proposal could face obstacles in the Congress, which is looking to reduce costs to bring down the U.S. budget deficit.

The five technology areas announced yesterday will join ARPA-E's seven existing programs in power electronics, battery technologies, building cooling, non-photosynthetic biofuels, grid energy storage, carbon capture and its initial open solicitation.

The Energy Department's full announcement can be viewed at http://arpa-e.energy.gov/Media/News/tabid/83/vw/1/ItemID/33/Default.aspx.