ARPA-E, or Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy is a United States government agency tasked with promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies. It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
|John G. Vonglis (acting)|
|US Department of Energy|
History and mission
The concept of ARPA-E was initially conceived by a report by the National Academies entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. The report recognized a U.S. need to stimulate innovation and develop clean, affordable, and reliable energy. ARPA-E was officially created by the America COMPETES Act , authored by Congressman Bart Gordon, within the United States Department of Energy (DOE) in 2007, though without a budget. The initial budget of about $400 million was a part of the economic stimulus bill of February 2009. Then in early January 2011, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 made additional changes to ARPA-E's structure; this structure is codified in Title 42, Chapter 149, Subchapter XVII, § 16538 of the United States Code.
Among its main provisions, Section 16538 provides that ARPA-E shall achieve its goals through energy technology projects by doing the following:
- Identifying and promoting revolutionary advances in fundamental and applied sciences;
- Translating scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations; and
- Accelerating transformational technological advances in areas that industry by itself is not likely to undertake because of technical and financial uncertainty.
Like DARPA does for military technology, ARPA-E is intended to fund high-risk, high-reward research that might not otherwise be pursued because there is a relatively high risk of failure. Like DARPA, it is intended to fund projects involving government labs, private industry, and universities. ARPA-E has four objectives:
- To bring a freshness, excitement, and sense of mission to energy research that will attract the U.S.'s best and brightest minds;
- To focus on creative, transformation energy research that the industry cannot, or will not support due to its high risk, but that has high reward potential;
- To utilize an ARPA-like organization that is flat, nimble, and sparse, capable of sustaining for long periods of time those projects whose promise remains real, while phasing out programs that do not prove to be as promising as anticipated; and
- To create a new tool to bridge the gap between basic energy research and development/industrial innovation.
President Barack Obama announced the launch of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) on April 27, 2009 as part of an announcement about federal investment in research and development and science education. Soon after its launch, ARPA-E released its first Funding Opportunity Announcement for the new agency, offering $151 million in total with individual awards ranging from $500,000 to $9 million. Applicants submitted eight-page "concept papers" that outlined the technical concept; some were invited to submit full applications.
Arun Majumdar, former deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was appointed the first director of ARPA-E in September 2009, over six months after the organization was first funded. U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu presided over the inaugural "ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit" on March 1–3, 2010 in Washington, D.C..
The National Academies release report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm”.
August 9, 2007
President George W. Bush signed into law the America COMPETES Act that codified many of the recommendations in the National Academies report, thus creating ARPA-E.
April 27, 2009
September 18, 2009
President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Dr. Arun Majumdar, as Director of ARPA-E.
October 22, 2009
Senate confirmed Dr. Arun Majumdar as ARPA-E's first Director.
October 26, 2009
Department of Energy awarded $151 million in Recovery Act funds for 37 energy research projects under ARPA-E's first Funding Opportunity Announcement.
December 7, 2009
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced ARPA-E's second round of funding opportunities in the areas of “Electrofuels”, “Innovative Materials & Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies (IMPACCT)” and “Batteries for Electrical Energy Storage in Transportation (BEEST).”
March 1 – 3, 2010
ARPA-E hosted the inaugural “Energy Innovation Summit,” which attracted over 1,700 participants.
March 2, 2010
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced ARPA-E's third round of funding opportunity in the areas of “Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS),” “Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT)” and “Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT).”
April 29, 2010
Vice President Joe Biden announced 37 awarded projects under ARPA-E's second funding opportunity.
July 12, 2010
Department of Energy Awarded $92 Million for 42 cutting-edge research projects under ARPA-E's third funding opportunity.
December 8, 2014
Ellen Williams confirmed by Senate as Director of ARPA-E.
March 16, 2017
President Donald Trump's blueprint for the budget proposed to eliminate ARPA-E because it "provides small grants with limited measurable impacts and duplicates other Federal programs, such as Rural Utilities Service grants at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and formula grants to States from the Department of Transportation."
ARPA-E and EERE
ARPA-E was created to fund energy technology projects that translate scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations, and accelerate technological advances in high-risk areas that industry is not likely to pursue independently. This goal is similar to the work of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) which advances clean energy projects according to established roadmaps. ARPA-E does not fund incremental improvements to existing technologies; nor roadmaps established by existing DOE programs.
Project creation and the review process
ARPA-E programs are created through a process of rigorous debate surrounding the technical/scientific merits and challenges of potential research areas and must satisfy both concepts of “technology push”—the technical merit of innovative platform technologies that can be applied to energy systems—and “market pull”—the potential market impact and cost-effectiveness of the technology.
The detailed program creation process begins with a “deep dive”: a process of thoroughly exploring an aspect of the energy problem to identify potential topics for program development. ARPA-E Program Directors then hold technical workshops to gather input from the world's leading experts about current state-of-the-art technologies and new technological opportunities that lie on the horizon. By bringing together experts from all walks of science, technology, and business, ARPA-E breaks down silos between disciplines. This cross-disciplinary inquiry is essential to bridge the gap between basic and applied research and development. ARPA-E workshops bring together the best and the brightest to identify technical challenges and opportunities that connect science to technology and markets—linking knowledge of what science is capable of to what technology can achieve and what the market needs. To date, ARPA-E has hosted or co-hosted 13 technical workshops.
Following each workshop, the Program Director proposes a new program and defends the program against a set of criteria that justifies its creation. After intense, “constructive confrontation” and debate involving all ARPA-E Program Directors, the Program Director refines the program, incorporating internal and external feedback, and seeks approval from the Director. If successful, a new ARPA-E program is created, and a solicitation, or funding opportunity announcement (FOA), is released, soliciting project proposals.
Peer review process
The ARPA-E peer review process is designed to help drive toward subsequent program success. During proposal review, ARPA-E solicits external inputs to make sure that it is funding the best technologies. ARPA-E taps the expertise of dozens of the leading experts in the world in a particular field for in-depth proposal reviews. The involvement of world-class scientists, engineers, and leaders from the technical community brings expertise and knowledge to the process. ARPA-E reviewers evaluate applications over several weeks, and then come together for a review panel.
One notable facet of ARPA-E's evaluation process is the opportunity for the applicant to read reviewers’ comments and to provide a rebuttal that the Agency reviews before making funding decisions. The applicant response period allows ARPA-E to avoid misunderstandings by asking clarifying questions that enable ARPA-E to make the most informed decisions during the project selection process and identify the most compelling and meritorious ideas for support.
Funding and awards
First funding opportunity
The U.S. Department of Energy and ARPA-E awarded $151 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds on October 26, 2009 for 37 energy research projects. It supported renewable energy technologies for solar cells, wind turbines, geothermal drilling, biofuels, and biomass energy crops. The grants also supported energy efficiency technologies, including power electronics and engine-generators for advanced vehicles, devices for waste heat recovery, smart glass and control systems for smart buildings, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), reverse-osmosis membranes for water desalination, catalysts to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, improved fuel cell membranes, and more energy-dense magnetic materials for electronic components. Six grants went to energy storage technologies, including an ultracapacitor, improved lithium-ion batteries, metal-air batteries that use ionic liquids, liquid sodium batteries, and liquid metal batteries. Other awards went to projects that conducted research and development on a bioreactor with potential to produce gasoline directly from sunlight and carbon dioxide, and crystal growth technology to lower the cost of light emitting diodes.
Second funding opportunity
The U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced a second round of ARPA-E funding opportunities on December 7, 2009. ARPA-E solicited projects that focused on three critical areas: Biofuels from Electricity (Electrofuels), Batteries for Electrical Energy Storage in Transportation (BEEST), and Innovative Materials and Processes for Advanced Carbon Capture Technologies (IMPACCT). On April 29, 2010, Vice President Biden announced the 37 awardees that ARPA-E had selected from over 540 initial concept papers. The awards ranged from around $500,000 to $6,000,000 and involved a large variety of national laboratories, universities, and companies.
Under the Second Funding Opportunity, project submissions were designated by category, unlike the first funding opportunity; of the selected projects, 13 projects focused on Electrofuels, 10 projects focused on BEEST, and 14 project focused on IMPAACT. For example, Harvard Medical School submitted a project under Electrofuels entitled, "Engineering a Bacterial Reverse Fuel Cell," which focuses on development of a bacterium to use electricity to convert carbon dioxide into gasoline. MIT received an award under BEEST for a proposal entitled "Semi-Solid Rechargeable Fuel Battery," which is a concept idea for a new battery that combines the best characteristics of rechargeable battery and fuel cells to produce lighter, smaller, and cheaper vehicle batteries. IMPAACT awarded projects such as GE's Global Research Center's "CO2 Capture Process Using Phase-Changing Absorbents," which focuses on a liquid that turns into a solid powder when reacting with carbon dioxide.
Third funding opportunity
On March 2, 2010, at the inaugural ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a third funding opportunity for ARPA-E projects. Like the second funding opportunity, ARPA-E solicited projects by category: Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS), Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT), and Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT). GRIDS welcomed projects that focused on widespread deployment of cost-effective grid-scale energy storage in two specific areas: 1) proof of concept storage component projects focused on validating new, over-the-horizon electrical energy storage concepts, and 2) advanced system prototypes that address critical shortcomings of existing grid-scale energy storage technologies. ADEPT focused on investing in materials for fundamental advances in soft magnetics, high voltage switches, and reliable, high-density charge storage in three categories: 1) fully integrated, chip-scale power converters for applications including, but not limited to, compact, efficient drivers for solid-state lighting, distributed micro-inverters for photovoltaics, and single-chip power supplies for computers, 2) kilowatt scale package integrated power converters by enabling applications such as low-cost, efficient inverters for grid-tied photovoltaics and variable speed motors, and 3) lightweight, solid-state, medium voltage energy conversion for high power applications such as solid-state electrical substations and wind turbine generators. BEET-IT solicited projects regarding energy efficient cooling technologies and air conditioners (AC) for buildings to save energy and reduce GHG emissions in the following areas: 1) cooling systems that use refrigerants with low global warming potential; 2) energy efficient air conditioning (AC) systems for warm and humid climates with an increased coefficient of performance (COP); and 3) vapor compression AC systems for hot climates for re-circulating air loads with an increased COP.
Secretary Chu announced the selection of 43 projects under GRIDS, ADEPT, and BEET-IT on July 12, 2010. The awards totaled $92 million and ranged from $400,000 to $5,000,000. The solicitation distribution included 14 projects in ADEPT, 17 projects in BEET-IT, and 12 projects in GRIDS. Examples of awarded projects include a "Soluble Acid Lead Flow Battery" that pumps chemicals through a battery cell when electricity is needed (GRIDS), "Silicon Carbide Power Modules for Grid Scale Power Conversion" that uses advanced transistors to make the electrical grid more flexible and controllable (ADEPT), and an "Absorption-Osmosis Cooling Cycle," a new air conditioning system that uses water as a refrigerant, rather than chemicals (BEET-IT).
Fourth funding opportunity
ARPA-E's fourth round of funding was announced on April 20, 2011 and awarded projects in five technology areas: Plants Engineered To Replace Oil (PETRO), High Energy Advanced Thermal Storage (HEATS), Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies (REACT), Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI), and Solar Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (Solar ADEPT). PETRO focused on projects that had systems to create biofuels from domestic sources such as tobacco and pine trees for half their current cost. REACT funded early-stage technology alternatives that reduced or eliminated the dependence on rare earth materials by developing substitutes in two key areas: electric vehicle motors and wind generators. HEATS funded projects that promoted advancement in thermal energy storage technology. GENI focused on funding software and hardware that could reliably control the grid network. Solar ADEPT accepted projects that integrated power electronics into solar panels and solar farms to extract and deliver energy more efficiently.
The Awardees for the fourth funding opportunity were announced on September 29, 2011. The 60 projects received $156 million from the ARPA-E Fiscal Year 2011 budget. Examples of the awarded projects included a project that increases the production of turpentine, a natural liquid biofuel (PETRO); a project entitled "Manganese-Based Permanent Magnet," that reduces the cost of wind turbines and electric vehicles by developing a replacement for rare earth magnets based on an innovative composite using manganese materia (REACT); a project entitled "HybriSol," that develops a heat battery to store energy from the sun (HEATS); a project that develops a new system that allows real-time, automated control over the transmission lines that make up the electric power grid (GENI); and a project that develops light-weight electronics to connect to photovoltaic solar panels to be installed on walls or rooftops.
ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit
Since 2010, ARPA-E has hosted the Energy Innovation Summit which takes place at the Gaylord Convention Center, near Washington, D.C. The 9th summit is scheduled to be held March 13 through 15th, 2018.
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