The Apollo-Program-scale federal investment in renewable energy technologies called for by so many in the energy profession has finally arrived. In late April, President Obama gave a speech to the National Academy of Sciences in which he announced massive new investments in energy. To manage these investments, a new division of the Department of Energy (DOE), called the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), was formed based upon the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). DARPA has been responsible for many innovations that define the early 21st Century, including the Internet.
ARPA-E is now awarding so-called high risk/high reward grants targeted at research that industry is not likely to undertake because of high technical or financial risk. The stated purpose of these awards is to 1) fund development of breakthrough energy technologies; 2) reduce the need for consumption of foreign oil; 3) reduce energy-related emissions, 4) improve the energy efficiency; and 5) ensure that the United States maintains a technological lead in energy. ARPA-E will fund energy technology projects with promise to translate scientific discoveries into technological innovations.
What energy technologies will the first ARPA-E awards be for? It is difficult to speculate since ARPA-E gave no pre-determination of what proposals would fit within the program. Nonetheless, the National Academy of Engineering recently published 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century, and the top three were energy related: 1) Make Solar Energy Economical, 2) Provide Energy From Fusion, and 3) Develop Carbon Sequestration Methods. Thus, I predict that initial ARPA-E awards will be focused on these areas.
Proposals are welcomed from entities including companies, universities, research foundations, and not-for-profits as well as from collaborations and consortia. Information on how to apply is posted on the ARPA-E site. So, if you have a great energy idea that is unfaultable save for want of some start-up cash, here is the opportunity to make it real. ARPA-E has eliminated barriers to funding common with other federal agencies to give nearly everyone access to this opportunity, the Apollo Program for energy.