Last week the first-ever ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit brought encouraging news to companies seeking to move their green technologies from the drawing board into the marketplace by announcing the availability of stimulus fund money. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E), part of the Department of Energy, is modeled on the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which led to developments including military and networking technologies.

Several of the nation’s top energy leaders and members of the scientific research community gathered at the summit to discuss how to ensure U.S. leadership in clean energy technologies. At the summit, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that $100 million in American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funding will be made available to accelerate innovation in green technology, increase America’s competitiveness, and create new jobs.

"This is about unleashing the American innovation machine to solve the energy and climate challenge, while creating new jobs, new industries and new exports for America’s workers," said Secretary Chu.

The three areas of focus included in the funding opportunity are:

  • Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS). ARPA-E seeks to develop new technologies to enable the widespread deployment of cost-effective grid-scale energy storage.
  • Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT). ARPA-E seeks to invest in materials for fundamental advances in soft magnetics, high-voltage switches, and reliable, high-density charge storage.
  • Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT). ARPA-E seeks to develop energy efficient cooling technologies and air conditioners for buildings to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from primary energy consumption due to space cooling and refrigerants used in vapor compression systems.

"The idea is to get a whole ecosystem of innovative technologies," said Arun Majumdar, ARPA-E’s director.

Some observers were skeptical that the ARPA-E team is allocating adequate funding to accomplish its goals. "On the one hand, it would be hard to rival, or argue against, the talent and commitment of the ARPA-E team, from Director Majumdar on down, and extending to other leaders at the DOE, mostly notably, the Energy Secretary and Nobel laureate himself, Steven Chu," wrote David J. Leeds of Greentech Media. "On the other hand, despite the DOE and the Administration’s best efforts, it is clear that the U.S. is falling behind in what everyone in the room seems to agree is the next great industrial revolution. While the name of the program is clearly on target, and based on the original name of DARPA (the DoD’s advanced research agency that brought us advancements that include GPS, stealth bombers and the internet), what is plainly missing is the military-scale funding to go along with it."

Sources: DOE, New York Times, Greentech Media