Clean Energy Projects Funded Through ARPA-E Help the Agency Beat the Odds

clean-energy-projectsThis may be hard to believe for most, but there actually is a government agency initiated by President Obama that funds various clean-energy initiatives that not only receives massive amounts of voluntary public funding, but also has extensive bi-partisan support.

Pick your collective jaw up from the floor, folks.

ARPA-E, or the US DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, is the government agency that spoke out this week for their fourth annual summit wrapped up on February 27th in Washington DC.

ARPA-E’s deputy director Cheryl Martin spoke Wednesday about the agency’s progress, stating, “ARPA-E is changing what’s possible for America’s energy future, as demonstrated by our projects.”  She continued, “As seen here today at the fourth annual Energy Innovation Summit, ARPA-E and the energy innovation community have embarked on a journey to convene great minds, form new companies, spur private involvement and foster public partnerships.”

The directive is modeled after DARPA, the Defense Department’s military initiative for future innovations, where the agency offers multiple grants among smaller early-stage energy projects, versus larger sums to only a few.  High-risk, high-reward projects are also commonly funded through ARPA-E, like a $6.7 million offering to Ginkgo Bioworks for additional development on how to use E. coli bacteria to convert carbon dioxide into a biofuel.  Eventually, the process may be perfected with research, and could become more efficient than the way ethanol is currently made.

With an initial investment of $400 million from President Obama’s economic stimulus program in 2009, ARPA-E has seen marked progress in their brief three-and-a-half year history.  The inaugural seventeen energy projects that were funded by ARPA-E in 2009 have raised over $450 million in private sector money, which is over six times the initial $70 million investment.  Of those seventeen, twelve have branched off to form separate companies, and ten of them partnered with other government agencies for later-stage investment.  As of November 2012, ARPA-E has been able to distribute over $770 million amongst 285 projects in all, assisting colleges and laboratories nationwide in developing tomorrow’s cleaner, more efficient technologies.

The efficiency of spreading funds amongst multiple projects is what appealed to Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican of the Senate committee on energy.  Megan Moskowitz, spokeswoman for Murkowski, concurred with Murkowski’s viewpoint, saying, “[S]mall grants to help develop promising new technologies are a far better use of limited government funds than most of the other energy-related funding that was embedded in the 2009 stimulus.”

Several Republican voices were heard supporting the efforts of ARPA-E during the summit, including Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and multiple executives from General Electric, Google, Siemens and Tesla.  Additional speakers included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and Delaware Senator Chris Coons.

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