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Secretary Chu Announcement of $151 Million in ARPA-E Grants

October 26, 2009 - 12:00am

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San Francisco, Calif. -  Today, Secretary Chu announced the first $151 million in grant funding through the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy.  Secretary Chu made the announcement at the headquarters of Google Inc. in Mountain View, California.  Below are his remarks:

Sometimes a great idea can change the world. 

The transistor made possible modern computers, the internet, and Silicon Valley.  The hybrid strains of wheat and the Green Revolution helped us feed a growing planet.  Linking our computers together through the Internet unleashed an Information Age - in no small part because of the great ideas that have come out of Google.

 We are here today because this place reminds us that, occasionally, radical innovation can alter the landscape of an entire industry.  And we're here to announce a portfolio of bold new research projects, any one of which could do for energy what Google did for the Internet.

I'm pleased to announce the first $151 million in funding through the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy.  ARPA-E was funded for the first time in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pursue truly transformational solutions to the energy problem.

With ARPA-E, we are swinging from the heels and trying to hit home runs, not just base hits.   The 37 projects we're funding span the spectrum - from renewable energy, to energy storage, to industrial and building efficiency, to petroleum-free vehicles, and carbon capture. 

They are out-of-the-box approaches like:

  • symbiotic bacteria that can produce gasoline-like fuels directly from sunlight;
  • an all-liquid metal battery that could provide grid-scale energy storage and enable widespread use of renewable energy sources;
  • a building efficiency project that uses sensors and software - including the Google PowerMeter - to reduce energy use by giving people the right information at the right time; and
  • a new way to capture carbon dioxide from power plants inspired by the enzyme the human body uses to capture carbon dioxide generated by cells, transport it in the blood stream and exhale it through the lungs. 

These ideas are potentially revolutionary. Yes, they are risky, and many of these technologies will not pan out.  But this is high-risk, high reward research: if even one or two of these ideas become transformative technologies - the next transistor or another Green Revolution - this will be among the best investments we've ever made. 

ARPA-E was originally proposed in a National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. I was privileged to be part of the committee that proposed to create a flat, nimble, and creative agency, and it is now my privilege to execute that promise.

After President Obama announced this effort in April, we received a stunning level of interest - nearly 3,700 submissions.   We invited about 300 of those to put together full proposals.  Today, we are funding 37 projects - 1 percent of the submissions.  To reach these decisions, more than 500 expert reviewers put in nearly 8,700 hours of work - or 4.2 person-years of effort.

The selection process was the most rigorous peer review process the DOE has engaged in.  I sent a letter to the Presidents of major research universities and heads of the engineering societies to give us names of the best scientists and engineers in the country.  When we asked these people to serve as reviewers, many of the most talented and busy people agreed to serve. We argued simply that this work was part of their patriotic duty to our country and the world. 

We are now hiring top practicing scientists and engineers to serve as program managers.  In addition to guiding these projects, they will proactively seek out additional areas that are ripe for breakthroughs.

I particularly want to recognize the new head of ARPA-E, Arun Majumdar, who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate last week.  Arun has a stellar research career in the science and engineering of energy conversion, transport, and storage, ranging from molecular and nanoscale level to large energy systems.

For this work, Arun was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2005 at the age of 41.  In 2007, I was able to convince him to take on the job as Director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  Arun has proven to be a remarkable leader.  He is also an entrepreneur and has served as an advisor to startup companies and venture capital firms in Silicon Valley. He is a member of the Nanotechnology Technical Advisory Group to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

With ARPA-E and all of the Department of Energy's research efforts, we are determined to attract the best and brightest minds to help solve the energy problem.  This is truly the scientific and engineering challenge of our time.  Scientists and engineers have come to our nation's aid in times of need before, and it is time to do so again.  I'm calling on all of America's young scientists and researchers to consider tackling this challenge.

The stakes could not be higher.  Great ideas have transformed our world before.  But the great ideas on energy might do more than just change our world; they might help save it.

 Thank you, and I'd be glad to take any questions.

Media contact(s):

(202) 586-4940

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