Bureaucracy’s a pain. But Energy Secretary Steven Chu seems to have found a way around it, launching a high-risk, $415 million clean energy research program just over a month after his task force told him it would take a year to get the program up and running. Chu told the House Science and Technology Committee last month that he wanted to set up the so-called Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, in half a year or less, As Science magazine reported. “I’m still waiting,” he said at the time. Not anymore. Today President Barack Obama and the Department of Energy detailed the first steps for getting some of the $400 million allocated for “high-risk” and “transformational” energy technologies under the program.
Here’s how it works: ARPA-E, created back in 2007 but left unfunded until this year (with the stimulus package and Obama’s proposed budget), is asking “for the kernel of your technical idea in the form of a concept paper.” Once you submit the concept paper at FedConnect.net — due between May 12 and June 2 (8 p.m. EST) of this year — the agency will get back to you and say whether the idea is likely to receive funding. If it is, you’ll be invited to submit a full application. Wondering whether the slightly more efficient solar panel you’ve devised will get a green light? It probably won’t. “Only truly transformational technologies that can contribute greatly to the ARPA-E’s Mission Areas have any chance of funding,” the agency says in its solicitation. “We are not looking for incremental progress on current technologies.”
Ideally, you have a “multi-disciplinary” technical idea that could reduce dependency on oil imports, improve energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or give the U.S. an edge in deployment of energy technologies. ARPA-E is on the hunt for ideas and technologies in these areas that are facing the “valley of death” — the place where many capital-intensive cleantech startups go to die because they can’t find financing for a critical phase of development or commercialization. Getting in on the ARPA-E program will mean more than cash for bridging that valley — the agency said today that it will also work with teams to develop intellectual property strategy and technical data strategies, as well as a procurement or financial assistance instrument to help manage risk once government funding for a project runs out.
Of course, after that June 2 deadline, we could be in for another long wait, as applicants to the DOE’s 4-year-old and much-delayed Advanced Vehicles Technology Manufacturing program know all too well. But hey, at least the ball’s rolling.