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Energy innovation rockstar, former ARPA-E Director, to join

The former Director of the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program, Arun Majumdar, will be joining Google’s philanthropic arm Majumdar will “drive’s energy initiatives and advise the company on our broader energy strategy,” Google said Monday.

The announcement is interesting for at least two reasons. About a year ago Google announced that it would be shutting down its clean power research projects through, called RE<C. I didn’t think it was all that big of a deal at the time, given Google has invested close to a billion dollars into clean power projects, but the move was widely seen as Google cutting some philanthropic research that was outside of its basic territory.

But with Majumdar joining, clearly Google will be launching some new projects, or investing some new resources, into energy innovation and research. That’s exciting. Despite the fact that Google is not an energy company, it has been one of the bright spots in the private sector by funding new energy technologies through investment in startups, through brainstorming ways to buy clean power to run its data centers, and by being a test case for new energy technologies like Bloom Energy’s fuel cells.

Majumdar oversaw the DOE’s ARPA-E program, which puts small grants — from hundreds of thousands to several million dollars — into early stage, “moonshot” research that could deliver a breakthrough, but is too early for private investment. The ARPA-E program has been one of the most successful and least controversial projects under the DOE and has delivered dozens of projects that have found follow-on private financing.

It’s also worth noting that Majumdar will now be joining the private sector, so will be able to use Google’s balance sheet to fund energy innovation. ARPA-E’s budget ever year is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Majumdar hails from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs and the University of California at Berkeley.

One Response to “Energy innovation rockstar, former ARPA-E Director, to join”

  1. It is time for a new look at energy supplies

    The current hearings scheduled before Congress will do little but pit ‘feel good’ energy (wind, solar, and bio-) against ‘business as usual’ (carbon based) energy supplies. Recent applications for a plethora of new fission power plants only exacerbate the issues for fission is both dangerous and has many hidden taxpayer costs as do the persistent advertisements about clean coal (the world’s greatest oxymoron), abundant natural gas supplies, and the expected status of the US becoming an oil exporting nation in the next decade. All of these positions only confuse the public and are likely to result in an increased expenditure of tax dollars for ineffective solutions. Instead of our energy policy being based on sound bites, we need to engage in a lengthy debate about what our energy policy is and what it could and should be.

    For the past 10 decades our policy has been to use the cheapest form of energy available, to foster the development of fossil fuels, to encourage the use of nuclear energy, and, more recently, to adopt the philosophically feel good energies (wind, solar, biomass) as our long term energy supply. This encouragement has been provided via tax incentives given to selective industries without any clear understanding of the consequences of these policies. And our lack of full discussion and disclosure now looks as though it will result in the taxpayer becoming responsible for the inherent and immeasurable risk that is present in the current trend. This risk is many faceted and only poorly understood and varies from loan guarantees for questionable projects, to potential radioactive discharge events like Chernobyl or Fukushima, to rising sea level that will destroy ports and coastal land, costing the world trillions of dollars

    But there is another unintended policy consequence. Complacence and assurances that our energy supply is adequate has led to a position of ‘no urgency’ relative to implementing fusion processes as our source of future energy. Fusion is clearly the cleanest of all forms of energy for it has no CO2 emission, cannot ‘go critical’, and generates virtually no radioactivity. But research, both basic and applied, has all but died for there is no source of funding, neither appropriated nor via tax incentives, for the development of the most promising long-term base-load source of energy available for the world.

    Fusion research is supported at levels that are laughable by any standard. America’s total annual budget for fusion has been less than one tenth that spent on ethanol subsidies. Fusion has the potential to be THE SOLUTION while ethanol never had a ghost of a chance to make even a dent in our energy supply and subtracted from the food supply.

    Inexpensive energy is what has made our country prosper. But all of our incentive efforts are aimed at developing ever more expensive sources of energy, many of which will never repay the investment that has been made in them for they are known to be impractical in terms of energy efficiency, energy availability, or demand load requirements.

    To be real about what is needed to meet the energy crisis, one only needs to step back and look at where we have been. Wind, solar, and biomass have many problems becoming the base load for the 14 TW needed by 2050. The world cannot afford the CO2 load in the atmosphere from fossil fuel that is expected to be used in the next 20-30 years.

    So what is the alternative? Fusion, but not as we have been currently lead to believe to gain energy. (Laser fusion is a spoof, magnetic confinement needs a magic material for protection and plasmas are squirrely – uncontrollable.)

    Fusion is an energy source that has been known and generally understood by scientists for more than 5 decades. Fusion requires tremendous heat and compression for its ignition. It takes energy to provide this heat and compression and the energy one gets in return must be large enough to assure that more energy is created than the amount it took to initiate the reaction. The H bomb resulted from a small trigger yielding more than 1000 times as much yield. But controlled releases are also possible at much smaller levels that still put out 100 times as much energy as is consumed.

    A controlled process to do this was defined in the 1970s by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). But are we supporting research in these processes now? No, not one single federal dollar is directed to these promising avenues of achieving fusion through RF accelerator driven fusion reactions as researched in the 1970s by ANL. Why? The research was done in a weapons lab by the DOD and it can not be a weapon. And because the energy industry is built on the delivery of about 1GW at a location. Fusion requires the delivery of more than 10 Gigawatts of energy from one site to become economic and the driver is thought to be too expensive and cannot be made smaller. In the 1970s this decision may have been wise for the US had no need for large new sources of clean energy at the time. But now, we have an urgent need to replace a significant amount of our dirty base load facilities with sources that do not emit CO2 or other harmful products and do not go critical.

    Fusion comes in many flavors, from the impractical systems that produce less energy than they consume, to the ones that produce massive amounts of radiation due to their failure to adequately shield the system from the neutrons generated by the Deuterium-Tritium fusion reaction. Only one system has repeatedly received the endorsement of hundreds of scientists and that is a system that uses a large RF (radio frequency) accelerator to provide the energy to drive the fusion reaction. It would produce no climate altering CO2 and, since all the research has been done, it could be online in about a decade.

    RF accelerator driven fusion should be our showcase national energy project, but this process seems to be totally unknown. It does not have the support of the US Department of Energy and thus is unknown to politicians.

    Politicians need to understand that RF accelerator driven fusion is a viable option for the replacement of fossil fuel for energy generation, NOW.

    RF accelerator driven fusion is a technique that has been endorsed by leading scientists throughout the world for the past 35 years and it is time it was implemented.

    Reference …
    36 Years of HIF Endorsements

    1976 “[HIF] warranted high confidence … heavy ion fusion faced no show stoppers.” ERDA Summer Study of Heavy Ions for Inertial Fusion, Final Report December 1976 LBL 5543(1976)
    1979 “…heavy ion accelerators have great promise as reactor candidates because of their inherently high efficiency, developed repetitive-pulse technology, and favorable theoretical predictions of target coupling.” Foster Committee Report to the Energy Research Advisory Board at its May 3, 1979, meeting.
    1983 “We conclude that the uncertainties in coupling physics for high-energy heavy ions are minimal.” The Jason Report of January1983 (JSR82-302).
    1986 “Heavy ion beams may well be the best eventual driver for energy applications.” The National Academies of Sciences Report of March 1986 entitled, “Review of the Department of Energy’s Inertial Confinement Fusion Program”
    1990 Recommended parallel development of inertial and magnetic fusion with a budget level of about $30 million per year for HIF. The Fusion Policy Advisory Committee Report 1990 (Stever Panel)
    1993 “We recognize the great opportunity for fusion development afforded the DOE by a modest heavy-ion driver program that leverages off the extensive target program being conducted by the Defense Department…” Fusion Energy Advisory Committee (Davidson Panel).
    1994 “heavy ion accelerators are still regarded as “the best bet for drivers.” What is not said is that nearly 16 years after the first Foster panel report, the heavy ion program is still starved for funds, and we have made very little progress on “the best bet.” SCIENCE Magazine Letter VOL. 01/ 28/1994 Burton Richter, Director, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
    1996 “In agreement with previous reviews, we consider the heavy ion accelerator to be the most promising driver for energy applications.” FESAC (Sheffield) Report.
    1998 The HIDIF-Study, GSI-98-06 Report, August 1998.
    2010 “Abundant clean energy can be generated from pure fusion … on a timeline consistent with the urgency of the world’s energy, economic, and environmental problems.” Physics Today Letter, June 2010 Page 58, Robert J. Burke, Chairman, Fusion Power Corporation.
    2010 “… we know that inertially confined fusion (ICF) is possible since we can create nuclear explosions.” Physics Today Letter, October 2010, Page 8, Martin Stickley, Director of Office of Laser Fusion at Energy R&D Administration (ERDA) in 1976-1979.

    2011 Recommendations from the RF Accelerator Working Group at the AHIF Workshop, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in Berkeley CA., May 2011:
    1. Now is the time for developing detailed conceptual designs for economical energy production that take advantage of decades of progress in accelerator physics and RF accelerator technology. …. A more detailed examination of the Single-Pass HIF Driver concept … a good starting point.
    2. National and international collaborations (including industry) should be encouraged to develop heavy-ion fusion energy.
    3. Economy of scale issues should be studied. Conclusions could have significant impacts in defining the most viable approaches for energy production. Scale economies should increase profitability by lowering cost per kWh.
    2012 FPC encouraged by ARPA-e to submit a full project to simulate the pellet ignition using SPRFD – FOA 0670-4536

    2013 Stay Tuned!! National Academy of Science Study on Fusion Energy.