ARPA-E projects attract big money

Six projects of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy are showing promise on the investment front, but will the agency continue nurturing tech innovations into the future? Should it?
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

Just over a week ago Obama pushed for greater clean energy innovation. The Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) announced yesterday that 6 of their 37 projects have been successfully attracting outside investment. Since their initial funding under the Recovery Act (a total of $23.6 million), the highlighted projects have taken in $108 million.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in a statement:

This amount of private capital support indicates that the business community is hungry to invest in truly innovative solutions to the country’s energy challenges. These game-changing projects are going to ensure America’s energy, economic and environmental prosperity is secure. The goal of the ARPA-E program is to swing for the fences, to focus on truly transformative energy research, and that’s exactly what we are seeing.

One of these potential game-changers is General Compression, which has attracted an additional $12 million since last July when it received its seed funding of $750,000 from ARPA-E. The company hopes to solve the problem of storing big influxes of wind and solar power for steadier use by the grid.

Altogether the projects target energy storage, cheaper solar, more efficient wind turbines, and better batteries. Though they will likely not see commercialization anytime soon, sparking investor interest offers hope that the innovations might eventually surface in the marketplace.

The Obama Administration is expected to push to extend ARPA-E into next year. But debate on whether the ARPA-E program should continue is surfacing. The New York Times reports:

Representative Ralph Hall, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Science Committee, said he favored funding basic research but that Mr. Obama’s goal of financing more clean energy technologies suggested to him an emphasis on commercialization. “These are activities often best left to the private sector,” he said.

Another question is whether the government should be seeking an equity stake in these start-ups, much as it took in bailed-out companies like G.M. and A.I.G. Mr. Lerner, of Harvard, said he had seen Energy Department labs do that in trying to commercialize their discoveries, but it sometimes discouraged private investors from joining in.

The ARPA-E Energy Innovations Summit takes place at the end of this month. Below are the five other spotlighted ARPA-E projects:

1366 Technologies
Government seed funding: $4 million
Outside captial: $33.4 million
Project: simplifying silicon wafer production for solar panels

Envia Systems
Government seed funding: $4 million
Outside capital: $17 million
Project: develop lithium-ion battery with higher energy density

Government seed funding:$8.3 million
Outside capital: $27 million
Project: develop wind turbine inspired by jet engines

Sun Catalytix
Government seed funding: $4 million
Outside capital: $9.5 million
Project: develop catalysts that mimic photosynthesis, generating hydrogen from water

Government seed funding: $2.25 million
Outside capital: $10 million
Project: develop a new battery architecture for electric vehicles

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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