Lewis-Burke Associates LLC – June 30, 2011
On June 29, Arun Majumdar, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), participated in a live web-chat to discuss the role of innovation in reducing U.S. dependence of foreign oil. The web-chat was strategically scheduled before the busy 4th of July travel holiday and sought to highlight ARPA-E’s work on transportation-related energy technologies. Before taking questions from viewers, Dr. Majumdar gave a brief presentation which highlighted the Administration’s rationale for continued investments in clean energy technology innovation, including the belief that the topic underpins U.S. national security, economic security, and environmental security. Throughout the session, Dr. Majumdar referenced the Administration’s clean energy goal of supporting continued exploration and exploitation of domestic resources in the short-term while investing in clean energy technologies to reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels, increase domestic manufacturing, and improve global competitiveness in the long-term.
Responding to several questions regarding the current fiscal environment and the appropriate role of federal investment in energy technology, Dr. Majumdar acknowledged that tough budgetary decisions must be made. However, he noted that the federal government has historically maintained investments in innovation during hard times, bolstering long-term economic growth and job creation. According to Dr. Majumdar, ARPA-E, which invests in high-risk, high-reward research, stands to play a considerable role in clean energy innovation because many technologies necessary to advance the field have yet to be developed and are viewed as too risky for private investment. In the recent House-passed energy appropriations bill, ARPA-E received $100 million for fiscal year (FY) 2012, a significant decrease from the President’s budget request but a show of support for the new agency from the Republican-led House which has often criticized federal involvement in applied energy research.
Dr. Majumdar also discussed the management practices, many of which were adopted from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), that have helped make ARPA-E successful. Foremost, Dr. Majumdar stated that ARPA-E looks to hire the best and brightest minds, engage them in the outcomes of the projects, and ensure timely turnover to maintain the vigor and creativity of the agency. Additionally, Dr. Majumdar noted that the ability of ARPA-E to redirect funding from failing research programs to other areas has created flexibility absent from other federal research agencies. Furthermore, Dr. Majumdar credited collaborations with other DOE programs such as the Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) and Energy Innovation Hubs (HUBs) as crucial partnerships in ARPA-E research and development efforts. ARPA-E is widely viewed as a model of good management by Members of Congress from both parties at a time when DOE budgets and administrative practices are under intense scrutiny,
Many questions focused on ARPA-E research on advanced fuel sources and transportation-related energy. Dr. Majumdar acknowledged that many technologies such as electorfuels, photosynthetic biofuels, and advanced battery technologies are a long way from becoming cost-competitive, but noted ARPA-E’s ongoing research and a few promising results. In the interim, Dr. Majumdar voiced support for increased use of hybrid vehicles and promoted energy efficiency initiatives to help curb U.S. use of foreign oil.
Additional information on the session, including video replay of the session, is available on the DOE website: http://blog.energy.gov/blog/2011/06/29/tune-live-today-2-pm-et-our-energy-independence.