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Talking Energy Innovation with ARPA-E’s Cheryl Martin, Part 2: Linking Research to Market

I recently sat down with Dr. Cheryl Martin, the Deputy Director of ARPA-E, the federal government’s premier program for investing in high-risk, high-reward energy research and development. The interview covered a lot of ground and touched on different aspects of America’s energy innovation ecosystem, so it’s being published as a multi-part series, lightly edited, and broken up into cohesive topics. In part 1 of the interview, Dr. Martin took a deep-dive into the lessons ARPA-E has learned in its few short years of existence.

In part 2, we cover a pervasive issue in innovation policy: linking research and emerging technologies to market. In particular, a major concern of ARPA-E is that doesn’t have a dedicated end-user that’s going to procure emerging technologies, like DARPA has at the Department of Defense (DOD). DARPA is ARPA-E’s kindred spirit and many opine that until it gains a large-scale early adopter, its impact won’t reach that of its defense brethren because it won’t be able to bridge the technology “valleys-of-death” that plague many new innovations from reaching commercial scale.

Of course, ARPA-E’s agency home — the Department of Energy — doesn’t procure energy technologies

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Talking Energy Innovation with ARPA-E’s Cheryl Martin, Part 1: ARPA-E’s Lessons Learned

Dr. Cheryl Martin is the Deputy Director of ARPA-E, the federal government’s premier program for investing in high-risk, high-reward energy research and development. She’s the heir apparent to Arun Majumdar, the first Director of ARPA-E who departed last year after helping spin-up the program and bring it to national prominence.

She assumes leadership less than four years into ARPA-E’s existence at an inflection point for the program as well as U.S. climate and energy policy. On one hand, government investments in energy innovation are declining and gridlock makes crafting a new comprehensive national energy policy a pipedream. On the other hand, ARPA-E recently hosted its fourth widely attended Energy Innovation Summit, a number of early investments are starting to show signs of success, and its bipartisan support continues to grow. It’s one of the few bright spots in an increasingly contentious energy policy debate.

Dr. Cheryl Martin, Deputy Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E).

Dr. Cheryl Martin, Deputy Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E).

I recently sat down with Dr. Martin and talked extensively about her unique take on ARPA-E, its potential legacies, and the evolving U.S. energy innovation ecosystem. The interview covered a lot of ground

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Congress Passes Full-Year FY2013 Continuing Resolution

This year’s budget process has been complicated by a number of factors: confusion surrounding the sequestration cuts, the absence of the President’s FY2014 budget proposal, an expiring Continuing Resolution (CR), and Congress reviewing budget proposals for FY2014 and appropriations bills for FY2013 at the same time. While the FY2014 budget is yet to be decided, last week the House approved the Senate’s version of the Full-Year Consolidated and Further Continuing Resolution Act of 2013, which funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. Since the current Continuing Resolution is set to expire on March 27, the bill, which now heads to President Obama’s desk to be signed into public law, avoids a government shutdown by a matter of days.

As shown in the figure, the new CR is not very different from the old CR in terms of investments in energy innovation. The previous CR was based on FY2012 funding levels, and the new CR lowers investments in energy R&D by less than one percent from FY2012 levels.

CR(2) graph

The table below shows the recent appropriations legislative history in relationship to FY2012 funding levels. The new

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ARPA-E Expands Pursuit of Transportation Decarbonization

Today, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced funding opportunities for two new programs, each with $20 million, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The first, Reducing Emissions Using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy (REMOTE), is focused on developing improved biological technologies to convert natural gas to liquids for transportation fuels, while the second, Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advancements for Light-Metal Systems (METALS), is geared towards improving the manufacturing and recycling of light metals for use in vehicles. (No one can fault the agency’s efforts to create clever acronyms). The move signals emerging government recognition of the importance of transportation decarbonization and the need for a range of innovative transportation technologies to facilitate that endeavor.

Cutting transportation sector emissions is critical to mitigating climate change. The ITIF report Shifting Gears notes that more than 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to cars and light trucks. Furthermore, the report observes, the number of those vehicles on the road globally is estimated to grow more than 47 percent from 750 million in 2010 to 1.1 billion in 2039.

Fittingly, the federal government

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Jesse Jenkins Weighs in on the Energy Innovation Budget Builder

Guest post by Jesse Jenkins, MIT graduate researcher and former Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute.

ITIF recently unveiled an interesting new interactive budget tool based on data directly from the Energy Innovation Tracker entitled the Energy Innovation Budget Builder. Specifically, the Budget Builder allows users to allocate up to $50 billion across five innovation phases and see how their ideal budget compares to the actual federal FY2012 distribution.

Consistent with the recommendations in the October 2010 report, “Post-Partisan Power” co-authored by energy analysts at the Breakthrough Institute, Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute (including myself), I used the Budget Builder to craft a hypothetical budget that would devote U.S. clean energy innovation funds as follows:,2000,0,5000,6500,6750,1250,0,3000,4000

JJ energy innovation budget2

  • Double federal investments in basic energy sciences from about $1.5 billion today to $3 billion. Devote a considerable portion of this increased budget to more use-inspired basic science meant to remove basic science barriers to unlock breakthrough energy innovations, including roughly $300 million in annual funding to scale up the Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) program over the coming years (EFRCs are currently funded
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ARPA-E’s RANGE Program Will Boost Battery Innovation

On the eve of their annual Energy Innovation Summit, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has announced funding for a new program focused on improving electric vehicle (EV) battery technologies. The new Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems (RANGE) program “seeks to improve EV range and reduce vehicle costs by re-envisioning the total EV battery system, rather than working to increase the energy density of individual battery cells,” as stated in the agency’s press release. The program’s establishment represents just the latest positive sign of the Energy Department’s commitment to foster battery innovation.

As MIT Technology Review reported last year, a $2.4 billion grant program under the 2009 Stimulus resulted in a substantial gap between domestic EV battery production capacity and actual battery demand. To be sure, while manufacturing capability is essential, demand for EVs and EV batteries by extension will only grow when battery technology can exceed expectations. And to accomplish that goal, ITIF has argued, policymakers need to emphasize battery innovation and “put the battery before the electric vehicle” – a need that has been underlined by the recent Broder-Tesla spat. Fortunately, the

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Government Support for Clean Energy Innovation: Breakthrough Carbon Capture Modeling

Researchers affiliated with the University of Minnesota, the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a breakthrough computer model that can identify the best molecules for capturing carbon from power plant stacks. The model greatly accelerates the search for new low-cost and efficient ways to burn coal and natural gas while also drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But this significant breakthrough would not have been possible without key public investments in energy innovation.

Carbon capture technology development largely focuses on amine scrubbing, a process that uses chemical solvents to absorb carbon dioxide from coal and gas power plant stacks. However, fueling the traditional amine-based processes requires it to use as much as a third of the energy produced by the power plant itself. As a result, the process induces so-called “parasitic energy” costs – power producers must burn more coal or gas to run a power plant with amine carbon capture technology than a plant without. The added energy costs greatly reduce the potential for deployment, so dramatically lowering those costs through new technologies could go a long

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Ambri and Utility-Scale Storage: Another Emerging Story of Government Investment in Energy Innovation

Utility-scale energy storage start-up Ambri is emerging as a potential clean energy game changer, but is also a budding story of the role of government in supporting breakthrough technologies. Its potential impact cannot be overstated. Utility-scale energy storage is critical for making clean energy-produced electricity a viable option everywhere.

Intermittency is a key drawback of using solar and wind power (in addition to the higher costs of existing technologies) at grid-scale (i.e. to power a city or region). The amount of energy produced by the sun and wind varies greatly over time and “when intermittent electricity sources like solar make up more of the power supply mix,” Sydney Kaufman of Solar Novus Today observes, “utility operators have less control over how much power is produced. This is one of the largest hurdles to increasing renewable grid penetration and it causes utility managers to have to constantly be prepared for dips in renewable output.”

Utility operators have typically compensated for the ebb and flow of renewable power by running back-up natural gas power plants that can be quickly brought on line, but as Kaufman points out, this “means that at

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Basic Research the Wrong Focus for ARPA-E

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has enjoyed bipartisan support since its inception, with members of Congress from both parties appearing at this year’s Energy Innovation Summit to laud its achievements. The agency’s reputation is such that a 2010 report by scholars from the American Enterprise Institute, the Breakthrough Institute, and the Brookings Institution entitled Post-Partisan Power called for its annual budget to be increased to $1.5 billion. (Congress appropriated $275 million for the agency for fiscal year 2012). Yet there has been a troubling trend as an increasing number of policymakers and advocates are calling for ARPA-E’s mission to be redirected to focus solely on basic research – exploration of fundamental principles with no regard for commercial applications. A move in that direction, however, would completely misunderstand the role the agency is meant to play in the energy innovation cycle and would be a serious mistake.

Last year, Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) accused the Obama Administration of shifting the Department of Energy’s focus from basic research to “later-stage technology development and commercialization efforts,” an approach that he panned as “picking winners and losers.” It was thus unsurprising when

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A Promising Government Program Launches Down Under

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is the subject of numerous ITIF blog posts – including a series on the Energy Innovation Summit hosted by the agency this year – and a report, A Model for Innovation: ARPA-E Merits Full Funding. It has been consistently held up as a clean energy policy success due to its focus on transformational energy technology research and development; “Pound for pound, dollar for dollar,” FedEx chairman and CEO Fred Smith has remarked, “it’s hard to find a more effective thing the government has done than ARPA–E.” But the agency now has company with the launching of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

“ARENA’s mission,” the chairman of its board, Greg Bourne, notes, “is to drive innovation in renewable energy technologies and thereby improve the competitiveness of renewable energy in Australia and increase its role in our energy mix.” The agency was created last year through the consolidation of multiple government clean energy initiatives, a move that received support from across the political spectrum. It began operations in July of this year and is overseen by a board

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