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Oil prices are crashing, the cost of renewable energy is falling like a rock, and here comes ARPA-E with $125 million for even more disruptive technology.


$125 Million For Disruptive Energy Technology, Including “None Of The Above”

Oil prices are crashing, the cost of renewable energy is falling like a rock, and here comes ARPA-E with $125 million for even more disruptive technology.

As if the energy market wasn’t crazy enough already, the Energy Department has just stirred the pot in a big way. To the tune of $125 million, the Department is providing funds to kickstart disruptive technology for next-generation wind solar, wind, and geothermal energy technologies, along with a mysterious little category it calls “other.”

The new funding opportunity announcement comes through the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which provides the Energy Department with a platform for kickstarting transformational energy projects that are too early and too high-risk to attract private investors.

That could mean just about anything, and the new $125 million announcement bumps it up to a whole ‘nother level. It’s an open funding opportunity, which means that it’s designed to seek out and embrace disruptive energy projects that are not already covered by existing ARPA-E funding categories.

Disruptive technology from Local Motors

Disruptive technology spotted at the Detroit auto show: a 3-D printed car (photo by Tina Casey).

ARPA-E And Disruptive Technology

ARPA-E was created in 2005 under the Bush Administration. It was modeled on the success of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which among other things brought the Internet to life. So, when they say disruptive, they mean disruptive.

For obvious reasons there was no hurry to fund the new agency, and it languished on the drawing board. That all changed early into the Obama Administration, which announced plans to re-launch ARPA-E back in 2009. We were still ready to crack open another six-pack while waiting for something to actually happen, but a lot of things actually have happened in just five years.

ARPA-E currently has a database of hundreds of projects, and if you want an idea of the disruptive technology angle, check out the agency’s new funding for lightweight vehicles with an emphasis on 3-D printing, as well as flow batteries and next generation fuel cells.


If It Works, Will It Matter?

So, what’s cooking with the new funding announcement? This is the third in a series, and as with the previous two ARPA-E is casting a wide net

ARPA‐E’s OPEN FOAs [funding opportunity announcements] ensure that the agency does not miss opportunities to support innovative energy R&D that falls outside of the topics of the focused technology programs or that develop after focused solicitations have closed. OPEN FOAs provide the agency with a remarkable sampling of new and emerging opportunities across the complete spectrum of energy

Since ARPA-E is looking outside of its established research programs, you’ve got to be really creative if you want to catch a part of the $125 million pot. Instead of providing applicants with a set of parameters, ARPA-E asks applicants to consider the Yoda-style question, “if it works, will it matter?”

You’ll get a jump on the competition if you focus on the potential impacts of your disruptive technology, specifically reducing emissions, reducing energy imports, and improving efficiency.

As for that “none of the above” thing, after the new announcement runs down a list of solar, wind, and geothermal projects ARPA-E is eyeballing, you’ll find Subcategory H: Renewable Power — Other, which simply asks you to come up with a renewable energy technology that does “not fit one of the above categories.”

You can get all the details from ARPA-E, so go for it. If you need some information, check out the lineup for the upcoming ARPA-E Innovation Summit next month.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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