Contrary to the Obama administration’s pledge to support new energy technology advancements, the Department of Energy (DOE) in late July sent out letters rejecting a majority of the proposals for federal funding in this area.

DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which was launched in April of this year to fund cutting-edge energy technology projects, said it expected to select for award less than 2% of the 3,500 submissions that it received from scientists, researchers and engineers (see Daily GPI, April 29).

In one rejection letter, the DOE organization said it expected a “significant response” to the ARPA-E solicitation, “but the submission of 3,500 concept papers was remarkable.” It noted that the concept papers “significantly exceeded” the $150 million budgeted for awards. Individual awards are expected to range from $500,000 to $20 million.

A team of more than 400 experts within the DOE, other federal agencies, academia and nonprofit agencies reviewed the energy technology proposals. To be eligible for funding, the reviewers were required to “evaluate and prioritize [the proposals] based on the high standard for transformational impact, the significant discriminating factor in the decisions,” the letter said.

The ARPA-E is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — which was created in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik — and is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. ARPA-E was set up to fund energy technology projects that translate scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations, and also to accelerate technological advances in high-risk areas that industry is not likely to pursue independently.

It does not fund improvements to existing technologies; this research will continue to be supported through existing DOE programs, such as those of the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The focus is on new energy technologies that offer significant progress toward reducing imported energy; reducing energy-related emissions, including greenhouse gases; and improving energy efficiency.

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