Berkeley Engineer To Head DOE's Advanced Projects Agency | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: September 21, 2009

Berkeley Engineer To Head DOE's Advanced Projects Agency

Advanced Research: Nominated to lead ARPA-E, Arun Majumdar has similar background as Energy Secretary Steven Chu
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: Department of Energy, Renewable Energy, Energy Storage

President Barack Obama has nominated Department of Energy lab division director, Berkeley professor, and Indian immigrant Arun Majumdar to lead the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a newly created DOE research incubator.

Majumdar is currently director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a mechanical engineering and material science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His relationship to the two institutions as well as his strong scientific interest in energy R&D mirrors those of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, to whom he will directly report if confirmed by the Senate.

Obama stressed in his Sept. 18 nomination announcement Majumdar's work in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy storage. Obama also underscored the nominee's ties to startup companies and venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.

Majumdar also has connections to Chinese and Indian researchers and universities, Obama said, where he has formed partnerships to encourage energy efficiency and climate change R&D and technology deployment.

In a statement, Majumdar called his appointment a "rare privilege and honor.

"I came to this country as an immigrant and am deeply appreciative and indebted to this nation for opening the doors and welcoming me with open arms. I have received so much. This is my way of stepping up and paying back."

Majumdar received a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley in 1989 and a B.Tech in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, in 1985. He is founding chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Nanotechnology Institute and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

ARPA-E, the agency Majumdar will lead if confirmed, has gotten off to a rough start. Congress created it in 2007, modeled after an advanced R&D program in the Department of Defense. Its first funding solicitation, however, came about only last April when DOE announced a request for proposals worth $150 million out of some $400 million allocated to ARPA-E from the Administration's recovery act budget.

Chu has described ARPA-E as fast moving and nimble operation with the goal of overcoming "long-term, high-risk technological barriers" and fostering R&D of transformational energy-related technologies. The projects are to be based on high-risk, high-payoff technologies with the potential to transform the energy landscape.

Majumdar will have his work cut out for him. The response to DOE's first solicitation was huge. ARPA-E received some 3,500 concept papers, chasing the $150 million, DOE reported in July. The response far "outstripped" expectations of project reviewers, DOE noted, and only a few proposals—DOE staff say a few percent—are likely to be successful when DOE makes in final selection in fall.

Meanwhile on Aug. 31 DOE announced it is now seeking public comments and guidance on which program areas are best suited for transformational research for future ARPA-E grants.

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