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Energy

A Plethora Of Clean Energy

Innovation: ARPA-E summit shines spotlight emerging technologies

by Jeff Johnson
March 5, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 10

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Credit: Jeff Johnson/C&EN
Catherine T. (Katie) Hunt, Dow R&D sustainable technology director and former ACS president, shows off Dow’s “solar shingles” at last week’s summit.
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Credit: Jeff Johnson/C&EN
Catherine T. (Katie) Hunt, Dow R&D sustainable technology director and former ACS president, shows off Dow’s “solar shingles” at last week’s summit.

Despite the nearly continuous attacks on clean energy spending by some in Congress, enthusiasm remains high for clean energy technologies being developed by the Department of Energy. At the agency’s third annual Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) conference last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu called for a “second industrial revolution” based on “innovation, invention, and discovery” to transform the world’s sources of energy.

Chu delivered this message to some 2,600 scientists, engineers, investors, business executives, and others gathered at the Energy Innovation Summit, held near Washington, D.C. ARPA-E supports fledgling clean energy technologies. The secretary gushed over the new technologies that were on display at the conference.

Chu and most speakers at the summit stressed the need for more spending for clean energy research, a tough proposition in a tight economy.

The summit included an unusual mix of people not normally part of the emerging clean energy world, such as former president Bill Clinton, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, former Walmart CEO Lee Scott, and Xerox CEO Ursula M. Burns.

Along with pushing for research funding, Gates, Clinton, and many others lamented the nation’s unwillingness to move ahead and create a firm timetable to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which could help drive a clean energy economy. But each held a slightly different vision of how to develop that clean energy marketplace.

Gates urged development of advanced nuclear energy projects. He particularly pushed a company he supports, TerraPower, which is exploring the use of depleted uranium as a fuel. Clinton, while urging reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, also supported natural gas and oil development.

But most of the conference focused on emerging technologies, such as energy storage, electrical grid expansion, and renewable energy. It also highlighted some 180 projects funded by ARPA-E in technologies DOE believes are of critical importance to clean energy expansion. In all, more than 200 booths displayed these technologies, along with others that had been developed with DOE support.

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