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Policy

U.S. National Academies give ARPA-E good grades

Program funding high-risk, early stage energy research targeted for elimination by Trump

by Cheryl Hogue
June 13, 2017

ARPA-E by the numbers:

$306 million in federal funding in fiscal 2017

25% of project teams or technologies received follow-on funding for continued work

~50% of projects had results published in peer-reviewed journals

13% of projects led to patents

Source: U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine

A federal energy research program that U.S. President Donald J. Trump has proposed to defund earned positive marks from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine.

In a congressionally mandated report released on June 13, the National Academies assesses the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The report says the program is delivering on its mission to develop early-stage energy innovations and pave a path to their commercialization.

ARPA-E focuses on high-risk and potentially transformative technologies and opportunities that neither other federal agencies nor the private sector is funding. This, the report says, is one of ARPA-E’s strengths.

“ARPA-E has made significant contributions to energy R&D that likely would not take place absent the agency’s activities,” said Pradeep Khosla, chair of the committee that wrote the report and chancellor of the University of California, San Diego.

Congress created ARPA-E in 2007, but the program did not get significant funding until 2009. The report says that given its few years of operation, ARPA-E “cannot reasonably be expected to have completely fulfilled its goals.”

The extent of the program’s impacts won’t be seen for years, the report continues. It warns that attempts to reshape the agency through pressure to produce short-term results would create a significant risk of failure.

In his budget request for 2018 released in May, Trump asked Congress to eliminate funding for ARPA-E, and his Administration stopped processing paperwork related to the program’s grants earlier this spring. Earlier this month, CEOs of energy, chemical, and biotechnology companies wrote to top congressional appropriators, asking them to continue federal funding of energy programs—especially early-stage and high-risk research.

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