Subcommittee Considers ARPA-E Proposal to Advance Cutting-Edge Energy Technologies
(Washington, DC) Today, the House Committee on Science & Technology, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing on the legislative proposal H.R. 364, establishing an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E).
This bill is authored by Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and is designed to advance U.S. competitiveness in the energy arena.
“Despite passage of an energy bill in the 109th Congress, interest in energy – its production, its distribution, and its use - remains high. This is because we have not yet addressed the key challenges our society faces that are linked to our present energy sources and our present patterns of energy use,” said Subcommittee Vice Chair Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).
H.R. 364 establishes an ARPA-E and sets up an Energy Independence Acceleration Fund to conduct activities under the Act.
“We all agree that energy research and development is key to energy independence, technological innovation, and combating the affects of climate change," said Chairman Gordon. "The question is how far are we willing to go to enact real change that garners tangible results? Establishing an ARPA-E is a bold step, but we’ve got to be willing to push the envelope and think outside the box to get the job done."
Originally introduced as H.R. 4435 in the 109th Congress, this bill follows on the direct recommendations of the widely-acknowledged National Academies 2005 report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. This report called on the federal government to create a new energy research agency within Department of Energy patterned after the successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) within the Department of Defense.
According to the Gathering Storm report, ARPA-E should be structured to “sponsor creative, out-of-the-box, transformational, generic energy research in those areas where industry itself cannot or will not undertake such sponsorships, where risks and potential payoffs are high, and where success could provide dramatic benefits for the Nation.”
“We must take steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to diversify our energy sources. Part of the solution lies in getting more of the alternative energy sources and technologies to improve energy efficiency into the marketplace,” added Rep. Giffords. “The investments we make must support a wide range of ideas and foster creative thinking that will develop the full range of energy technologies that we need in the future to continue supporting a vibrant economy and the quality of life that we enjoy today. That is what H.R. 364 is all about.”
The primary motivations for establishing an ARPA-E are the need for the U.S. to obtain more energy from domestic resources, become more energy efficient, and become less reliant on energy sources and technologies that have an adverse effect on the environment. These motivations are especially urgent given the geo-political forces that threaten global energy supplies and economic stability, the looming threat of global climate change, and probable legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
In addition to addressing the nation’s energy challenges, the Gathering Storm report concluded that ARPA-E should also contribute to U.S. competitiveness by playing an important role in “advancing research in engineering, the physical sciences, and mathematics; and in developing the next generation of researchers.”
ARPA-E unique role is best described as a “marriage broker” which can identify people and capabilities within industry, universities, and the national labs, and put them together in hybrid teams to rapidly develop novel solutions to pressing energy problem.
“My home state of Arizona is rich in sunshine, and solar technology has the potential to make a significant contribution to our available energy resources. Within the last two years, researchers have found ways to use polymers with nanoparticles to create solar cells that capture infrared as well as visible light. With more efficient solar cells, sunshine-rich states like Arizona could exchange fossil fuel produced electricity for electricity generated by clean, renewable solar energy. We need to support this type of creative application of nanotechnology to energy research to find the breakthroughs that will yield more than incremental improvements in current energy technologies. Also, at the University of Arizona, Professor Roger Angel is doing innovative research on using optics to harness solar energy,” concluded Rep. Giffords.
The bill now proceeds to consideration by the full Committee.