In 2005, leaders from both parties in Congress asked the National Academies to "identify the most urgent challenges the U.S. faces in maintaining leadership in key areas of science and technology," as well as specific steps policymakers could take to help the U.S. compete, prosper, and stay secure in the 21st Century.
In its report for Congress, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, the National Academies called for decisive action, warning policymakers that U.S. advantages in science and technology--which made the country a world leader for decades--had already begun to erode.
The report recommended that Congress establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) modeled after the successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)--the agency credited with such innovations as GPS, the stealth fighter, and computer networking.
In 2007, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law The America COMPETES Act, which officially authorized ARPA-E's creation. In 2009, Congress appropriated and President Barack Obama allocated $400 million to the new Agency, which funded ARPA-E's first projects.
Since 2009, ARPA-E has funded over 285 potentially transformational energy technology projects. Many of these projects have already demonstrated early indicators of technical success. For example, ARPA-E awardees have:
- Doubled the world-record energy density for a rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Developed a 1 megawatt silicon carbide transistor the size of a fingernail
- Engineered microbes that use hydrogen and carbon dioxide to make liquid transportation fuel
- Pioneered a near-isothermal compressed air energy storage system
Technical achievements like these have spurred millions of dollars in follow-on private-sector funding to a number of ARPA-E projects. In addition, several ARPA-E awardees have formed start-up or spin-off companies.