Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Still Changing What's Possible: Alumni Spotlight

Dr. Ashwin Salvi is a former ARPA-E fellow. We recently sat down with him to discuss how he became interested in energy, his experience working at ARPA-E, and what he’s doing now to transform America’s energy future.

How did you first become interested in energy?

As an engineer, I’ve always been interested in energy, but it was in 2012 that I became aware of its resonance, as it was mentioned during several speeches and debates. So, I got together with a few of my graduate school classmates at the University of Michigan to start the Michigan Energy Club. Our goal was to educate the public on the science, business, and policy aspects of energy and make it more approachable and interesting. From there I became very interested in the elements needed to truly transform our approach to energy, which led me to ARPA-E.

What do you find unique about ARPA-E’s culture?

ARPA-E is a place where the entire staff is given the freedom and flexibility to investigate energy whitespace -- either previously overlooked or unviable -- and to develop that whitespace into something that will matter. ARPA-E is full of incredibly talented people and their dedication to improving the world is inspiring. On top of that, ARPA-E has a really collaborative culture that is open to new ideas and empowers everyone to contribute. Everyone works together and lends their expertise to ensure that every program is as technically and commercially rigorous as possible.

As it does with technology, the agency is constantly evolving and trying new models to make its programs even more effective. The ability to critically self-evaluate is an important part of ARPA-E’s culture.

What is the most memorable part about your ARPA-E experience?

I have countless memories from my time at ARPA-E so it’s difficult to pick just one. First, I have to say that I truly valued my colleagues at ARPA-E – the staff are some of the hardest working and most talented individuals I’ve had the privilege to work with. They not only helped me develop my analytical, technical, and commercialization skills, but they also forever changed my perspective and career goals.

One of the most rewarding experiences I had at ARPA-E was creating a fast pitch for the 2014 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. My idea was to develop small combined heat and power devices that could produce electricity from natural gas at the point of consumption, like a house, and use the waste heat for space and water heating. That idea eventually morphed into the GENSETS program. It was awesome to be a part of the conception, development, review, and execution of a fully developed program. The ability of the Fellows to contribute to a new program area really demonstrates the inclusiveness and openness of ARPA-E.

Finally, I also really enjoyed reading about the various energy technologies and ideas that researchers across the country are investigating. Learning about the latest concepts and their results was exciting and instilled in me an optimism about America’s energy future.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while at ARPA-E?

This may sound like a joke, but I honestly think that the biggest challenge I faced while at ARPA-E was finding an opportunity afterward that would be as compelling and exciting as ARPA-E had been. Finding a role that values the broad technical and commercialization skills I learned while at ARPA-E can be difficult, however, many alumni have found great opportunities to use these skills in their next role.

I now serve as the Director of Application Engineering for Achates Power, an energy technology startup (and ARPA-E awardee!). My current role uniquely ties together my technical background in mechanical engineering with the commercialization perspective that I gained while at ARPA-E. ARPA-E was instrumental in preparing me to answer the ultimate question: If it works, will it matter?

Above: Ashwin Salvi (left) explains Achates Power’s novel engine technology at the 2018 Summit.

What do you hope to accomplish beyond ARPA-E?

I hope to take what I’ve learned in graduate school and ARPA-E and apply it to commercialize energy technology that can improve efficiency and reduce emissions.