ARPA-E's 2021 Wrapped
ARPA-E is a high-risk, high-reward agency that changes what’s possible in energy. With the help of our awardees, supporters, and other stakeholders, we achieved a striking amount in 2021.
ARPA-E launched 11 new programs covering a range of energy applications in 2021, including focused programs, Exploratory Topics, OPEN 2021, and SCALEUP.
Focused programs are the foundation of this mission-driven agency. Program Directors lead program development with their team through up to a year of intense effort, culminating in a detailed Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), to essentially answer these questions: ‘What problem should be solved, and why? What should the solution look like to have an impact?’ This year, ARPA-E announced:
- The REMEDY (Reducing Emissions of Methane Every Day of the Year) Program - reducing methane via conversion from oil, gas, and coal value chains
- The ONWARDS (Optimizing Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems) Program – proactively reducing nuclear waste and optimizing fuel cycles to enable advanced reactors
- The HESTIA (Harnessing Emissions into Structures Taking Inputs from the Atmosphere) Program – enabling carbon negative buildings via novel building materials and designs
ARPA-E also added funding opportunities via our ongoing ‘Solicitations on Topics Informing New Program Areas’ FOA, used as needed for smaller efforts that do not fit our typical focused program model. This flexible opportunity is used to fund exploratory and disruptive R&D seedlings, to provide resource teams that support focused programs, and to investigate topic areas in which a full focused program may later be developed. This ability to respond to needs in a quick and agile manner enables ARPA-E to better support focused programs while constantly pursuing innovation in new areas. These projects are organized into groups we call Exploratory Topics.
Approximately every three years ARPA-E issues an OPEN FOA, and despite the challenges 2021 continued to bring all of us, we stuck to this schedule – and how! OPEN 2021 was released early in the year with $175M in funding to investigate energy technology concepts that are outside the scope of previous ARPA-E programs, and everyone at the Agency came together to work at an impressive pace to make the program a success.
Finally, this month ARPA-E announced our second SCALEUP FOA, with an increase to $100M in federal funds available to support the commercial transition for ARPA-E technologies. The SCALEUP program supports promising ARPA-E projects as they work to retire technical risks associated with productization, manufacturing, and deployment. The goal of the program is to translate performance achieved at the lab-scale bench level to commercially viable versions of the technology. As an impact-driven agency, we are committed to seeing the R&D we fund translated into real-world products and technologies that support our mission.
ARPA-E continues to track key early indicators that help illustrate how the advanced R&D funded by the Agency can potentially turn into commercial impact, including private-sector follow-on funding, new company formation, partnership with other government agencies, publications, inventions, and patents. In the 2021 government fiscal year, ARPA-E expanded the indicators it tracks which now include exits through public listings, mergers, and acquisitions, as well as patent licenses. You can see how these numbers have increased with time and see new information compiled quarterly on our impact page.
The Energy Innovation Community
ARPA-E held the 11th ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit virtually to guarantee the health and safety of attendees. The 2021 Summit hosted more than 3,000 attendees, a record for our annual event. The Summit’s Student Program saw a record number of participants, with over 300 students from 40 states and over 100 higher-education institutions attending and participating. The Summit’s Technology Showcase featured over 400 cutting-edge virtual technology booths. The mainstage program hosted two cabinet secretaries, one governor, two deputy secretaries, five members of Congress, three International Energy Leaders, and 12 C-Suite Energy Industry leaders. We hope everyone attending the Summit enjoyed it as much as we all did. The number of interesting (and motivating!) conversations we had with attendees and speakers was striking, and we thank everyone involved for making the most of our virtual format.
Throughout the year, the Agency also held nine technical workshops, ten program kickoffs, nine annual meetings, and three pitch events; all these meetings were successfully conducted in a fully virtual format.
At the heart of ARPA-E’s success is its people. Program Directors (PD), Tech-to-Market (T2M) Advisors, and Fellows come from universities, industry, startups, and the public sector to redefine our nation’s approach to energy innovation. ARPA-E hired two new PDs, four new T2M advisors, and four new fellows this year.
Dr. Simon Freeman joined the team as a PD to focus on maritime energy, critical supply chain materials, and environmental carbon sensing technologies. Dr. Olga Blum Spahn, also a new PD, will focus on grid resiliency, power management and distribution, aviation, and instrumentation for harsh environments leveraging optical and semiconductor device technologies.
The new additions to the T2M team—Dr. Nick Goeser, Kirk Liu, Dr. Chris Vandervort, and Sam Wurzel—will help prepare innovative energy technologies for transition from the lab to the market.
As ARPA-E Fellows, Dr. Katharine Greco, Dr. Jake Russell, Dr. Elizabeth Shoenfelt Troein, and Dr. Emily Yedinak will identify breakthrough energy solutions by conducting technical and economic analyses, supporting programmatic work, and by engaging with world-class government officials, entrepreneurs, academics, and industrial researchers.
It’s been quite a year for advancing cutting-edge energy technology, with new funding opportunities, new projects, new ideas, and many virtual events. Cheers to another year of changing what’s possible – we cannot wait to tackle what’s next in 2022!
Hint: OPEN 2021 project selections soon to be announced, the 2022 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, and more funding opportunities, to name a few. Signing up for our newsletter is the easiest way to stay in the loop!