The US government has set up a special agency within the Department of Energy called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to promote “Disruptive and Innovative Approaches” to clean technology. ARPA has the following objectives (from the ARPA website):
- To bring a freshness, excitement, and sense of mission to energy research that will attract many of the U.S.’s best and brightest minds—those of experienced scientists and engineers, and, especially, those of students and young researchers, including persons in the entrepreneurial world;
- To focus on creative “out-of-the-box” transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its high risk but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation;
- To utilize an ARPA-like organization that is flat, nimble, and sparse, capable of sustaining for long periods of time those projects whose promise remains real, while phasing out programs that do not prove to be as promising as anticipated; and
- To create a new tool to bridge the gap between basic energy research and development/industrial innovation.
ARPA is currently supporting R&D in the following areas:
- Better batteries
- Technologies the reduce carbon emissions in coal powered power stations
- Grid scale energy storage
- Material advances in magnetic, high voltage switching and charge storage.
- Electrofuels – microorganisms to harness energy and convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels
- Energy efficient building cooling technologies
This is an exciting program, and I particularly like the focus on breakthrough technologies. For example one of the energy efficiency cooling technology projects ARPA is supporting is thermoelastic cooling. This is a space cooling system that could have a a COP (coefficient of performance) up to 175% better than current vapour compression refrigerant systems.
It would be great to have a program similar to ARPA here in Australia.