Majumdar, who was not appointed until well into the first round of project selection, has now added an opportunity for applicants to respond to criticisms. The next round will also correct a perceived shortcoming in the funding allotted to advanced energy storage projects. “We funded a few battery technologies, but we held a workshop and learned there is much more opportunity in this area. We listened to that,” Majumdar says. In fact, the second round of funding, announced last week, features three funding areas, one of which will be devoted to high-energy batteries for electric vehicles. The other areas focus on capturing carbon dioxide and using sunlight to make liquid fuels.
Meanwhile, the first round of funding is making a big difference for those who received awards. Donald Sadoway, a professor of materials chemistry at MIT, had been having trouble getting funding from companies for developing a new battery concept for storing renewable electricity. “The conservatism at big companies–it’s just paralytic at this point,” he says. A $7 million award from ARPA-E is enough for him to “hire a critical mass of people” and set up a laboratory that can scale up early prototypes. “The level of funding is refreshing,” he says, compared to the $150,000 to $200,000 awards he would expect from other agencies.
Sadoway says he’s also encouraged by the focus of the agency: not on incremental changes to existing technologies, but on entirely new approaches that could make a big impact. “I’m so inspired by this that I have other ideas now,” he says, “high-risk stuff that’s way out there but not science fiction.”