Bingaman Gives ARPA-E Good Marks on First Year

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

One of ARPA-E's key congressional fathers, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), gave the young agency high grades in remarks today during the third day of a 3-day summit hosted by the blue-sky energy agency.

Bingaman called for the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to be judged on three key challenges: hiring good people, supporting good science, and getting the private sector involved in investing in energy research.

So far, he said, the program has successfully hired program managers "as technically good as the people they funded." (Later, Arati Prabhakar, former director of the Pentagon's well-respected risky-research arm, DARPA, said "ARPA-E is on the same trajectory" in terms of hiring.) For funding good research, "speed is of the essence," says Bingaman. He hailed the "extraordinary efforts of the scientific community" to review the 3700 applications that flooded ARPA-E's offices last summer, competing for $150 million in funding. (The deluge crashed the DOE computer system.)

"The energy industry has historically not been the quickest to adopt," Bingaman said, with no small measure of understatement. For that reason, he said, "ARPA-E must catch the interest of industry." He called the hundreds of attendees at the meeting "a clear sign" that that is happening. Even more important, he said, 2 months after the first ARPA-E awards, private companies have invested an additional $32 million to supplement that money.

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