Obama Proposes Big Boost for Blue-Sky Energy Research Agency

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

Following last night's declaration by President Barack Obama of a "Sputnik Moment" on competitiveness and energy innovation , the Department of Energy will request big increases on two signature Administration energy-research initiatives: the blue-sky research Advanced Research Projects Agency-E (ARPA-E) agency and the interdisciplinary Energy Innovation Hubs.

In a fact sheet released to reporters this afternoon, the White House said the president's 2012 budget request for more than $415 million, which will be submitted on 14 February, will "more than double total funding to date" for ARPA-E. Until now, the agency has received $415 million, almost most of it from the 2009 stimulus. The department requested $300 million for ARPA-E in its 2011 budget. But that request, which was a surprise at the time, may end up going unfulfilled because the previous Congress failed to pass a 2011 budget, and most programs will likely receive a flat budget based on their 2010 levels in what's likely to be a year-long continuing resolution.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu originally requested money in the president's 2010 budget for eight hubs, calling the $25-million-a-year collaborations between government and academic scientists an opportunity for sustained progress on important obstacles to a clean-energy economy. Congress has funded only three of them, in nuclear power, energy efficiency, and solar fuels. Chu asked for a fourth hub in the 2011 budget. DOE officials did not describe the focus of the new hubs, which presumably would also be supported at $25 million a year.

*This item has been amended on 27 January. The total minimum 2012 request for ARPA-E was added to the original item.

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