Exploring energy innovation at ARPA-E
All, recently my colleague Laura Hudy traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Energy (ARPA-E) symposium. Laura Hudy is the manager of the Thermal Energy Systems Lab at Global Research. Laura’s lab is within the Aero-Thermal & Mechanical Systems technology organization. It is important to point out that the Aero-Thermal & Mechanical systems technology organization works very closely with the laboratories within the Fuels & Emissions technology organization which is within the Chemical & Chemical Engineering Technology Domain in order to delivery technology to our businesses and strategic partners.
As Laura mentions below, the ARPA-E conference was filled with great speakers and provided lively discussions on thought-provoking topics. I wanted to share with you this summary Laura put together of the event to hopefully give you a little perspective of what it was like to be there. Please leave comments and let us know what you think!
Hello, my name is Laura Hudy. I manage the Thermal Energy Systems Lab at GE Global Research. My team develops conceptual designs of energy systems that utilize non-renewable fuels to produce power with minimal environmental impact, i.e. low emissions and low water usage. I attended this year’s ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit held in Washington D.C., February 28 through March 2, 2011. This was the 2nd annual Summit. ARPA-E started in 2009 and has developed quickly as an agency. Today the agency is funding 121 projects, totaling around $366M. GE Global Research is the principal investigator on three ARPA-E projects in the areas of phase-changing materials for carbon capture, nanostructured thick film magnets, and low rare earth magnets.
The focus of the ARPA-E Summit was to bring together government officials, industry leaders, universities, and national labs for 3 days to discuss the energy crisis facing the world today and America’s role in meeting the challenge. The Summit consisted of three main areas: 1) motivational speakers talking about the energy challenge, 2) panel discussions that focused on how to make a difference through policy as well as technology, and 3) technology sessions including posters that highlighted some of the more innovative ideas ARPA-E has seen over the past two years.
The motivational speakers included the 12th Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu. He kicked off the event and talked about the motivation behind ARPA-E based on what we see happening in the world. The price of oil is definitely going up in the coming decades. What we see today is that when the price of oil goes up we panic and all of a sudden it is a race to develop clean energy technology. However, when the price of oil drops, we snooze. Chu stated that we need to steady our focus as a nation and not just react to oil prices. Right now $400B flows out of the US to import energy. Our national security depends on energy security. Energy created at home is wealth creation at home. We need to decrease our dependency on oil by increasing efficiency, electrifying vehicles, and developing biofuels.
Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also addressed the conference attendees. Senator Udall called for more scientists to become policymakers and Senator Murkowski stated that we need energy to be cleaner, cheaper, and more secure. In the state of Alaska, 44% of a family’s disposable income is spent on energy compared to 3-6% in other parts of the US. She asked what game-changing technology can help rural, small town Americans afford to live.
Arun Majumdar, Director of ARPA-E, highlighted how energy use and population do not correlate. Regions of high population do not use a lot of energy in the world today. However, they are developing and starting to turn on the lights. Majumdar said imagine if we can influence those folks to turn on the right kind of lights, it could be a big business opportunity. Inventing clean energy technology, locally, to be sold globally, equates to American jobs and economic security.
Then Arnold spoke. Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator, Conan the Barbarian, the Austrian-American bodybuilder, actor, model, businessman and politician who served as the 38th Governor of California. I must say he has been “pumping up” America since 1968 and his Summit speech was no exception. He said that people are stuck on this image of climate change and whether the science is true or not. He says it is time to move past the arguments and realize that there are more reasons to go green than climate change. First, he talked about how green jobs will help the economy and help keep America competitive. Clean energy is the next way of innovation, the next gold rush. Second, he said our national defense and homeland security would be better off with more clean energy technology deployed and in use. In 1959, Eisenhower said we should not depend on foreign oil. At that point, US import 20% of its oil. Today it is 60%. He also talked about the impact that weatherizing homes and buildings could have from creating jobs to reducing emissions to saving people money. The last point he brought up was we need to go green because of our health. He said that each year 100,000 people die premature deaths because of air pollution, which is more than car crashes, war deaths, and suicides combined. The former Conan the Barbarian said we need to take action, starting today.
One of the panel discussions that I attended was the Energy-Water Nexus Technology Town Hall. The energy sector draws the largest amount of water in the US, bigger than irrigation. However, some of that water is recycled. Irrigation is the largest consumer of water, roughly 80%, where energy accounts for roughly 27%. There are limitations on the freshwater supplies around the world, with little increase in surface water storage capacity since 1980s and many major ground water aquifers seeing a reduction in water quality and yield. Fossil energy consumes 200-480 gal/MWhe of water, depending on type of plant, NGCC consumes 100-180 gal/MWhe of water, and Concentrating Solar Thermal Power consumes 740-890 gal/MWhe of water. With the addition of Carbon Capture and Sequestration technology on coal and natural gas plants, it is expected that water consumption in these plants will increase by 40-80%. There is a need for technology development to reduce the amount of water used in power plants. Other panel discussions included topics such as changing the game in natural gas, launching technologies from the university or national lab to the marketplace, and building strategic partnerships. For presentation information on the other panel discussions, please visit ARPA-E’s website.
The technology focused sections were the most fascinating. It was amazing to see all the creative, innovative “energy” in the room. I would encourage anyone interested in energy research to take a moment and look at the research projects that ARPA-E is funding. You can find more information on their webpage.
The three days at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit were inspiring. I would just like to leave you with a couple of thoughts…
1) Climate change is not the only reason we need to move to a more green energy powered world. Our economic and homeland security as well as our health will also benefit.
2) There are a lot of cool ideas being developed in the energy sector. The question is what is going to be the next personal computer or the next light bulb that will really change the world as we know it.
3) Although this Summit was definitely US-centric, we are dealing with global issues and as much as the leaders of the conference called it the energy race, I see it more as an opportunity to bring together the best minds in the world to solve possibly the toughest problem the world has ever faced. Can we do it together?
Thank you for your time!