FY20 Recap with ARPA-E Director Lane Genatowski

Whether you look at our agency’s new technical programs, contracting operations, project follow-on-funding or our new hires, Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 was another historic year for ARPA-E.  So on behalf of the Agency we would like to thank the President, Congress, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary and their staff’s, as well as our external partners for their exceptional support in such a challenging year.

Focused Programs

The reason for our existence is breakthrough scientific research. In FY 2020 ARPA-E launched eleven Focused Programs with up to $342.5 million in total funding. Our Focused Programs fill technical whitespaces our talented scientific team has identified, with the assistance of academia and industry. These programs are listed below and links provided for more detail:

We also launched 19 Solicitations on Topics Informing New Program Areas with up to $41.25 million in total funding. These are investigatory programs that pursue innovative technologies and unconventional ideas that can lead to focused ARPA-E programs in the future and also drive high-risk research and development for potentially disruptive technologies.

SCALEUP

In addition to our Focused Programs and Solicitations on Topics Informing New Program Areas, we introduced a new approach to help our previously funded technology get deployed by establishing a program called SCALEUP (Seeding Critical Advances for Leading Energy technologies with Untapped Potential).  SCALEUP is designed to fund successful technologies that were previously funded by ARPA-E for which the proof-of-concept R&D challenges have been addressed, and which can progress toward real-world impact through scaling.

A few months after the program announcement, in response to 2020 market fluctuation, our team reopened the funding opportunity and announced that we were decreasing the cost share requirements for large and small businesses and academic institutions. This change to the FOA led to an increase in applications and brought relief to project teams impacted by factors outside their control. 183 projects totaling over $1 billion in requested funding applied to SCALEUP.

So far, we have announced $24 million in funding for two projects as part of the first stage of SCALEUP. These “Fast-Track” teams, Natron Energy and Bridger Photonics, will receive $19 million and $5 million, respectively, to further their commercialization efforts in sodium-ion battery development and methane detection technologies.

Further SCALEUP program selections are anticipated in December 2020 with approximately $50 million in funding. These programs will demonstrate a path to market and be well-positioned for investment from the private sector. We are excited to see how these teams and our SCALEUP program will continue to advance transformational technology to the market. 

Operations

In FY 2020, we were appropriated a 16.5% year-over-year increase for our FY 2020 Program budget. Further we were able to set an agency record of $404.2 million in projects obligated. This funding was spread over 271 projects across a wide range of technical areas. In FY 2019 and FY 2020 we deployed a total of $778.8 million to ARPA-E projects, which is more in a two-year period than we have obligated in any previous three-year period in our history!

Follow-on Funding

Since our agency’s mission is to accelerate transformational technological advances, many of our projects take years to mature. Accordingly, it is noteworthy that in FY 2020 ARPA-E awardees achieved follow-on-funding of over $3.4 billion.

The bulk of ARPA-E’s incredible follow-on-funding numbers in FY 2020 came from battery producer QuantumScape. This company recently announced its initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange at an equity valuation of $3.3 billion. QuantumScape spun out of a Stanford University project which was originally awarded $1.5 million in 2010.

Our total follow-on-funding since ARPA-E’s formation in 2009 is over $6.3 billion: a 2.25 multiple of all funding obligated by ARPA-E.

New Hires

In FY 2020, we also welcomed four new Program Directors to our technology team.

  • Physicist Dr. Bob Ledoux joined our team and is working on new program spaces exploring potential uses for spent nuclear fuel as well as supporting our existing fusion energy programs.
  • Materials scientist Dr. Marina Sofos stepped into a new role with the ARPA-E team as a Program Director, taking over much of ARPA-E’s transportation portfolio while also exploring new spaces in building efficiency.
  • Mechanical engineer Dr. Peter de Bock joined our team to focus on electronics thermal management and aviation propulsion systems.
  • Chemist Dr. Halle Cheeseman joined us to focus on advances in batteries and electrochemical device technology.

These Program Directors are thought leaders with experience in academic labs, corporate R&D, program management, startups and the public sector, who joined ARPA-E to lead advanced energy technology programs from ideation through development to project management. We welcome them as colleagues and look forward to their contributions to the Agency in the future.

Looking Ahead

We have begun FY 2021 with the goal of surpassing our achievements in FY 2020. We continue to plan new programs, pursue more efficient operations, help our current performers take their transformative ideas out of the lab and into the market and recruit bright minds that stoke our innovative fire.

As you know ARPA-E’s motto is, “Changing What’s Possible.”  Every day our team lives up to that charge in all aspects of their work. We will continue that approach and rise above the challenges we face. We are all quite optimistic for the coming year and beyond!