On March 28, 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration sent the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 to the United States Congress (“Congress”). The President’s proposed $5.8 trillion budget for FY 2023 allocates billions of dollars toward combating climate change and boosting clean energy development. Biden’s budget requests $48.2 billion for the Department of Energy (“DOE”), with $700 million of those funds allocated to the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program (“ARPA-E”). With these increased funds, the Biden administration plans for ARPA-E to expand its scope beyond energy technology–focused projects to include climate adaptation and resilience innovations.
What Is ARPA-E?
ARPA-E is a United States federal government agency under the purview of the Department of Energy that funds and promotes the research and development of advanced energy technologies. ARPA-E was recommended to Congress in the 2005 National Academies report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Bright Economic Future, which published recommendations for federal government actions to maintain and expand U.S. competitiveness. In 2007, ARPA-E was officially created after Congress implemented a number of the report’s recommendations by enacting the America COMPETES Act. The 2007 Act was superseded by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which incorporated much of the original language of the 2007 Act but made some modifications to ARPA-E structure. In 2009, ARPA-E officially commenced operations after receiving its first appropriated funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 —$400 million to fund the establishment of ARPA-E.
ARPA-E’s mission is statutorily defined as overcoming “the long-term and high-risk technology barriers in the development of energy technologies.” This involves the development of energy technologies that will achieve various goals, including the reduction of fossil fuel imports, the reduction of energy-related emissions, improvements in energy efficiency, and increased resilience and security of energy infrastructure. The statute directs ARPA-E to pursue these objectives through particular means:
- Identifying and promoting revolutionary advances in fundamental and applied sciences;
- Translating scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations; and
- Accelerating transformational technological advances in areas industry is unlikely to undertake because of technical and financial uncertainty.
The Impact of ARPA-E
Since 2009, ARPA-E has provided approximately $3 billion in R&D funding for over 1,294 potentially transformational energy technology projects. Publishing annual reports to analyze and catalog its influence, the agency tracks commercial impact with key early indicators, including private-sector follow-on funding, new company formation, partnership with other government agencies, publications, inventions, and patents.
Many ARPA-E project teams have continued to advance their technologies: 129 new companies have been formed, 285 licenses have been issued, 268 teams have partnered with another government agency, and 185 teams have together raised over $9.87 billion in private-sector follow-on funding. In addition, ARPA-E projects fostered technological innovation and advanced scientific knowledge, as evidenced by the 5,497 peer-reviewed journal articles and 829 patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that sprung from the ARPA-E program. ARPA-E recently announced that it is starting to count exits through public listings, mergers, and acquisitions. As of January 2022, ARPA-E has 20 exits with a total reported value of $21.6 billion.
How Does Biden’s FY 2023 Budget Affect ARPA-E?
Biden has requested a 56% increase for ARPA-E, to $700 million. The budget also proposes expansions of ARPA-E’s purview to more fully address innovation gaps around adaptation, mitigation, and resilience to the impacts of climate change. This investment in research and development of high-potential and high-impact technologies aims to help remove technological barriers to advance energy and environmental missions.
The request provides that ARPA-E shall also expand its scope “to invest in climate-related innovations necessary to achieve net zero climate-inducing emissions by 2050.” Given the increasing bipartisan support for alternative energy funding and ARPA-E’s continuing and rising commercial impact, it is likely that ARPA-E’s funding and support of the research and development of early-stage energy technologies will continue to pave the way for the commercialization of advanced energy technologies.