Feb 042011
 
D battery size

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ARPA-e and others aim to fund development of a battery that relies on lithium and air

In his State of the Union address, President Obama painted a vision of the jobs of tomorrow — then pointed to the scientists of today.

“None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from,” Obama admitted. But historically, he said, the government has funded basic research that the private sector hesitated to fund itself. Decades later, some of these early forays in laboratories gave birth to entire industries, such as those built around the Internet and the Global Positioning System.

“Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that have come from those breakthroughs,” he said.

A new DOE agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, is key to the president’s vision of scientific “breakthroughs” that can reshape energy, generate jobs and sharpen the United States’ competitive edge.

Obama gave ARPA-E, as it’s known, its first endowment in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Over the past year and a half, the agency sought out “game-changing” technologies now in their infancy at research labs, startup companies and some adventurous larger firms. It tried to assess the best projects, granted them between $1 million and $5 million, and issued this challenge: over three years, to advance their technology to a point where the private sector will snap it up.

Sixteen of these projects, totaling about $62 million, are applicable to electric cars. ARPA-E’s director, Arun Majumdar, said there’s a range of technologies and approaches. Each has a unique mountain to climb, whether it’s reliability, cost, efficiency or a combination of these. “And I don’t know which one is going to succeed,” he said. “But if one of them does, I think it will be game-changing.”

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