President Trump’s draft budget proposes axing a lot of government programs, but perhaps none are more valuable than the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy, also known as ARPA-E. George W. Bush created the agency in 2007 to help fund “moonshot” energy projects—the sorts of technologies that could shift paradigms and solve problems that today seem insurmountable, or even problems we don’t know of yet. It was a forward looking strategy that has since won bipartisan support in Congress, and was one that Barack Obama also backed.
Donald Trump is charting a different course, though, and as the NYT reports, scientists are concerned:
[A] panel of experts convened by the National Academy of Sciences said it had “found no signs that ARPA-E is failing.”
To the contrary, the panel said in its evaluation that the agency had made vital progress in nudging forward research on projects like advanced carbon capture and grid-scale battery storage. And the report’s authors suggested that much of this research was in high-risk areas that would not have otherwise been pursued by the private sector, echoing the conclusions of a 2012 investigation by the Government Accountability Office.
“ARPA-E has made significant contributions to energy R & D that likely would not take place absent the agency’s activities,” Pradeep Khosla, chairman of the panel that wrote the report and chancellor of the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement.
That last part is critical, because it gets to the heart of Trump’s argument that the kind of research being conducted under the ARPA-E umbrella could be better employed by the private sector. Experts—and the researchers actually undertaking these sorts of projects—disagree, though, and this new panel confirms what we already knew: ARPA-E is playing a vital role in the research and development of promising energy technologies, a role that would go unfulfilled without it.