The rise of ‘ARPA-everything’ and what it means for science

Jeff Tollefson:

Researchers also point out that a successful ARPA needs a customer for the technologies it develops. In the case of DARPA, the US military was ready to purchase many promising inventions. ARPA-Energy (ARPA-E), which was launched in 2009 under former president Barack Obama to advance low-carbon energy technologies, addressed this challenge by helping grant recipients to develop plans for commercialization from the outset — a model that Bonvillian says DARPA has also now imported.

ARPA-E had the independence it needed to function well, researchers say. Still running today, the agency, housed within the US Department of Energy (DoE), has invested $2.8 billion in nearly 1,200 projects, which have attracted another $5.4 billion in private-sector investments and led to the creation of 92 companies. Last month, one of those companies, 1366 Technologies in Bedford, Massachusetts, announced plans to build a $300-million facility for manufacturing solar cells in India. The company, now known as CubicPV, received $4 million from ARPA-E in 2009 to develop a cleaner, faster, cheaper way to manufacture the silicon semiconductors that go into solar panels.