President Trump’s budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year strips funds from most departments of the federal government, but reserves special negative treatment to the Department of Energy. The most categorical statement about the future of alternative energy programs funded by the DoE comes with this bulletpoint:
“Eliminates the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program because the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”
What the budget fails to acknowledge is that ARPA-E actually funds many private companies’ research projects, including small technology startups located in Silicon Valley. Cutting to the chase, the budget eviscerates funding for alternative energy, which goes well beyond mere solar panels.
There is still plenty of funding in Silicon Valley, but government grants have been used as incentives to lure matching investments from the private sector for years not just in renewable energies but other sectors as well. To say that this budget will encourage private sector innovation blindly and perhaps willfully tries to cut off valuable resources to Big Oil competition.
Here are just six Bay Area companies on the receiving end of ARPA-E grant funding, all of whom have also received private sector investments.
1. AutoGrid (Redwood City)
Project Term: 01/11/2012 to 03/31/2014
A project born out of the powerhouse that is Stanford University, AutoGrid grabbed a big grant in order to “design and demonstrate automated control software that helps manage real-time demand for energy across the electric grid,” ARPA-E’s database explains. They partnered with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Columbia University in order to pull off the project between 2012 and 2014.
Energy Impact Partners led a $20 million Series C funding round in the company last May. Overall, private investors have given them over $41 million, including the likes Xcel Energy, Foundation Capital, and Voyager Capital.
AutoGrid CEO Amit Narayan was optimistic when they raised their money last year, saying, “This investment underscores companies’ growing need to use the energy internet to optimise flexibility across a vast network of DERs if they hope to win in the new energy world.”
2. Calysta Energy (Menlo Park)
Project Term: 01/06/2014 to 01/05/2015
Calysta Energy got its award to build a new kind of bioreactor technology “to enable the efficient biological conversion of methane into liquid fuels. While reasonably efficient, Gas-to-liquid (GTL) conversion is difficult to accomplish without costly and complex infrastructure.”
They raised $30 million in February 2016, bringing their total fundraising to $48 million in venture capital with backers like Pangaea Ventures and Cargill.
“Calysta is providing the aquaculture industry with a proprietary sustainable alternative to conventional fishmeal ingredients,” Calysta CEO and President Alan Shaw, Ph.D. said last year. “This in turn addresses the widely-recognized concern about a worldwide shortage of protein, a serious potential threat to global food security.”
3. Citrine Informatics (Redwood City)
Citrine is actually a current grantee of ARPA-E with their project schedule set to end this month. With nearly $9 million in venture funding from the likes of XSeed Capital, AME Cloud Ventures, and David Chao, Citrine is working on a machine learning program that would ” intelligently guide the investigation of new solid ionic conductor materials,” in the words of ARPA-E. CB Insights named them to their AI 100 list of important contributors to new machine learning development.
“Materials and chemicals is a huge industry, ripe to benefit from artificial intelligence technologies, and Citrine is at the forefront of this change,” Citrine CEO Greg Mulholland said in January. “Core to our inclusion on this list was the understanding that our team is pushing the limits of what can be done today with materials and chemicals data, and our relentless pursuit of new AI and materials innovation.”
4. Alveo Energy (Palo Alto)
Project Term: 02/21/2013 to 03/31/2016
Alveo is trying to amplify the conductive effects of a rather common dye called Prussian Blue, known primarily as the ink used to make blueprints. Its conductivity is relatively weak, but its high availability arguably makes it “a cost-effective and sustainable storage solution for years to come.”
Alveo is developing a grid-scale storage battery using Prussian Blue dye as the active material within the battery. Prussian Blue is most commonly known for its application in blueprint documents, but it can also hold electric charge. They have over $7.5 million in private investments.
5. NanoConversion Technologies (San Jose)
NanoConversion received $1.5 million from ARPA-E for “transformational energy technology,” specifically a “high-efficiency thermoelectric generator.” The company’s announcement concisely explains the grant wants to facilitate the development of “a Concentration-mode Thermoelectric converter (C-TEC) device, which converts heat directly into electricity.”
Their industry partners include Gas Technology Institute, North Carolina State University and General Electric (GE). This is undoubtedly a private effort benefiting from deliberately considered public finances.
“The C-TEC uses an array of electrochemical cells to produce electricity in a sodium ion expansion cycle driven by external combustion. The team will build and test a micro-CHP generator combining the C-TEC with an efficient natural gas burner. The superadiabatic gas burner, developed by partner Gas Technology Institute, provides a low-emissions heat source.”