Feb 12, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Biden's climate innovation push comes into partial focus

Illustration of a telescope with the earth in its lens.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The White House is taking the first steps to creating a new cross-agency federal R&D organization for climate technologies, but there's plenty we still don't know about the effort.

Why it matters: Biden's overall climate plan calls for a much more muscular federal role in scaling up research and commercialization of next-wave tech, even as it looks to speed deployment of existing low-carbon sources.

Driving the news: Thursday brought the announcement of a "Climate Innovation Working Group."

  • The working group is co-led by the White House offices of Domestic Climate Policy, Science of Technology and Policy, and Management and Budget.
  • Part of its mission is to "advance" plans to stand up Biden's proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate, or ARPA-C.

The big picture: The White House said the innovation group will focus on advancing and lowering costs of a wide set of technologies including...

  • Carbon-neutral construction materials
  • Much cheaper energy storage systems
  • Carbon-free hydrogen
  • Air conditioning and refrigeration that does not use planet-warming gases
  • Zero-carbon heat and industrial processes for heavy industries like cement
  • Advanced soil management and other farming practices that remove CO2
  • Ways to retrofit existing industrial and power plants with CO2 capture

What we don't know: If the White House will ask Congress to formally create and fund ARPA-C, which would give it more permanence if lawmakers do it. A White House official said, "more specifics are forthcoming."

The intrigue: ARPA-C may sound familiar because of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) created under 2007 legislation and got its first funding in 2009 (and itself is modeled after the military's DARPA). Similarities between the Energy Department's ARPA-E and the ARPA-C concept extend beyond just the sound.

  • "The precise boundaries between the two ARPAs aren’t entirely clear," MIT Technology Review reports.
  • "[S]ome energy observers are confused about why the administration wants to expend political capital trying to set up and fund a new research agency rather than focusing on boosting capital for existing programs," the piece notes.

Speaking of ARPA-E, yesterday the Energy Department announced a $100 million solicitation for proposals, calling it the "first of billions of dollars of DOE R&D opportunities to be announced this year."

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