Climate Tech

The DOE just went on a cleantech spending spree

It dished out $175 million to early stage clean energy projects, from energy storage to nuclear recycling.
article cover

Timothy Epple/Getty Images

· 4 min read

It’s not just the VCs that are spending big on climate tech, the government is, too.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Energy awarded $175 million to research and development projects aimed at advancing a range of clean-energy solutions including electric vehicles, offshore wind, energy storage, and nuclear recycling.

The funding came from the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which was created in 2007 and modeled after DARPA in an effort to bolster US advantages in science and technology.

ARPA-E has contributed $2.93 billion to energy R&D in the US since it was created, attracting more than $7.6 billion of private sector funding to those projects, according to the DOE. Investors say government support for these types of early-stage, high-risk technologies is crucial to scaling and commercializing the solutions needed to address the climate crisis.

R&D dollars

ARPA-E puts out a call for projects focused on high-impact, high-risk technology every three years and awards grants through its OPEN program. The OPEN 2021 dollars went to projects conducted by universities, national laboratories, and private companies that span 22 states. While the technologies are not required to be focused on renewable energy, past iterations of the program have helped to support the commercialization of clean tech such as solar, geothermal, batteries, and biofuels.

The program aims to advance tech that supports novel approaches to electricity generation, transmission, storage, and distribution, as well as improved energy efficiency in buildings, manufacturing, and personal use. Transportation is also a priority. Of the 68 projects that received grants in the latest round, 25 are related to transportation, including $4.4 million for Parallel Systems, the California startup building electric autonomous freight vehicles.

Here are some of the projects that received the most funding:

  • The largest grant was awarded to Hinetics, an aviation startup founded by University of Illinois researchers. The company received $5.7 million to work with researchers from the university and the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems to develop a super-efficient, electric machine to enable propulsion of aircraft.
  • The College of Engineering at North Carolina State University received $4.8 million to develop software and hardware to enable integrated and controlled microgrids that can manage renewable energy distribution and provide resiliency during power outages from extreme weather events.
  • MIT received $4.5 million to develop more efficient and affordable power converters that will be key for data centers, solar farms, power grids, and electric vehicles.
  • A long-duration energy-storage tech from Fervo Energy received $4.5 million. The Houston-based company will use the money to try and demonstrate its tech, which it says  allows for scalable, multi-day storage of geothermal power.
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the DOE lab in Richlane, Washington, received $4.2 million for its traffic management system. The project combines AI with multiscale simulation and real-time controls to improve energy efficiency and reduce congestion and CO2 emissions across regional transportation systems.
Stay up to date on tech

Drones, automation, AI, and more. The technologies that will shape the future of business, all in one newsletter.

Looking ahead...The DOE says this funding is just one of the first disbursements of billions of R&D dollars for climate tech, as the Biden administration continues to push toward a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

To that end, the DOE announced another $150 million in open funding opportunities last week through the department’s Office of Science. This money will support research in early-stage technologies such as hydrogen, long-duration storage, and carbon capture as part of the DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative.

Stay up to date on tech

Drones, automation, AI, and more. The technologies that will shape the future of business, all in one newsletter.