ARPA-E halts algae project, citing missed milestones

February 16, 2012 |

In Washington, the DOE has halted a research project at Iowa State University funded by ARPA-E to develop biofuel feedstock from an aquatic micro-organism for failing to reach research milestones. About 56% of the $4.4 million grant was used. Politicians against increasing APRA-E funding as proposed by President Obama’s new budget are using it and other halted ARPA-E projects as examples to reject the program.

The National Algae Association comments:

“The National Algae Association applauds this action by ARPA-E, and commends it for finally taking a stand against the prior practice of funding a grant without regard for milestones. For over 50 years, algae researchers and, in some cases, their corporate partners, have been successful in receiving funds without achieving milestones, resulting in fully funded projects that will never be completed. According to an official of the DOE Biomass Program, less than 20% of the algae research projects ever get completed. That person would not comment on the level of funding that the incomplete projects received, nor about how projects that were less than 50% completed had received 100% of their funding, as was revealed during a review of the algae platform last June.

“Since the DOE budgets were drastically cut, the NAA has seen a sharp increase in the number of algae researchers looking to us for funding.All of a sudden, they are very interested in working on industrial growing, harvesting and extraction systems to try to prove whether their technologies work and can scale on acreage or in commercial buildings, but the limited Federal funds available are tied to a Congressional mandate requiring participation by the same institutions whose main purpose is to do research and maybe write a white paper and apply for additional Federal funding. NAA believes this is one of the key reasons for the failure of the DOE’s Biomass Program.
“After 5 long years of trying to work with the DOE and its Biomass Program – to collaborate on lessons learned, to assist in the transition of the algae platform and even to lead Team Algae, it is still, yet and again painfully apparent that they are really not interested – not only do they continue to refuse to answer any of our questions, but they refuse to provide answers to others within the very agency they work for – the Department of Energy. One must wonder where their disinterest lies – is it because they have been misled by the research community for over 50 years? Maybe they’re embarrassed by the fully funded projects that will never be completed. Or maybe because the people tasked with this project are incapable of commercializing or deploying anything. Or maybe we need to take a long hard look at the Department of Energy.”
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