Archive for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
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You are browsing the archives of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about how the European Commission had made a strategic decision support focused research on graphene to the tune of about €1 billion (~$1.35 billion). That’s a lot of money, and, as Eileen reported, it is meant to support work in about 200 institutions spread over 15 EU member states, with the mandate to deliver “deliver 10 years of world-beating science.”
That’s a significant and bold move by the EU, but, to provide some needed perspective on the size of the EU’s €1 billion bet, consider something that leaves me more than a little agog: There is still about $7 billion in science-related Recovery Act monies sitting unspent on the books in Washington.
The existence of this $7 billion isn’t a secret. It’s in plain sight on federal Recovery.gov website (look under the “Where is the money going?? tab, and select “Recipient and Agency Data”) that the Obama administration created to provide weekly updates, agency-by-agency, on the spending of the American Recover and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. I reached the $7 billion figure by assuming that most of the ARRA science funding is contained in the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. Click on those links and you will see that DOE has not paid out $6.29 billion (17.5 percent of its total ARRA allocation); likewise, NSF has not paid out over $600 million (20.5% of its allocation). (If one also were to lump in agencies, such as the DOD, the amount of unspent funds go even higher).
Why hasn’t the money been spent? One apparent reason is that, for example, 86 approved DOE projects have not even begun and 368 are less than 50 percent completed. The NSF has 23 projects not started and 190 that have not passed their halfway mark.
Of course, I truly understand that there were reasonable delays in getting some proposals vetted and other unexpected delays in getting projects ramped up. But as I have been following the glacial spending patterns for over 3 years, I’ve always tried to emphasize that the whole point of the the ARRA was to pump money into the affected sectors quickly. Even the DOE understood from the beginning that the idea was to provide a rapid stimulus to science and engineering.
I could be wrong on this, but my understanding is that because the unspent ARRA monies were already appropriated, they are unaffected by the sequestration battles (and if I am wrong, shame on agency officials for leaving these monies vulnerable). And, regarding sequestration, I think it has been fairly well documented that many of the sequestration scenarios spell bad news for the R&D community, a situation that begs even more for the balance of the ARRA funds to be spent as soon as possible.
My suggestion: With billions of ARRA money unspent, shouldn’t our science and engineering leaders do something significant with it? I know this will never happen, but if I was made the ARRA emperor, I would find a way to cancel all the unstarted projects, put together a team to cull the weakest from the list of unfinished projects and, finally, form a blue-ribbon committee, a la the EU, to find and fund to the tune of several billion dollars one or two strategic grand challenges to “deliver 10 years of world-beating science” in the US. (Imagine what $2 billion in focused funding for the Materials Genome Initiative could do!)
The New York Times reported that what it claims will be the largest solar plant in the world is nearing final approval.
The Blythe Solar Power Project in southeast California will have the capacity to produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity - enough to power roughly 800,000 homes. The California Energy Commission formally recommended this month that the project be approved.
Project developer Solar Millennium predicts the project will to take about 6 years to complete, and cost around $6 billion. The company specializes in parabolic trough power plants.
“A 1,000-megawatt plant is a grand undertaking,” Uwe T. Schmidt, Solar Millennium’s executive chairman, told the NYT. “But the benefits are so positive.” Schmidt says, the Blythe facility will prevent an additional 2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, compared to a traditional power facility.
According to the NYT, the Blythe plant is the fifth of nine proposed solar projects in California that have placed on a “fast-track” schedule with hopes of getting the projects started by the end of the year. Projects underway by year’s end can qualify for lucrative federal grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The nine solar plants would cover 41,229 acres and generate 4,580 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 3.8 million businesses and homes.
The full Bureau of Land Management Environmental Impact Statement can be found here. The EIS is open for public comment through Sept. 18.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is looking to help the battery industry with a simple goal — to mass produce better batteries domestically while addressing safety, affordability, life and performance.
As a result of the DOE’s support, more work and funding for battery research is coming to the National Renewable Energy Lab via both indirect and direct avenues thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Via press release from NREL, $1.5 billion in federal funding for manufacturing advanced batteries and related drive components will go towards faster development of batteries for cars with electric powertrains, including hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, all-electric and fuel-cell vehicles. $2 million will go to the Battery Thermal and Life Test Facility. According to NREL researchers, battery thermal management is crucial in optimizing the performance and reducing the life-cycle costs for these types of batteries. Once manufacturers start producing new and more efficient prototypes, they’ll turn to NREL for thermal testing and validation.
NREL researchers seek to improve the thermal performance of batteries by studying how heat affects the performance and life of batteries. NREL experts analyze fluid flow (liquid or air) through different types of battery packs to determine how the flow affects the pack’s performance and life-cycle costs. Researchers measure and analyze the heat generation, efficiency, and specific heat of battery modules under specified charge/discharge cycles using the state-of-the-art calorimeters in NREL’s energy storage laboratory. Incorporating thermal imaging (still and time-lapse video) helps researchers determine temperature distributions and identify potential hot spots in battery modules and packs.
The battery research team will also spend time generating data to be used for validating battery thermal and electrochemical models. Modeling and simulating advanced energy storage systems in vehicles will help designers and researchers accelerate finding solutions for innovative battery designs and best ways to enhance overall vehicle performance.
It took about 3 months for DOE to get the first $1 billion into circulation in the economy and about 2.5 months for the second $2 billion (still less than 10% of the total). I guess we should all be thankful for this smallest sign of improvement, but I wonder who will still be around when the agency finally finishes spending the Recovery Act monies in 2015?
Again, I suggest that it is instructional to look at what other federal agencies are doing. This yardstick shows that the average federal agency has figured out how to pay out 35% of Recovery Act funds.
They are even slower over at the NSF.
Via press release, Sandia National Laboratories will use $4.2 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to modify and enhance its existing Battery Abuse Testing Laboratory (BATLab), with the goal of developing low-cost batteries for electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
The tests help to determine how much abuse lithium-ion batteries can safely handle. Sandia tests everything from regular small cells up to full-sized modules and packs for hybrid vehicles.
The DOE-funded FreedomCAR program turned to Sandia to investigate the possibility of safely using lithium-ion batteries. But before lithium-ion batteries could be placed in vehicles, extensive safety tests needed to take place. With the recent stimulus funds, the BATLab will be able to greatly increase the number of tests it does.
The $4.2 million in funding is part of a $104.7 million economic stimulus package to further develop the nation’s efforts in clean energy and efficient technologies across seven DOE national laboratories.
The $104.7 million ARRA funding is concentrated on three priorities: advancing carbon fiber manufacturing and processing technologies to help reduce the weight of vehicles; developing integrated building systems to reduce U.S. carbon emissions and expanding facilities for fabricating and testing advanced battery prototypes for fuel-efficient vehicles.