David Danielson, one of the project directors of DOE’ relatively new $400 million ARPA-E program gave today’s keynote presentation at the ACerS’ Electronic Materials and Applications conference. Danielson has a good reputation in the world of materials and venture funding, and his message was that like DARPA, its DoD counterpart, it is indeed interested in high-risk, high-reward projects, but with a strong bias toward funding efforts that can reasonably be seen as getting closer to the marketplace. In other words, they won’t be funding basic science, but if you have better piezo mousetrap, they might be interested in talking to you.
Moreover Danielson’s message is that there are plenty of opportunities for ceramists and materials scientists and engineers in general. He made a point of emphasizing that the opportunities are in funding, but also in employment: ARPA-E is still ramping up its staffing and is looking for program directors and fellows.
He says that ARPA-E is already funding many materials-oriented efforts, including ones involving planar sodium batteries, vertically aligned carbon nanotube-based ultracapacitors, CNT membranes for CO2 capture, GaN-on-SI electronics for electric vehicles, direct growth of monocrystalline equivalents and new magnetic materials 75% less rare earth elements but have twice the energy density.
Danielson also talks about specific game-changers in electronic ceramics. Besides (grid-scale) Na batteries mentioned above, he specifically mentioned solid-state capacitors, ceramic electrolytes in lithium batteries, high-energy battery cathodes, grain boundary-engineered (i.e., ‘virtual single crystals”) thin film for photovoltaic applications, high-temp superconductors and low-cost methods for growing single-crystal Si wafers and ZnO, GaN crystals for LEDs.
Danielson is also promoting participating in ARPA-E via attending their workshops and helping to develop programing and serving as a reviewer of proposals.