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DOE releases more promised energy research funding

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that it will release more congressionally approved funding for its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, program following inquiries from U.S. lawmakers. A total of $20 million of previously frozen funding for the energy research program will be released to 10 awardees, the DOE said June 1.

Concern about the continued viability of the agency's research initiatives snowballed after President Donald Trump released a budget blueprint in March that would slash funding for certain DOE programs, including ARPA-E. In early May, the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Science, Space and Technology sent a letter to the U.S. comptroller general requesting an investigation into reports that the DOE had issued a "no contract action" order preventing $40 million of already approved fiscal-year 2016 funding for ARPA-E from being distributed. A group of Senate Democrats followed up with their own inquiry to Energy Secretary Rick Perry asking whether already appropriated funds for ARPA-E and other research programs were being withheld.

A group of Senate Republicans, including Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, also sent a letter to Trump on May 18, warning that the U.S. "cannot lose the technological advantages we have gained through our ... investment in research and development." Later that same day, the DOE announced that it would disburse $11.1 million of the frozen funds to several ARPA-E awardees.

The newly released funds apply to projects chosen for ARPA-E's Next-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Autonomous On-Road Vehicles, or NEXTCAR, and its Renewable Energy to Fuels Through Utilization of Energy-Dense Liquids, or REFUEL, programs. Four of the projects are also part of the DOE's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

The goal of the NEXTCAR projects is to improve energy efficiency in current and future car and truck models by cutting individual vehicle energy usage by 20%. REFUEL aims to produce high-energy liquid fuels for transportation and other uses using water, molecules from the air, and renewable electricity sources.

The announcement is part of an ongoing evaluation process "that has worked to ensure best practices and good governance principles are applied consistent with the new Administration's policy directives," the DOE said in a June 1 press release.