Re-Engineering Nature to Meet Energy Needs
From The New York Times
By Matthew L. Wald
Thousands of inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs gathered in a suburban Washington convention center on Monday for the annual three-day meeting of ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy. It wasn’t quite the Oscars. At the registration desk, attendees received a goody bag that included a report on clean energy from the Pew Charitable Trusts and a refrigerator magnet that showed the periodic table of the elements.
But the breakout sessions held true to ARPA-E’s tradition: there were lots of swing-for-the-fence ideas. These included finding a high-efficiency, low-cost way to turn surplus natural gas into liquid fuel for cars and trucks, and identifying something to burn other than hydrocarbons so that carbon dioxide is not one of the byproducts.
One researcher proposed burning aluminum instead. One challenge is that the “ashes,” or oxidized metal, would be hard to recycle back into aluminum without big releases of carbon dioxide.
ARPA-E is the Energy Department’s effort to imitate the better-known Pentagon arm known as the Defense Research Projects Agency, or Darpa. Darpa laid the groundwork for the Internet and still finances high-potential ideas in their early speculative stages in the expectation that a few will be major breakthroughs; ARPA-E tries to do the same in energy.
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