Features | July 21, 2017

ARPA-E primes the pipeline of climate solutions with early-stage investments

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Among the many capital gaps impact investors and innovative-finance gurus are trying to bridge is for breakthrough technologies that can address climate change at scale — if they can scale. One of the best demonstrations of the potential for such solutions is the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, the “moonshot investment arm of the Department of Energy,” according to MIT Technology Review.

At last count, the 74 projects backed by ARPA-E had attracted $1.8 billion in private finance and created 56 new companies. With a boost from ARPA-E energy is now the top research focus of PARC, the legendary Silicon Valley-based technology research institute that back in the day brought you things like the graphical-user interface.

ARPA-E hosted ImpactAlpha’s David Bank and PRIME’s Sarah Kearney to discuss bridging the climate innovation gap with strategic philanthropic investments.

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PRIME is a non-profit mobilizing risk-tolerant program-related investments from private foundations to back early-stage cleantech innovations. The organization just completed its fifth investment in food speed-freezing startup Rebound Technologies. Since 2015, PRIME has mobilized $15 million from foundations and commercial co-investors, including in from 27 first-time philanthropic investors and 15 foundations new to climate investing.

Prime Coalition and Closed Loop back Rebound Technologies to cut energy in food storage

The potential of such market-based models to address climate change at scale makes all the more mystifying the determination of the Trump administration and House Republicans to gut funding for ARPA-E, or eliminate it entirely. (The latest news is that a Senate Appropriations subcommittee led by Republicans, may spare ARPA-E the worse of the cuts.)

Beyond climate solutions, public funding-backed R&D efforts like ARPA-E, modeled on the Pentagon’s DARPA lab, which brought us the Internet, are key to the U.S. maintaining a competitive edge in science and tech, and lay the foundation for the future of jobs.

“This is not a conservative or liberal point of view,” said MIT president L. Rafael Reif at March’s ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. “This is about the future of our nation.”