The United States lost $10.4 million on six clean-energy projects, including biofuel research at Iowa State University, that were suspended for missing performance milestones, according to the Energy Department.
Congressional Republicans have criticized the department’s oversight of its loan guarantee program, especially its half-billion-dollar loan to the now-bankrupt Solyndra. And President Barack Obama proposes a 27 percent increase in the budget for the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, known as ARPA-E.
Iowa State in Ames and United Technologies Corp. of Hartford, Conn., were among six recipients of a combined $14.1 million for clean energy research, Jen Stutsman, an agency spokeswoman, said Tuesday in a phone interview.
The unspent cash, about $3.7 million, will be returned to the U.S. Treasury, she said.
ARPA-E has cut projects that invested in technologies including carbon capture and nanofiber paper, Damien LaVera, an agency spokesman, said in an email. ARPA-E Director Arun Majumdar said six programs were halted since September .
“By their very nature, these aggressive research milestones will often not ‘pan out’ despite the best efforts of recipients,” LaVera said.
Republicans in Congress have faulted the department’s oversight of its clean energy loan guarantee program. The department backed companies, including solar panel maker Solyndra LLC and energy-storage developer Beacon Power Corp. Both filed for bankruptcy protection after winning U.S. guarantees for a combined $578 million. ARPA-E is separate from the program that backed Solyndra and Beacon.
“ARPA-E has been a high-risk program from the start, and the fact that several projects are not panning out is not surprising given the lack of accountability or clear direction for these dollars,” said Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Iowa State spent about 56 percent of $4.4 million from the U.S. for a project to create biofuel feedstock from an aquatic micro-organism. The agency also ended projects to capture carbon from coal-fired power plants, including Nalco Holding Co. of Naperville, Ill., which has about $500,000 left, and United Technologies, for which $403,898 remains.
The Energy Department has said ARPA-E is a “swing-for-the-fences” effort to develop cutting-edge clean-energy technologies, and it anticipates some will fail.
“We will learn not only from projects that succeed but also from projects that ‘fail,’” according to the program’s budget request for 2013. “ARPA-E will continue to actively manage and monitor projects, and will continue to cancel projects that are not meeting their technical milestones.”
The agency also ceased funding for a project to pump heat using sound waves and initiatives to use nanotechnology to make desalination plants and lithium-ion batteries more efficient. Funds remaining for those projects is $848,266.
LaVera said recipients received notice about missed milestones and were allowed a chance to get research “back on track.”
In September, ARPA-E awarded $156 million for 60 energy research projects, primarily at universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Florida. Eleven companies with ARPA-E projects have attracted a combined $200 million from private investors, according to the Energy Department.
Obama proposed a 27 percent increase in ARPA-E funding, to $350 million, in his 2013 budget submitted to Congress on Monday.