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ARPA-E, a Federal Effort to Lead 'Green' Technology

Half a century ago, after the Soviet Union jolted Americans by sending Sputnik into orbit, the Defense Department launched a little-noticed program designed to help the United States leapfrog the frontiers of technology by doling out millions of dollars for research on radically new ideas. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA in Pentagonese backed projects that led to such military advances as the light rapid-fire M-16 rifle and Stealth warplanes that were invisible to radar. The efforts also led to revolutionary civilian technology, such as the Internet. Now, the same approach is being tried for energy and "green" technology. Though critics say innovation is best achieved by private-sector entrepreneurs, the Obama administration is betting an initial $400 million in government seed money on such future possibilities as giant batteries filled with molten metal and exotic materials that spin sunlight and water into methane. Arun Majumdar, a former UC Berkeley professor and national lab assistant director who worked under DARPA funding for a decade, is the director of ARPA-E the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy created under the Department of Energy which will showcase its program at a meeting in Washington on Monday. 3/01 Los Angeles Times