The Potential Role of ARPA-I in Accelerating the Net-Zero Game Changers Initiative
Kei Koizumi, OSTP Principal Deputy Director for Policy
Sally Benson, OSTP Deputy Director for Energy
Robert Hampshire, DOT Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology
The Next Generation of Infrastructure Innovation
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting innovation in the transportation sector—based on cutting-edge science and technology—to make sure the United States is the leader in infrastructure. This includes innovations to build transportation infrastructure systems that are resilient to the impacts of climate change, integrate new and emerging modes of transportation, enhance safety and accessibility for all, and contribute to the Nation’s goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions no later than 2050.
The United States can help realize our infrastructure, transportation, and net-zero ambitions through the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Infrastructure, or ARPA-I, within the Department of Transportation. The ARPA-I concept was authorized in the President’s signature Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and has not yet received an initial appropriation from Congress. The President’s 2023 Budget contains funding for DOT to identify and/or collaborate with a broad range of stakeholders and research organizations on opportunities for advancing and deploying research and technology products that will result in transforming the transportation systems and the ways transportation is used.
The ARPA-I concept imagines a future in which science and technology delivers an innovative and future-proofed infrastructure system for all. Making sure our infrastructure enables the energy transition, advances equity, is safe, and is resilient to climate change is a critical component of delivering on this vision.
Accelerating Net-Zero Game Changers through ARPA-I
To meet the challenge of transforming our energy system and infrastructure, we need to unlock the full potential of the public and private innovation ecosystems. This is why the Biden-Harris Administration is enhancing coordination between departments and agencies, including the critical contributions of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Administration recently announced the Net-Zero Game Changers Initiative, to accelerate game-changing climate innovations to meet President Biden’s goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050. To launch the initiative, the White House released a new report, U.S. Innovation to Meet 2050 Climate Goals, The report describes 37 game-changing R&D opportunities identified across Federal departments and agencies, to meet President Biden’s goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050, shown in the figure below. Some game changers — referred to as cross-cutting innovations — can eliminate emissions from multiple sources (e.g., a net-zero power grid and advanced biofuels). Other innovations address a particular end-use sector (e.g., net-zero steel and concrete). Due to the urgency of the climate crisis and the scale of the challenge, the United States must advance multiple technological pathways to net-zero.
A number of game-changing net-zero R&D opportunities identified in the report could be relevant to ARPA-I potential areas, as shown in the figure below. These include: Smart Mobility, Clean and Efficient Transportation Systems, Next-Generation Infrastructure Construction, Advanced Electricity Infrastructure, and Clean Fuel Infrastructure.
ARPA-I could work closely with the operating administrations within DOT to develop strong R&D programs in these 5 areas and other areas to fulfill ARPA-I’s mission and goals authorized in law. A cross-walk between these possibilities and the net-zero gamechangers is provided below. We offer possibilities for the ARPA-I concept to tackle these opportunities by supporting breakthroughs that extend beyond DOT’s existing R&D portfolios, provide equitable infrastructure, and build community-oriented R&D agendas.
One of ARPA-I’s legislated goals in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is to “contribute significantly to improving the safe, secure, and efficient movement of goods and people.” An R&D focus on Smart Mobility could help to meet this goal. Smart Mobility extends beyond electrification, and includes connected and autonomous vehicles across the light-, medium- and heavy-duty spectrum, as well as vehicle to infrastructure (V2I), broader vehicle connectivity (V2X), IT-enabled transit systems, micromobility systems, and technologies that enhance accessibility and equitable mobility. Transit on-demand, through the use of purpose-built vehicles and dynamic routing can increase access to public transportation in underserved communities.
An ARPA-I goal in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is to “reduce the lifecycle impacts of transportation infrastructure on the environment, including through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” Clean and Efficient Transportation Systems, which can include electric and hybrid aviation, and the development of new sustainable aviation fuels for larger aircraft, could help ARPA-I meet this goal. High-speed and electrified rail and associated infrastructure have the potential for shifting to more efficient and cleaner transportation modes for freight and passenger movement and can be areas of innovation for ARPA-I, along with the port infrastructure required to transition to low CO2 shipping. ARPA-I could extend the work of the DOE-DOT Joint Office of Energy and Transportation to develop low-cost away-from-home charging needed to facilitate the rapid expansion of the U.S. EV fleet to help meet decarbonization goals. The availability of en-route charging options for long-haul trucks will be critical to enable freight electrification. Areas of research and innovation will include ways to reduce congestion, optimize use of the charging infrastructure, and increase affordability of transport solutions.
ARPA-I has the legislated goal to “lower the long-term costs of infrastructure development, including costs of planning, construction, and maintenance.” The ARPA-I concept could provide an opportunity to work on the next generation of infrastructure construction to include the development of new, innovative construction methods and techniques that can take advantage of the low-embodied carbon cement, steel and aluminum developed under other Federal government R&D initiatives.
Among ARPA-I’s goals is to “promote the resilience of infrastructure from physical and cyber threats.” ARPA-I has the potential to extend the work of the DOE-DOT Joint Office on Energy and Transportation in such areas as repurposing and sharing transportation rights-of-way to facilitate new energy infrastructure for clean energy generation, transmission and distribution, including advanced rapid methods to underground utilities and enhance climate resilience, to meet this important goal. ARPA-I could also enhance EV integration into electricity distribution systems by developing the sensors, analytics, control architectures, and hardware to optimize vehicle charging through intelligent control systems for electricity distribution systems. ARPA-I could also contribute to the development of innovations for accelerating the development of a nationwide net-zero power grid by optimizing the location and operations of large electric load centers needed for charging, hydrogen production, electrofuel production, and port operations.
Finally, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law defines one of ARPA-I’s goals “to ensure that the United States is a global leader in developing and deploying advanced transportation infrastructure technologies and materials.” Although there are many possibilities for developing and deploying infrastructure technologies and materials, including the technologies already defined above, ARPA-I also has the opportunity to help advance new enabling technologies for the development, deployment, and transportation of safe net-zero hydrogen and electrofuels, and other sustainable fuels. It could also focus on zero-carbon fuel transmission and distribution pipelines, including repurposing existing pipelines for carbon dioxide and hydrogen transport.