Department of Energy Awards Funding to X Prize

Stimulus Dollars Allocated to Support Clean-Auto Competition

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted November 6, 2009

This week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a Department of Energy contribution of up to $5.5 million in funding from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support the Progressive Automotive X Prize competition.

In March 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy announced plans to partner with X Prize. The goal: to inform and excite the public about the reality of alternative vehicle and fuel options in the near future. The joint partnership also plans to create a national education program that would inspire young people to pursue careers in fields of energy-efficient science and technology.

"This grant represents one of the most important ways the Energy Department is leveraging private sector expertise to educate and engage the public about utilizing clean, cutting-edge technologies to transform our transportation sector," DOE Assistant Secretary Alexander A. Karsner said at the announcement of the partnership in March.

"Our support and collaboration with the Automotive X PRIZE aims to not only demonstrate the practical and much-needed use of advanced and energy-efficient vehicle technologies to reduce our dependence on oil, but we hope it will also inspire our next generation to pursue careers in math, science and education and engineering, so America remains at the forefront of innovation and discovery."

At the time, the U.S. Department of Energy planned to give X Prize a $3.5 million grant to fund this program, subject to appropriation from Congress.

The funding announced on Monday has exceeded this original figure by $2 mil. It will provide technical assistance, as well as go toward promoting and expanding national education and outreach efforts for the contest, including an online interactive knowledge center.

A portion of the $5.5 million will be used for public awareness of the science and engineering behind energy-efficient vehicle design and construction.

The DOE's award supports President Obama's Strategy for American Innovation, which calls on federal agencies to increase the use of prizes to promote advances in technology.

"Our clean energy future depends on our ability to design and commercialize new highly-efficient vehicles that are cost-effective for consumers and use significantly less energy," said Secretary Chu. "This funding will support cutting-edge, American innovation that can help us fundamentally transform personal transportation and address the global climate crisis."

As part of the DOE's goals for energy efficiency in transportation — to develop vehicle technologies and alternative fuels, (and in doing so, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and develop our national transportation industry) — the Department works regularly with non-profit organizations like X PRIZE, as well as the private and academic sectors.

Still, this sounds like an awful lot of dollars for a contest. . . doesn't it?

Senior Director of the Progressive Automotive X Prize Eric Cahill says that despite how large the $10 million prize sounds, this amount is not nearly enough to even bring a shiny new energy-efficient, alternative-fuel automobile to market. "It takes hundreds of millions to do that," says Cahill.

And in the end, it's not about prize money. Or grant money. Or money at all. . .

Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CE of the X Prize Foundation, has pointed out that many of the contestants will spend as much or more on their teams' vehicle design and construction than the $10 million prize. And Diamandis feels the large grand prize amount serves another purpose: ". . . the $10 million gives it visibility to the general public. . . and it gives the entrants a global stage to promote their teams and designs."

The $10 million also assigns a numeric value to the development of technology that most of us — citizens of a world watching the fossil fuel source clock tick by — will soon deem invaluable.