The Department of Energy yesterday announced $151 million in funding for projects through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the Obama administration's promises of transparency, the identities of the grant recipients are hidden in a pdf document. My two favorities were $2,655,174 to "General Motors Company" for "a shape memory alloy energy recovery device to convert waste heat from car engines into electricity. Could significantly increase fuel efficiency in cars (most energy is lost as heat)" and $9 million to E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company for "Production of bio-butanol, an advanced biofuel, from macroalgae (seaweed). Seaweed is a potentially sustainable and scalable new source of biomass that doesn't require arable land or potable water." Given that the taxpayers have already poured $66 billion into bailing out General Motors and its affiliates, you'd think the company's management would be able to find $2.6 million within those funds to support research into this "memory alloy energy recovery device," if it is as promising as the Department of Energy thinks it is. Likewise with Du Pont. The company spent $3.5 million in the first three quarters of 2009 just on lobbying in Washington, and it throws off $2.5 billion a year in free cash flow. If seaweed research is so promising, couldn't a company like du Pont have found some way to finance it internally, without resorting to a taxpayer handout? The du Pont board of directors is a star-studded group that includes such luminaries as Eleuthere I. du Pont and the senior managing director of Evercore Capital Partners, John T. Dillon. If those guys really thought a $9 million investment in seaweed research was going to have a big payoff, don't you think they would be farsighted enough to fund it somehow without resorting to the public purse? Instead, ordinary taxpayers who are a lot poorer than Mr. du Pont and Mr. Dillon -- and rich taxpayers who are in competing companies or industries -- are having money taken from them in taxes (or, actually, borrowed from the Chinese in a way that imposes obligations on future generations of American taxpayers) and given away to fund du Pont's seaweed research.
More 'Stimulus' For GM, du Pont