Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Congress Examines Energy R&D

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Congress Examines Energy R&D

Article excerpt

With climate change legislation on hold for now, Congress is focusing on the role of energy R&D. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a January 21 hearing to examine initiatives that will help the United States address climate change through energy R&D.

At the hearing, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said that federal investment in new energy technologies helps U.S. competitiveness, creates jobs, and combats climate change. The fact that most R&D projects do not yield positive returns is more than offset by extremely high returns from some investments. He said that estimates of the net return on public investment in R&D range from 20 to 67%, with some projects yielding returns of more than 2,000%.

Chu highlighted agency priorities: increasing the production of biofuels; enhancing car batteries; improving photovoltaics; designing computers that will improve building efficiency; and creating large-scale energy storage systems that will enable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to become base load sources. DOE wants to focus emissions reduction research in areas such as trucking, where reductions will be difficult to achieve.

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Chu said that progress toward several energy R&D goals would be helped by several newer programs: Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), Energy Innovation Hubs, and ARPA-E. EFRCs support multiyear, multi-investigator scientific collaborations focused on overcoming hurdles in basic science that block transformational discoveries. Energy Innovation Hubs are collaborative efforts focused on a specific energy challenge, especially barriers to transforming energy technologies into commercially viable materials, devices, and systems. Three Energy Innovation Hubs have been created that focus on the production of fuels from sunlight, energy-efficient building systems design, and modeling and simulation of advanced nuclear reactors. …

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