- Published on Feb 09, 2009
- Contact Jim Erickson
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Former University of Michigan President James Duderstadt and many colleagues are urging the federal government to establish a network of several dozen major energy-research institutes to quickly convert breakthrough inventions into market-ready technologies.
The plan's lead proponents include Gary Was, director of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute at U-M, and university presidents Michael Crow of Arizona State University and Gordon Gee of Ohio State University.
They advocate the creation of a network that links the nation's best scientists and engineers at research universities, corporations and federal laboratories. The goal is to rapidly develop clean and efficient next-generation energy technologies.
"Both the magnitude and character of federal energy innovation programs remain inadequate to address the scale, urgency and complexity of the energy challenges faced by this nation," said Duderstadt, a University Professor of Science and Engineering.
"The federal government should place the search for breakthrough technologies and practices at the center of its energy efforts," he said. "The nation needs a bold campaign to solve one of the most complex problems the nation has ever encountered."
Duderstadt, Crow and Gee will discuss the energy-institute concept Feb. 9 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Duderstadt is the lead author of a new Brookings paper outlining the proposal. The co-authors are U-M's Was, Robert McGrath of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution, Michael Corradini of the University of Wisconsin, Linda Katehi of the University of Illinois, Rick Shangraw of Arizona State University and Andrea Sarzynski of George Washington University.
The proposal calls for the establishment of several dozen "energy discovery-innovation institutes," (known as e-DIIs) across the country. The concept, developed by a 2005 National Academy of Engineering commission chaired by Duderstadt, aims to couple fundamental scientific discoveries with the innovation needed to commercialize and deploy new technologies.
In some ways, the e-DIIs represent a 21st century adaptation of the land-grant models of agriculture and engineering experiment stations and extension services to address the nation's energy challenges.
The competitively awarded core facilities would be based at major research universities and federal research labs, and would receive about $200 million a year from the federal government. The total federal commitment to the program would grow to roughly $6 billion per year.
In 2009, the federal government spent about $3.4 billion on non-defense, energy-related research and development, comprising just 1.7 percent of the federal R&D budget. Comparisons with federal R&D investments addressing other national priorities, such as public health, national defense and space exploration, suggest that investment in federal energy research must grow nearly tenfold (to perhaps $20 billion or $30 billion per year) to adequately address 21st century challenges.
"We need to increase the amount of energy-research dollars substantially. At the same time, we need to find new ways for universities, industry and government to work together more effectively and move the ball downfield very rapidly," said Stephen Forrest, U-M vice president for research.
"This proposed network of discovery-innovation institutes could have a transformational effect on our ability to exploit new forms of energy," Forrest said.
Each e-DII "hub" would foster partnerships between the nation's best scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and investors. Each institute would focus on a single theme, such as renewable-energy technologies, advanced petroleum extraction, carbon sequestration, biofuels, transportation technology, carbon-free electrical power generation and distribution, or energy efficiency.
"We believe that Michigan can successfully compete for an energy discovery-innovation institute (with core federal funding of $200 million per year) that focuses on transportation systems and fuels," U-M's Was said. "This will require a close collaboration between the state's research universities, industries, entrepreneurs, state and local governments, and nearby national laboratories.
"If we're successful, this institute would lead the nation in transforming the automobile and electric power industries to achieve energy security and dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions," he said.
Funding for the ambitious multi-year effort could come, in part, from a carbon tax on fossil fuels or through the auction of cap-and-trade allowances, if such a program is implemented. Part of the e-DII network could also be funded from general revenues and deficit-financed, if necessary, given the long-term and widespread social benefits of energy investments.
U-M Sustainability fosters a more sustainable world through collaborations across campus and beyond aimed at educating students, generating new knowledge, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Learn more at sustainability.umich.edu.