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Obama Spotlights Energy Research and Development

As part of the Obama administration's plan to build a clean energy economy and reduce dependence on foreign oil, the Department of Energy (DOE) will launch a $400 million organization to foster research and development of transformational energy-related technologies, President Obama said during a speech Tuesday at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, DC. Also attending the NAS meeting were Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Obama science adviser John Holdren.

Calling science "more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health and our environment than it has ever been," Obama said his administration will devote more than 3% of the nation's gross domestic product to scientific research and development (R&D). It would be the largest financial commitment to scientific R&D in American history, surpassing even U.S. efforts in space following the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of Sputnik, an event that sent shock waves through American political and scientific circles.

"There will be no single Sputnik moment for this generation's challenges to break our dependence on fossil fuels. In many ways, this makes the challenge even tougher to solve -- and makes it all the more important to keep our eyes fixed on the work ahead," Obama said. "But energy is our great project, this generation's great project. And that's why I've set a goal for our nation that we will reduce our carbon pollution by more than 80% by 2050. And that is why I'm pursuing, in concert with Congress, the policies that will help us meet this goal."

According to DOE, its new $400 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) will fund scientists to take immature technologies that promise to make a large impact and develop them beyond the "valley of death" that prevents many transformational new technologies from becoming a market reality.

Modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- which was created in response to Sputnik -- and funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, ARPA-E will award grants for projects aimed at developing breakthrough energy technologies. ARPA-E will issue an initial solicitation to fund energy technology projects that translate scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations, and accelerate transformational technological advances in areas that industry is not likely to undertake independently because of high technical or financial risk.

DOE has also committed to spend a total of $777 million over the next five years on 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers where approximately 1,800 researchers and students will address research challenges in renewable and carbon-neutral energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. The centers, which will be established at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and private firms across the country, will each receive $2 million to $5 million annually. Approximately one-third of the centers will be supported by Recovery Act funding, DOE said.

The White House proposal also includes plans to improve student achievement in math and science, as well as a commitment to double the budgets of the National Science Foundation, DOE Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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