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December 28, 2009

US Department of Energy Will Fund Research and Development of Alternative Energy Sources
    by Robert Kropp

The formation by the DOE of three Energy Innovation Hubs is intended to accelerate the commercial deployment of new energy technologies. -- A funding opportunity for clean energy research strategies was announced last week by the US Department of Energy (DOE), which will invest $366 million for three new Energy Innovation Hubs that will focus on accelerating energy research and development. According to the DOE, the program will “advance highly promising areas of energy science and technology from their early stages of research to the point where the risk level will be low enough for industry to move them into the marketplace.”

The Energy Innovation Hubs, which over a five-year period will fund integrated research teams from applicants including universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms, will focus on three key energy areas.

The Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub will, according to the DOE, “accelerate the development of a sustainable commercial process for the conversion of sunlight directly into energy-rich chemical fuels.”

The Energy Efficient Building Systems Design Energy Innovation Hub will develop energy-efficient buildings components, systems, and models, in order to reduce the consumption of electricity by US buildings.

The Modeling and Simulation for Nuclear Reactors Energy Innovation Hub will produce a “multi-physics computational environment” in order to “create improved understanding of issues with current and future nuclear energy technologies.”

“Given the urgency of our challenges in both energy and climate, we need to do everything we can to mobilize our nation’s scientific and technological talent to accelerate the pace of innovation,” said DOE Secretary Steven Chu.

Investors looking for opportunities in the commercial deployment of promising energy-related technologies have already found cause for optimism in the Obama administration’s commitment to such developments, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to more recent regulatory actions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Although the DOE’s action is unlikely to affect such investors in the short term, such programs cannot succeed without their eventual involvement.

As the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) observed, “At least 80% to 85% of the finance and capital required in our collective response to the mitigation and adaptation needs of climate change will come from private investment sources and capital markets.” The investments by the Administration represent a first step in the transition to a low-carbon economy, a transformation that can only succeed through private investment.

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