First established in 2005, the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Technology Commercialization Fund provides up to $20 million annually of R&D money for the development of “mature promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact” (1). Specifically, the fund aims to boost the number of energy technologies emerging from the DoE’s national labs destined for commercial development and strengthen the partnership between national labs and the energy industry.
Recently, the DoE has placed a large focus on the development of clean, alternative energy technologies and expediting their availability in the commercial marketplace. In June, the DoE announced a new, $16 million round of funding for 54 projects at 12 national labs, together with 58 private-sector partners that match the DoE’s investments (full list of projects available online at energy.gov) (2). According to Lynn Orr, the DoE’s Under Secretary for Science and Energy, “deploying new clean energy technologies is an essential part of our nation’s effort to lead in the 21st century economy and in the fight against climate change” (2). As such, the latest wave of funding can be seen not only in light of the development of environmentally conscious energy sources but also as an attempt to keep US companies on the forefront of R&D in the modern, globalized economy, maintaining the country’s status as the origin of forward-thinking innovation.
For instance, Ford alone received $6 million of the DoE funding, nearly half of the total resources available (3). The American automotive giant is expected to put the money toward the development of a cheaper, more efficient hydrogen fuel cell technology that can be implemented for widespread commercial distribution (3). By lowering costs, increasing purity and boosting durability of the cells, Ford is expected to invent a “uniquely American” process for producing hydrogen fuel cells (3).
Since setting a land speed record with its FCV prototype, the Fusion 999, nearly a decade ago, Ford has seemingly made little progress towards a commercially viable hydrogen-fueled vehicle, due to high costs, engineering hurdles, distribution issues and lack of infrastructure (3). However, the huge amount of funding the DoE has granted Ford demonstrates the US government’s confidence in and eagerness for this technology to gain mass traction.
However, the DoE is not limiting its investment to hydrogen technology but is also granting research funding to labs developing lesser known, but still promising, energy technology. For instance, researchers at Ames Laboratory in Iowa were awarded $325,000 for a project called “Manufacturing of Alnico (iron-aluminum-nickel-cobalt) Magnets for Energy Efficient Traction-Drive Motors” (4). Similarly to Ford, the project involves lowering costs and implementing engineering improvements to make non-rare earth magnet-driven motors (4). According to Associate Lab Director Debra Covey, the office at Ames Laboratory is “extremely pleased” at the chance to “further develop and deploy transformative research into products,” emphasizing the market-driven nature of the DoE initiative (4).
While a genuine concern for the environment certainly lies at the root of this initiative, just as important is the US’s ability to remain on the forefront of global efforts to fight climate change, positioning itself as a leader in this realm. Thus, in part, this can be seen as a subtle soft power campaign, demonstrating a national desire to develop the technologies that can fuel a sustainable future not just for the US, but also for the whole world. Not to mention, if the US is able to develop and commercialize green energy technologies more quickly than other countries, it can then export these technologies and thus further shift the balance away from importing energy from overseas to becoming a larger energy provider in the global economy.
(1) "Technology Commercialization Fund." Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy, n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.
(2) "DOE Announces $16 Million for 54 Projects to Help Commercialize Promising Energy Technologies: Technology Commercialization Fund Will Support 12 National Labs and 58 Private Sector Partners." Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy, 21 June 2016. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.
(3) King, Justin. "Ford Gets $6M DoE Grant to Make Cheaper Hydrogen Fuel Cells." Leftlanenews.com. LeftLane News, 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.
(4) "Ames Laboratory Scientists Receive DOE Award to Help Commercialize Promising Technology." EurekAlert! DOE/Ames Laboratory, 25 July 2016. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.
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