U.S. President Proposes to Spend $2 Billion on Clean Energy Research

I have called for a Manhattan Project effort on the part of the leading economies of the world to tackle the issue of weaning ourselves from fossil fuel dependency. Is $2 billion what I had in mind? No, far from it! But at least it’s a belated start, that is if it gets approved.

The announcement by President Obama came on Friday, the Ides of March while speaking at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. What he proposed was that the $2 billion that the government receives from royalties for offshore oil and gas leases be used to invest in clean energy research. The focus would be on electric vehicles, biofuels, fuel cells and advanced battery technology.

There’s just one small impediment to getting this initiative going. The President requires the approval of Congress. And sure enough the initial response from Republicans is to nix the idea suggesting the focus of the President should be on beefing up domestic oil and gas production, not looking at renewable, green energy ideas.

Choosing to make the announcement at the Argonne has historic significance. This place was founded by Enrico Fermi and other scientists after the December 2, 1942 event in which they created the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, bringing on the dawn of the Atomic Age. A drawing of that first event appears below. The reactor used for this experiment became the centerpiece of the Argonne when the laboratory was established in March 1943. The initial work done by the scientists who founded Argonne not only led to the atomic bomb, but also nuclear energy.

eCopy, Inc.

 

Today the scientists and engineers at Argonne are focusing their research on sustainable, clean energy technology, experimenting with next-generation materials, chemistry and engineering concepts that will yield much needed breakthroughs.

In his remarks, President Obama stated, “The only way to really break this cycle of spiking gas prices, the only way to break that cycle for good, is to shift our cars entirely — our cars and trucks — off oil……It’s not just about saving money. It’s also about saving the environment.”

 

Obama at Argonne

 

I applaud the President for making the commitment to channel money to this important initiative. I just wish it were a lot more because as we continue to burn fossil fuels rather than commit to alternatives we are playing Russian Roulette with the planet.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...

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  • Niccolo5

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    You are kidding, right? The major problem is coal combustion in China and India. The renewable energy initiative is not only unimportant, it’s also worse; it’s counter productive. It encourages the scientifically illiterate and innumerate public to suppose some “renewable energy” breakthrough is hiding out there to be discovered if only the government wastes enough money on boondoggles that professional engineers say are unpromising. Only energy sources that are more cost effective than coal will achieve the abandonment coal.

    Meanwhile, new safer, cheaper, and smaller fission reactor designs languish in limbo because the NRC says it lacks the staff to certify them. Hyperion gave up on its super smart hydrogen moderated uranium hydride modular reactor, because it looked as though dealing with the indifferent and understaffed NRC would take more than a decade. The cheap highly enriched uranium needed for the smart new designs would be produced by the SILEX process, which is still stifled because the government stalls its production. The government would like to tell us why, but the government has classified it top secret, so the government can’t tell us. Does that smell a little like a “catch-22?” If the government got out of the way, fuel for small safe reactors would be available cheaply. Why aren’t at least ten new fission reactor designs that use SILEX enriched fuel running for certification at INL at this very moment?

    The only slightly promising non-fission alternatives to coal are scaled up versions of Bussard’s polywell fusion reactor, and the Navy funds their development at less than $10-million annually. See: http://www.polywellnuclearfusion.com/PolywellReactor/PolywellReactor.html

    It’s all a shell game perpetrated on the ignorant public by a government that serves only special interests that don’t give a damn about either the environment or the public. Engineers already know the technical answers, but government insures they can’t be implemented. The case might be that government isn’t actually stupid; it’s just evil.

    • lenrosen4

      I think it was appropriate that President Obama announced the initiative at the Argonne with its nuclear energy history. Nuclear may not be a renewable energy source but it is certainly an answer to weaning the world off coal-fired power generation. The real challenge is getting nuclear on to a faster track and educating the public so that NIMBYism doesn’t rear its ugly head.

      • Niccolo5

        ((The real challenge is getting nuclear on to a faster track and educating the public so that NIMBYism doesn’t rear its ugly head.))

        If there were any real intentions to increase nuclear power, maybe giving the $2-billion initiative money to a brand new agency that operates at INL and is chartered to rapidly evaluate and certify new small fission reactor designs that use SILEX enriched fuel would be a rational way to start. One should note that SILEX technology lowers enrichment costs so much that commercial uranium ore reserves increase by a factor of 100. We have enough uranium reserves to last 1,000 years.

        The fear of nuclear proliferation arising from commercial SILEX operations is a deliberate red herring. The Obama administration has not the slightest intention of replacing coal with nuclear.
        Did you read the polywell link? Did you see the competent and highly numerate negative assessments of all the commonly discussed “alternative” energy sources. Maybe for unforeseen reasons Polywell won’t work, but some of the world’s smartest physicists and engineers think it will. How about investing the $2-billion to discover if polywell is truly feasible? As the Polywell link argues, so far the government has invested into the promising polywell technology less than 1/10 of a percent of the money it has poured into the dead-end Tokamak black hole sewer.

        Which is the larger problem, a ten-degree temperature rise and the melting of the Antarctica ice cap, or the possibility that the US marines cannot effectively guard sensitive nuclear fuel material? The US Government is deliberately obstructing and retarding the development of the only technologies that might offer solutions on a scale that would address ever-increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. The problem isn’t a lack of new technology; the problem is the government is acting to retard the most promising new technologies.

        • lenrosen4

          With all the competing lobbyists in Washington vying for government largesse it is a wonder that any decisions made are in the best interest of the U.S. let alone the planet. There is no doubt in my mind that nuclear in all its iterations is highly preferable to coal or natural gas-fueled power stations. In addition there should be experimentation in other ways to generate power. I think putting our eggs in the wind, solar, geothermal and wave basket without the nuclear option is downright foolish. Just as raising fuel standards to perpetuate ICE technology by kicking the problem down the road does nothing to help us begin to address rising CO2 levels particularly when you consider that most of the new transportation purchases are not happening in North America and Europe but in the rising economies of Asia, South America and Africa. At some point government has to act with courage rather than timidity, otherwise we will eventually face the consequences of our failings as a species.