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The Department of Energy is using $777 million from its annual budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to invest in alternative energy research through 2013. Secretary Steven Chu officially released the list of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) that will receive research grants as part of this initiative. The DOE plans to supply funds in full to 16 EFRCs and spread out the remainder of the money to 31 EFRCs over the next five years. The first payment of $377 million has been delivered to the applicable EFRCs to begin research immediately.
The big winner in front-loaded EFRC funding was the Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation. The center received $21 million in front-loaded funds to study various plant cells in order to facilitate biofuel creation. The DOE provided $20 million at Purdue University’s Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels for similar research. The department seemed to focus on solar power in its EFRC funding with grants to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Excitonics ($19 million), Northwestern University’s Center for Integrated Training in Far-From-Equilibrium and Adaptive Materials ($19 million) and the University of Arizona’s Center for Interface Science ($15 million).
The largest five-year grants provided by the DOE went to the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Center for Emergent Superconductivity ($22.5 million) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis ($22.5 million). The Center for Emergent Superconductivity will use its five-year grant to improve heat tolerance and performance in superconductors. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will research the interaction, storage and consumption of chemical and electrical energy. Other EFRCs receiving five-year grants include Princeton University’s Center for Nanoscale Control of Geologic Carbon Dioxide ($20 million), the Oakridge National Laboratory’s Energy Frontier Center for Defect Physics in Structural Materials ($19 million) and the Idaho National Laboratory’s Center for Materials Science of Nuclear Fuel ($10 million).
The DOE’s financial commitment to the intricacies of alternative fuels is necessary to push the green vehicle market along. Casual observers may criticize the study of plant cell walls, energy interaction and superconductivity as wasteful spending. We cannot develop the next generation of cleaner and more cost-effective vehicles without putting in the requisite research. As the aforementioned EFRCs publish the results of their studies, these scientific principles will be used to create alternative-fuel vehicles built for long-term use.