Energy Department commits billions to research infrastructure and electric cars

The US government has once again announced plans to spur the economy by investing in science. The Department of Energy (DOE) intends to spend $1.2 billion (?0.83 billion) from the recently enacted economic stimulus bill to create new jobs and bolster the nation’s long-term scientific capacity. Specifically, DOE will use the money to accelerate construction of key research facilities, buy advanced scientific instruments, and upgrade or modernise the infrastructure of its national laboratories. 

The DOE package, announced this week, will provide substantial support for researchers based at universities and at DOE national labs who work in fields including biofuels, solar energy, superconductivity, particle and plasma physics, as well as electricity storage and materials science. 

Included among the approved projects is a $150 million plan to accelerate ongoing construction on the National Synchrotron Light Source-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. It is anticipated that the facility will enable major breakthroughs in next-generation energy technologies, materials science and biotechnology. 

Another $277 million will go to fund Energy Frontier Research Centers that will be awarded to universities and DOE national labs to support the transformational basic science required to develop cost-effective alternative energy sources. The new resources will enable the centres to pursue advanced fundamental research in fields like solar energy, biofuels, geological sequestration of carbon dioxide and hydrogen research. 

An additional $330 million will be used for operations and equipment at major scientific facilities like the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which is used by researchers engaged in chemistry, advanced materials science and biology. Other recipients of these funds will be DOE’s Nanoscale Science Research Centers, which are located at five national labs across the country and aim to support synthesis, processing, fabrication and analysis at the nanoscale level. 

’These projects not only provide critically needed short-term economic relief but also represent a strategic investment in our nation’s future,’ said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. ’They will create thousands of jobs and breathe new life into many local economies, while helping to accelerate new technology development, renew our scientific and engineering workforce, and modernise our nation’s scientific infrastructure.’ 

The department’s $1.2 billion investment is the first instalment of $1.6 billion allocated to its Office of Science under the stimulus bill. 

DOE backs electric cars 

Infrastructure won’t be the only area receiving DOE funds under the government’s new plans. Earlier this month President Barack Obama announced that DOE will offer $2.4 billion in funding for US manufacturers to produce next-generation plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and their advanced battery components. Funding for the effort will also come from money allocated through the stimulus bill, and it is intended to help achieve Obama’s goal of putting one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015. 

The initiative includes up to $1.5 billion in grants to American companies that make highly efficient batteries and up to $500 million for the development of other components required for electric vehicles like electric motors. Another $400 million will go to companies that demonstrate and evaluate PHEVs and other electric infrastructure concepts like truck-shop charging stations, electric rail, and technician training to build and repair electric vehicles. 

’This investment will not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil, it will put Americans back to work,’ Obama said in announcing the funds. ’It positions American manufacturers on the cutting edge of innovation and solving our energy challenges.’ 

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Europe