DoE: Two minds better than one for green energy

Monday - 8/16/2010, 9:08am EDT

Kristina Johnson, Undersecretary, Dept of Energy

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By Vyomika Jairam
Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

A series of Energy Department-funded research programs is betting bigger. It's called Energy Innovation Hubs. DoE is hoping to speed scientific research by bringing experts together to focus on one technology at a time. And according to DoE undersecretary Kristina Johnson, who is overseeing the Innovation Hub project, the goal of the research is more than just academic.

"The Innovation Hub is looking at the opportunity to scale what we're doing in the basic science of applied energy in order to meet our clean energy goals, and really lead globally in the industrial revolution of our time," Johnson said.

The Hub model centers on the idea of bring together a large group of disciplinary experts to try and accelerate the commercial development of a technology.

So in the case of the newly announced Sunlight to Fuel hub for example, experts from various fields involved in the process will gather and work together, rather than independently, to develop a process for the direct conversion of sunlight to fuel in the presence of carbon dioxide, light and water, Johnson explained.

"So this would have a huge impact on making us more energy secure, creating jobs, and in particular cutting down greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum," Johnson said.

That hub is is funded for the next five years to the tune of $25 million, and will be carried out by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and CalTech, in conjunction with other universities around the country.

Three hubs have been developed and funded so far, and two of them have been awarded: the Fuels from Sunlight hub, and Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy hub. The third hub will be in developing Energy Efficient Building Systems.

"The reason that's so critical is because buildings consume 40 percent of our energy in the U.S.," Johnson said. "So what we're looking for there is to try and come up with highly efficient building components, systems and models, so that we can reduce the energy use."

The hub will look for new technology for indoor space conditioning, air conditioning, lighting, monitoring the smart grid, and measuring consumption.

The neat thing about the buildings hub, Johnson said, is that there are seven different agencies that are participating in it, so the Small Business Administration, and Dept of Labor are all involved to get the technology up and running when it is developed.

The next planned hub is in energy storage. Batteries and energy storage are crucial, Johnson said, to harnessing renewable energy, and so DoE is hoping that Congress will authorize funding for the hub in the next budget.

"We've got a lot of big problems, we've got to scale our innovation up so that we can all take advantage of what they can bring to us," Johnson said.