House hearings address DOE budget request
By Erin Voegele | March 21, 2011
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations held hearings on the U.S. DOE 2012 budget proposal recently. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Under Secretary Steven Koonin each presented testimony.
In his opening marks, Chu noted President Obama’s plan to win the future by out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world. “Many countries are moving aggressively to develop and deploy the clean energy technologies that the world will demand in the coming years and decades,” Chu said. “As the president said, this is our generation’s ‘Sputnik moment.’ We must rev up the great American innovation machine to win the clean energy race and secure our future prosperity.”
According to Chu, the DOE’s $29.5 billion budget request for fiscal year 2012 aims to strengthen the nation’s economy and security. Two priorities addressed by Chu include the support of groundbreaking science, research and innovation to solve our nation’s energy challenges, and leading in the development and deployment of clean and efficient energy technologies to reduce our dependence on oil.
While many lawmakers are focused on reducing the deficit though spending cuts, Chu stressed that it is important not to be shortsighted. “As Norm Augustine, former Chairman with Lockheed Martin and former Under Secretary of the Army, has said, under-funding R&D in a time of austerity is like removing the engine of an aircraft to reduce its weight,” he said.
Chu outlined specific projects that the DOE’s requested funding would support. These include expanding the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) program, doubling the number of Energy Innovation Hubs, and supporting the development of next-generation biofuels.
In his testimony, Koonin discussed the DOE’s Office of Science and why the support of basic research is important. One area specifically highlighted by Koonin is environmental microbiology research. “Microbes far outnumber all other forms of life on the plant,” he said. “They and their biochemistries are far more varied than the plants and animals we are most familiar with. While some microbes are well-studied, particularly those that cause disease, we have very limited understanding of how they do an amazing range of things, including degrading biomass, transforming heavy metals at contaminated sites and breaking down oil.”
According to Koonin, biological systems hold powerful capabilities that are already being tapped for clean energy and environmental purposes. “Reengineered microbes and plants can harvest sunlight and store that energy in the molecules that they use to power metabolism or we can use as renewable biomass,” he said. “To take fuller advantage of these biobased capabilities we need to better understand the design principles that govern living systems and to systematize design rules for the rapid reengineering of microbes and plants…This more systematic approach to bioengineering is poised to simulate a new biotechnology revolution, much as DOE efforts fostered the genomic sequencing revolution more than two decades ago.”
Submitted by mwisniewski on Wed, 2011-03-23 15:00