By Lamar Smith
Today’s world is driven by technological advancements in every industry, which can increase efficiency, lower costs and benefit the environment.
Technology also can provide solutions to today’s challenges. Instead of government mandates, more regulations and higher energy taxes, the federal government should invest in research that supports the development of advanced nuclear power, better energy storage and the conversion of emissions or waste into commercial products. Unfortunately, nuclear power, which is the only reliable, emissions-free source of electricity, is still criticized by environmental activists. But those who are interested in solving some of America’s environmental challenges should endorse sustainable energy policies that promote critical new technologies like advanced nuclear reactors and grid-scale energy storage.
For the United States to remain a global economic leader, the federal government needs to invest in basic and fundamental research that lays the foundation for groundbreaking technology in energy, manufacturing, high performance computing and national security. These investments will fuel scientific discovery and allow the private sector to develop innovative technologies that address today’s energy and environmental challenges.
The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which I chair, has jurisdiction over the $9 billion research and development portfolio at the Department of Energy (DOE), which funds basic science and energy research. Fundamental research conducted by the DOE Office of Science has led to discoveries about our universe, innovative new technologies, and private-sector achievements across the energy and manufacturing industries.
Much of the technology we hear about today is rooted in the basic science discoveries at DOE national labs. From mapping the human genome to hydraulic fracturing to developing civilian nuclear power, scientists at our national labs have made countless scientific discoveries that have changed the world.
Earlier this year, the committee held a hearing to highlight some of the innovative energy companies that capitalize on DOE research. Two in particular — Oklo and Carbon Upcycling UCLA — offer technology tailored to provide affordable energy and improve the environment.
Oklo, an advanced nuclear reactor start-up, has developed a safe, compact reactor design that is ideal to replace the diesel generators used in rural areas, industrial operations or even on military bases. This reactor was developed by using energy research conducted by DOE national labs. Advanced nuclear energy technology like Oklo’s cost-effective design is the best opportunity to make reliable, emission-free electricity available throughout the modern and developing world.
Carbon Upcycling UCLA, a start-up company led by faculty and students, addresses the challenge of waste and emissions in energy production. Using basic research in chemistry, materials science, engineering and high-performance computing, Carbon Upcycling UCLA’s team has designed a technology that converts carbon dioxide into a cementlike material.
This technology could take captured carbon dioxide from power plants and turn it into a usable building material. Carbon Upcycling UCLA’s innovative technology has the potential to revolutionize the market for carbon dioxide, turning a waste product into profit. If successful, this technology will have more impact on carbon emissions than any current mandate, federal regulation or tax incentive.
Today, DOE maintains a range of facilities that will drive the next generation of discovery science, including light sources, neutron sources and supercomputers. The DOE Research and Innovation Act, approved by the Science Committee and passed by the House earlier this year, prioritizes basic and fundamental energy research at DOE. This legislation empowers private-sector innovators to partner with DOE to develop first-of-its-kind, groundbreaking energy technology.
It is my hope that as we look at the future of DOE, we will prioritize basic energy research and development that only the federal government has the resources to pursue. This, in turn, will help the private sector build on basic research discoveries, commercialize innovative energy technology and create jobs.
Throughout American history, we have cultivated innovative energy technologies that have unlocked new possibilities. Today, the energy industry is incorporating more innovation than ever before. It is groundbreaking technology — not government regulations — that will protect the environment, lower energy costs for consumers and ensure that America remains a world energy and technology leader.
By prioritizing basic research and letting technology lead the way, the American people will benefit in many ways for years to come.