Manhattan Project for Clean Energy Independence
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee proposed a new five-year Manhattan Project for Clean Energy Independence during his May 9, 2008, visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He was accompanied by two Tennessee members of Congress—U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who represents ORNL in the Third Congressional District and is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
At the forum hosted by ORNL Director Thom Mason, Laboratory scientists offered ideas on research needed to achieve what Alexander called "clean energy independence." ORNL Corporate Fellow David Greene discussed the new generation of batteries, combined with peak-load pricing of electricity, required to transition to an electric fleet of automobiles. He said that one of the national goals should be to double automotive fuel economy by 2030.
Dana Christensen, ORNL's associate laboratory director for energy and engineering sciences, emphasized the importance of closing the fuel cycle to enable the expansion of carbon-free nuclear energy in the United States.
"By independence I do not mean that the United States would never buy oil from Mexico or Canada or Saudi Arabia," Alexander said. "By independence I do mean that the United States could never be held hostage by any country for our energy supplies."
During the discussion that led to the passage of the America COMPETES Act of 2007, the senator noted several participants suggested that "focusing on energy independence would force the kind of investments in the physical sciences and research that the United States needs to maintain its competitiveness."
The growing demand for oil worldwide and corn-fed ethanol in the United States is driving up gasoline and food prices, motivating the public to address the availability and cost of energy with a greater sense of urgency. This challenge comes as Americans are increasingly aware that burning more coal for electricity is contributing to sustained global warming.
Alexander noted that characteristics of the Manhattan Project 65 years ago could be applied to the current initiative for clean energy independence. Foremost is the urgent need to proceed quickly along several tracks toward a common goal. Alexander added that long-term success would also require Presidential leadership and bipartisan support from Congress.
Alexander said a contemporary Manhattan Project for energy should undertake "seven grand challenges" that would put America on the path toward clean energy independence within a generation. Alexander's seven grand challenges are:
"Despite 'the gathering storm' of concern about American competitiveness, no other country approaches our brainpower advantage—the collection of research universities, national laboratories and private-sector companies we have," Alexander said. "And this is still the only country where people say with a straight face that anything is possible—and really believe it."
Alexander's comments were echoed by Congressman Wamp, who asserted that nuclear power—if managed safely and efficiently—holds a key to the region's ability to provide adequate energy in a way that does not contribute to carbon emissions. Wamp stressed his belief that Oak Ridge, as it did once before, will play a key role in developing new technologies to increase America's security.
Congressman Gordon stressed the need to fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), an agency modeled after the Department of Defense's DARPA that will provide aggressive funding for innovative research projects carried out by science and technology experts from industry, universities and federal laboratories. Gordon believes the program will give researchers unprecedented flexibility and resources to develop new technologies through high-risk, high-return research that can provide breakthroughs to meet the nation's most pressing energy challenges.
ORNL Director Mason said the original Manhattan Project, which spent 60% of its $2 billion in Oak Ridge, illustrated the importance of parallel paths of research to determine which approaches work best and which simply do not work.
Web site provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Communications and External Relations