U.S. Energy Innovation Week in Review: July 21-27

The past week includes House passage of a National Labs technology transfer and reform bill, the Senate’s appropriations bill for DOE programs, progress for a bill establishing manufacturing innovation hubs, AEIC’s July 23 symposium, the launch of a new energy R&D program, and GE’s plans to commercialize fuel cell technology:

  • The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee issued a $34 billion energy-water spending bill that would increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency programs ($2,073 million) while cutting down investment in fossil energy R&D ($476 million) and nuclear energy R&D ($777 million) programs. The bill appropriates funding for DOE at a slightly overall higher level than enacted FY2014 appropriations. The contrasts to the House energy and water spending bill that passed earlier this year, which reduced funding for renewable energy programs and increased fossil and nuclear R&D investment. (Historical trends in DOE funding can be found on AEIC’s innovation investment tracker.)
  • A bipartisan bill supporting manufacturing innovation hubs passed out of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, last week with wide support. The hubs backed by the bill would work toward commercializing advanced manufacturing technologies, such as industrial 3D printing, through public-private research and development partnerships. The House bill provides $300 million for the hubs; the Senate companion bill under consideration would provide $600 million. Four manufacturing innovation hubs have been established to date under existing executive authorities and include work on next-generation power electronics and industrial 3D printing.
  • With wide bipartisan support, the House passed a laboratory-reform bill that would give greater flexibility to the National Laboratories to use funds in technology transfer activities and enter public-private partnerships. The bill, H.R. 5120, follows the first meeting of the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories, which is expected to issue its first report in early 2015. The bill was conceived as a companion bill to the America INNOVATES Act originally introduced in the Senate. AEIC principals Chad Holliday and Norm Augustine applauded passage of the bill.
  • At AEIC’s July 23 symposium, “Driving Resources into Energy Innovation,” DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz expressed interest in expanding efforts on co-investing as part of the DOE loan guarantee program. DOE’s co-investment strategy will focus on the advanced low-carbon emission technologies supported by the program. These efforts are to be complemented by DOE’s new risk management approach, which will create a “high-level, department-wide risk committee” with the goal of providing enhanced transparency to loan guarantee projects. Secretary Moniz underscored the importance of working on partnerships within the investment community at AEIC’s event. The event also included a keynote from Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning, who mentioned the possibility of new investments in additional nuclear units by his company.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced the launch of its M37 program for entreprenuerial energy technology R&D. The program will equip participants with $500,000 in seed funding, access to National Labs facilities and equipment, and support in setting up partnerships for eventual commercial spin-off of energy technology businesses, with a maximum five-year term for each participant. The program appears to draw lessons from previous success in spin-offs, such as the case of low-emissivity windows documented by AEIC staff. Competitive applications for the first five participants are now being solicited.
  • GE announced that, following a breakthrough in solid oxide fuel cell technology, it plans to begin commercializing its technology and build a pilot plant and development facility near Saratoga Springs, New York. GE is said to combine its fuel cell technology with its existing gas engines and is aimed primarily at customers outside of the U.S., where natural gas prices are more expensive.