DOE:

Budget proposal emphasizes R&D

Energy research and development projects are among the big winners in the Obama administration's proposed fiscal 2011 budget for the Energy Department, which wants to start a new "innovation hub" to develop batteries and energy storage.

The energy hubs -- which would feature scientists from universities, national laboratories and the private sector -- are the centerpiece of Energy Secretary Steven Chu's research agenda. They were first proposed for fiscal 2010, but Congress funded three of the eight hub proposals, giving each $22 million. The administration requested $34 million for the battery and energy-storage hub being proposed today, the administration said.

"Of all the R&D programs, I personally feel very strongly about [Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy] and the innovation hubs," Chu told reporters today.

In total, the Obama administration requested $107 million for the hubs in fiscal 2011, including additional funding for three of the hubs that got cash this year. Those research centers will focus on fuels from sunlight, energy efficiency in buildings, and nuclear simulation and modeling.

DOE formally launched the hub program in December 2009, calling for proposals for a research facility for fuel from sunlight hub with a deadline scheduled for this March. DOE said it expects to solicit bids for the other two hubs early this year, with contract awards this summer and scientific work to begin by the end of this year.

The budget request for DOE includes additional boosts for applied clean energy research and development. ARPA-E would see a $300 million boost under the president's proposal, which could become the first regular appropriation for the research program. Authorized in 2007, ARPA-E got its first funding, a $15 million appropriation, in the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill. The stimulus law gave the breakthrough energy research program an additional $400 million boost.

Chu is hoping Congress will continue to fund the program that has so far doled out about $4 million each to 37 research projects. "This is something where I hope Congress takes a very serious look," Chu said. "We have put together a great group of people, and I really hope they agree with us on that."

The administration requested an additional $10 million for ARPA-E in its fiscal 2010 request, but Congress failed to provide cash in its final appropriation.

The administration's request for fiscal 2011 also includes an additional $140 million for the energy frontier research centers, which the department launched last year.

"In the very successful energy frontier research centers, we know there are a few holes," Chu said. "So we're asking for a little bit more there."

That program links small groups of researchers focused on accelerating fundamental energy research.

The strong research and development focus in the administration's DOE budget request has so far drawn support from many Democrats in Congress.

"For years R&D has been on R&R here in America," Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. "But with this budget, the president is making a commitment to lead the way in the 21st Century clean energy economy. This budget invests in our workforce, so that the clean energy technologies of the next 100 years come from Boston, not Beijing."

Said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.): "This budget request is a powerful statement of the priority that President Obama is giving to energy, technological competitiveness and nuclear weapons security imperatives, despite the tough fiscal environment we find ourselves in. On most major programs in the department, the president's budget request basically gets it right."

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