On February 27th, Representative Hultgren introduced H.R. 1158, the Department of Energy Laboratory Modernization and Technology Transfer Act of 2015 intended “to improve management of the National Laboratories, enhance technology commercialization, facilitate public-private partnerships, and for other purposes.” The bill would reorganize national labs to better achieve the U.S.’ energy objectives. In order to achieve this, the bill is designed to increase the level of cooperation between national labs and the private sector, attempting to “promote the easy transfer of federal research into the hands of the private sector, improving the public-private partnerships that are essential to bringing innovative ideas to the marketplace.” The bill endeavors to remedy the existing lag between publicly funded research and its transition to commercial use. It also specifically mentions a “nuclear energy innovation” with a focus on fusion.
“…the Secretary in consultation with National Laboratories…shall transmit a report assessing the Department’s capabilities to authorize, host, and oversee privately funded fusion and non-light water reactor prototypes and related demonstration facilities at Department-owned sites. For purposes of this report, the Secretary shall consider the Department’s capabilities to facilitate privately-funded prototypes up to 20 megawatts thermal output.”
As we move into the future, the need for sources of vast clean, safe and secure energy will only increase, and there will be a need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Energy innovation can meet this need, but the biggest barrier to energy technology research and development has been a lack of political leadership and investment in technology that is often seen as “too far away” to deal with current issues of energy security. A reorganization of how the government handles national laboratories’ research is an important step forward in achieving U.S. energy security objectives, and hopefully indicates more willingness on the part of the government to pursue the potential gains from technology development.
“The secretary shall permit the directors of the National Laboratories to use funds authorized to support technology transfer within the Department to carry out early stage and pre-commercial technology demonstration activities to remove technology barriers that limit private sector interest and demonstrate potential commercial applications of any research and technologies arising from National Laboratory activities.”
This bill could help to improve private investment in federally funded research that has commercial applications. The advancement of technology to improve energy availability, safety, and cleanliness is an important issue for U.S. national security interests. Increased funding for the research and development of such technologies will hopefully advance commercial implementation where reliance on fossil fuels is becoming increasingly problematic globally.
With respect to fusion, the language of the bill is consistent with ASP’s stated position, particularly that national labs will be the cornerstone of fusion technology development. It also hopes to overcome one of the biggest barriers to private investment in fusion technology, which has been a lack of awareness.
For more information on fusion technology and the role of national laboratories in its development, please read ASP’s Fusion White Paper 2014—10 Year Plan for American Energy Security.