Sound scientific research remains essential to the development of our domestic energy supply. The good news is that scientific research is being supported at the national, state and institutional level, and it is coming from a variety of disciplines.
At the national level, a variety of federal agencies have made energy research a focus of their grants. The National Science Foundation (NSF) for example, in its Division of Chemistry, has announced a forthcoming research grant for chemical catalysis. While this may seem a little esoteric, research into catalytic agents is essential to the knowledge we need to exploit new sources of energy, and to thereby affect domestic supply. They range from CO2 conversions to those that are more closely related to increasing our domestic supply of energy: electricity generation via water-based fuel cells, solar energy conversion, and the conversion of biomass into fossil fuels.
At the state level, West Virginia’s Division of Science and Research just announced more than $4 million of research funding for energy. The funding will support research in two major areas: the development of more energy efficient technology and the development of devices for storage of electricity.
The first initiative, led by physics professor David Lederman is consistent with a broad range of research associated with decreasing our demand for energy with improved technology. The second, led by mechanical engineering professor Xingbo Liu, has the potential for increasing our supply of energy by making better use of renewables.
Wind- and solar-generated electricity depends upon obvious environmental conditions for electrical generation, making both generation sources of limited value today on a consistent, 24-hour basis. However, economical storage of the generated electricity raises substantially the potential utility of renewables in the future and their contribution to our domestic energy supply.
At the institutional level the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin is leading the way in research on natural gas from shale via fracking. The Institute’s research on natural gas and fracking is especially rich in that it has multiple elements to recommend it, including the partnership between The University of Texas at Austin with Syracuse University. The research will provide a comprehensive evaluation of the physical aspects of shale gas development, it will investigate issues of contamination, and it will review regulatory issues.
Scientific and engineering research remains essential to our energy independence. Support for research that is focused specifically on increasing the domestic supply of energy is especially valuable. The State of West Virginia, the NSF, and institutions like The University of Texas at Austin and Syracuse University deserve our support.