Alternative Energy/AE Essay on EFRC Survey
PAPER UNDER OFFLINE DEVELOPMENT
Under the assertion that history has demonstrated that radically new technologies arise from disruptive advances at the science frontiers, the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science has established a $100 million Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) initiative as one of the outputs of more than 8 years of work and 11 workshops, which resulted in the BESCA report Directing Matter and Energy: Five Challenges for Science and the Imagination. The research programs developed by the EFRC aim to address the energy challenges described in the ten BES workshop reports - The 10 Basic Research Needs Workshop Reports.
The EFRC initiative is part of a broader vision of government support throughout the innovation value chain of alternative energy. While the EFRCs initiative is focused on the upstream of the alternative energy value chain, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) initiative – established in accordance to the National Academies 2006 report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” - addresses translational issues  and the [http://www.energy.gov/hubs Energy Innovation Hubs are focused on building cross-disciplinary and public-private partnerships to bring to market alternative energy innovations. It is interesting to understand the context for this governmental commitments to invest in the alternative energy research, development and deployment. As pointed in the ARPA-E’s Fiscal Year 2011 Congressional Justification, the US must step up in order to compete globally:
“The U.S. must step up its clean energy efforts. The U.S. market share in sales of photovoltaics, a technology first developed in the U.S., has fallen from over 40 percent of world-wide sales in 1997 to less than 10 percent in 2009. The U.S. is home to only one of the 10 largest solar panel producers in the world, and two of the top 10 advanced battery manufacturers. The U.S. and global hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) battery market is dominated by Asian companies. In 2008 the U.S. accounted for less than 2 percent of worldwide sales of nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries for HEV. Future HEV/plug- in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)/electric vehicle (EV) battery demand will be met by Asian producers, currently dominated by Japan, South Korea, and China, without transformative American innovation in advanced batteries. In another facet, the U.S. energy intensity in buildings far exceeds that of similar buildings in similar climates in China and Europe. China is investing 10 times as much on clean power, as a percentage of gross domestic product, as the U.S. is; and has plans to deploy 120 gigawatts of wind power in the next 10 years, equal today’s global total, which will create an estimated 150,000 jobs. Of the top five manufacturers in wind power, only one is American.”
This three-tier structure was the answer from the Obama Administration to two main challenges: assuring clean, secure, and sustainable energy to power the world, and establishing a new foundation for enduring economic and jobs growth in USA. As Secretary Chu declared, when announcing the selection of the new EFRC centers in August 2009:
“Meeting the challenge to reduce our dependence on imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions will require significant scientific advances. These centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation’s scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to expand the use of clean and renewable energy.”
In contrast to traditional fossil fuel-based technologies, clean energy technologies are considered to be in their infancy, operating far below their potential, with many scientific and technological challenges to overcome, specifically in regard to near-term industry needs. (BESAC-DOE, 2010)  In this context, the Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) are designed to address energy and science “grand challenges.” The 46 EFRCs are funded at $2 - $5 million a year for 5 years, and were chosen from over 260 applicant institutions. In total the program represents $777 million in DOE funding over five years.
The EFRC initiative represents an increased emphasis on the importance of university based research, and expands the R&D funding for this research – from the 46 EFRCs, 31 are led by Universities, 1 by General Electrics in partnerships with Universities and others by National Labs. Each institution received funding for a particular center doing research on a particular type of clean technology, and in some cases more than one center at a particular institution was awarded funding.
Thus, and as part of the Industrial Cooperation Project (ICP), under the Alternative Energy Sector analysis, we decided to investigate further the structure of knowledge governance  of the EFRCs publicly funded knowledge outputs.
Some general questions were in the background of our mind - “How are components of the industrial structure of information production systems changing in different industries, different business models, and different sets of actors? How are they incorporating commons-based strategy?” - and guided a broader survey  which was sent to the 46 EFRCs.
- ↑ ARPA-E will identify and promote revolutionary advances in fundamental sciences, translating scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations, and accelerating transformational technological advances in areas that industry by itself is not likely to undertake because of technical and financial uncertainty. Specifically, ARPA-E was established and charged with the following objectives: 1.To bring a freshness, excitement, and sense of mission to energy research that will attract many of the U.S.’s best and brightest minds—those of experienced scientists and engineers, and, especially, those of students and young researchers, including persons in the entrepreneurial world; 2.To focus on creative “out-of-the-box” transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its high risk but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation; 3.To utilize an ARPA-like organization that is flat, nimble, and sparse, capable of sustaining for long periods of time those projects whose promise remains real, while phasing out programs that do not prove to be as promising as anticipated; and 4.To create a new tool to bridge the gap between basic energy research and development/industrial innovation.
- ↑ www.er.doe.gov/bes/reports/files/SET_rpt.pdf
- ↑ The “knowledge governance approach” is characterized as a distinctive, emerging approach that cuts across the fields of knowledge management, organization studies, strategy, and human resource management. Knowledge governance is taken up with how the deployment of governance mechanisms influences knowledge processes, such as sharing, retaining and creating knowledge. It insists on clear micro (behavioral) foundations, adopts an economizing perspective, and examines the links between knowledge-based units of analysis with diverse characteristics and governance mechanisms with diverse capabilities of handling these transactions. Research issues that the knowledge governance approach illuminates are sketched. (Foss, 2007)
- ↑ http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/commonsbasedresearch/sites/commonsbasedresearch/images/LimeService_Questions4EFRC.pdf