Administration Highlights Proposed DOE Energy Innovation Hubs

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Publication date: 
29 July 2009

As recently reviewed in FYI #95, the outlook for the $280 million request by the Department of Energy for the establishment of Energy Innovation Hubs is uncertain. The House Appropriations Committee provided funding for only one of the eight requested Hubs.  Senate appropriators included money for one of the Hubs, and suggested that if the funding source could be shifted, two additional Hubs could be established with reduced funding.  The Senate is now debating H.R. 3183, the FY 2010 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, with a final vote expected by tomorrow.

The House considered this bill earlier this month.  During discussion on the House floor, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ),  who was responsible for the crafting of the legislation, described the Hubs as “a work in progress,” adding “we thought that it was in the best interest to fund one hub. . .  it’s an idea that obviously will expand, will grow, and we want to make sure that the committee, the subcommittee has the opportunity to work with the [Energy] Secretary to see its development.”

The Obama Administration has moved on several fronts to highlight the Hubs.  A July 27 “Statement of Administration Policy” issued by the Office of Management and Budget first explains “The Administration supports Senate passage of H.R. 3183, with the Committee-reported text of S. 1436. . . .”The statement then describes  its concerns with the Senate bill as “additional views” and says “The Administration strongly opposes reductions in funding for the Energy Innovation Hubs. . . . The Hubs will advance highly promising areas of energy science and technology from their early states. . . .”

The Statement of Administration Policy also expressed concerns about funding reductions for another DOE initiative,  RE-ENERGYSE that would encourage the development of a larger scientific and engineering workforce.  The statement also explained “The Administration is concerned about the Committee’s reduction to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, a key component of the President’s Plan for Science and Innovation. The Committee’s level would not maintain the President’s proposed path to double the funding for this office over 10 years.”

On July 22, a nine-page Department of Energy document was issued providing additional detail on the Energy Innovation Hubs. The document provided  paragraph-length descriptions of the eight Hubs (fuels from sunlight, nuclear fuel management, energy efficient building systems, batteries and energy storage, solar electricity, novel carbon capture and storage, modeling and simulations for nuclear reactors, and electrical grid systems.)  There are also six pages of Frequently Asked Questions.  The main section of the document consists of the following:

“The Secretary of Energy has identified the problems in these topic areas presenting the most critical barriers to achieving national energy and climate goals while proving the most resistant to solution by usual R&D enterprise structures. The Energy Innovation Hubs represent a new structure, modeled after research laboratories like the Manhattan Project Labs (e.g., Los Alamos and the Metallurgical Laboratory at University of Chicago), Lincoln Labs at MIT that developed radar, and AT&T Bell Laboratories that developed the transistor. The DOE's Bioenergy Research Centers have adopted some of the organizational aspects of the Energy Innovation Hubs.

“Each Hub will focus on a single topic, but with work spanning the gamut from (i) basic research through (ii) engineering development to (iii) partnering with industry in commercialization. Each Hub will comprise a highly collaborative team utilizing multiple scientific, engineering, and where appropriate, economics, and public-policy disciplines, working largely under one roof. By bringing together top talent across the full spectrum of R&D performers – including universities, private industry, non-profits, and government laboratories – each Hub is expected to become a world-leading R&D center in its topical area.

“The Innovation Hubs will develop and deliver transformational energy technologies that will be deployed by the private sector or by public-private partnerships. By modeling the organizational structure after the great mission-oriented wartime and industrial laboratories, the intent is to create a research atmosphere with a fierce sense of urgency to deliver solutions. Critical to the success of the Hubs is an outstanding scientific leadership team who can recruit and nurture extraordinary talent and instill high expectations. These leaders will integrate efforts across a wide range of disciplines by creating a structure designed to promote rapid dissemination of research results through both formal and informal channels. They will follow the day-to-day progress throughout the laboratory so that they can guide and coordinate research directions. They will have the authority to respond to new developments by rapidly deploying and reallocating resources when needed.
“Each Hub will embrace within its topical area the goals of both understanding and of use, without erecting barriers between basic and applied research. It will seek advances in a highly promising area of energy science and technology that will result in many solutions being deployed into the marketplace.

“The scientific collaboration the Hubs foster is indispensable, and must be backed by a meaningful and sustained investment. Each Hub will be funded at $25 million per year, for a five-year term, with additional start-up funding of $10 million in the first year for space renovation (but not new ‘bricks and mortar’), equipment, and instrumentation. Funding for Hubs meeting the very high standards expected of these Laboratories will be renewed for a second five-year term. In extremely rare instances, delivery of exceptional scientific progress may warrant a third, five-year term. This funding model, properly managed, will allow the Hub leadership to recruit outstanding scientists by liberating them from short-term funding cycles, allowing them to embark on more daring approaches, quickly assemble substantial new efforts that emerge out of recent development, and equally quickly abandon directions that turn out to be less promising.

“The Department of Energy FY2010 budget proposes $280 million for Hubs. Funding will be competitively awarded to Hubs selected on the basis of external peer-review of proposals submitted in response to a forthcoming Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), with awards contingent on finalization and approval of the Energy Department’s FY 2010 budget. After award, a team of DOE and external reviewers will periodically review Hub progress and will also evaluate renewal requests, for action by an Oversight Board established by the Secretary.”

This section was followed by a simple two-column chart entitled Hub Logistics.  The language below is taken directly from this chart, somewhat reformatted (this DOE document is not available on a DOE website):

Investigators & Institutions: “Teams spanning multiple disciplines, including science, engineering, policy, economics, and market analysis. May be led by government laboratories, universities, or private for- profit or non-profit firms.”

Leadership: “The leadership team of each Hub will be comprised of outstanding scientists who have demonstrated ability to recruit extraordinary talent and instill high expectations. This management team will follow the day-to-day progress of all aspects of Hub research so that they can facilitate scientific interactions and help guide research directions.”

Centralization: “Investigators in each will be centrally located (one building). A significant aspect of the Hub is the co-location of researchers. Collaborators at other institutions may partner with the Hub.”

Term: “Each Hub will have an award term of 5 years with the possibility of a 5-year renewal. Hubs clearing a significantly higher bar may be considered for further renewals.”

Award Amount: “The award amount will be a maximum of $135 million total over the initial 5-year term: $25 million/year with $l0 million additional funding in the 1st year for renovation, equipment, and instrumentation.”

Core Motivation: “Each Hub will focus on use-driven research, spanning fundamental transformational science, engineering, and commercialization. Will include an IP management plan to ensure commercialization of technologies. Hub topic areas will be determined by DOE.”

After the Senate passes its version of the FY 2010 Energy and Water Development bill, appropriators from the House and Senate subcommittees with jurisdiction over the legislation will meet in an all-important conference committee to settle on a final version of the legislation.  The above DOE document notes the importance of this outcome, stating:

“with awards contingent on finalization and approval of the Energy Department’s FY 2010 budget.”

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