The Department of Energy is maintaining its focus on applying critical and emerging technologies to help understand and fight the negative impacts of climate change, agency Secretary Jennifer Granholm said before a House committee on Thursday.
Citing climate change as “the greatest crisis that we’re facing,” Granholm said that the situation is a challenge both scientifically and economically. Energy’s goal amid the climate crisis is to innovate in the clean and decarbonization technology space, and aid in commercialization efforts for a greener U.S. economy.
“We’re funding demonstration projects for next generation technologies like clean hydrogen, long duration energy storage, advanced nuclear [and] direct air capture. We’re working closely with industry to accelerate their commercialization, and we’re making the United States the most attractive destination for investment in new energy technologies, which will boost our energy security and independence,” Granholm said.
Key among these initiatives is supporting more fusion energy research. Following a breakthrough in the generation of fusion ignition at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory earlier this year, Granholm confirmed her agency’s continued commitment to advancing fusion energy research in the U.S., with a goal of achieving commercial fusion facility within a decade.
“We want to be able to put out benchmarks of what barriers we need to break through in order to achieve commercial fusion,” she said. Federal investments in furthering fusion energy development will total past a billion dollars, Granholm added.
She also acknowledged the work needed in the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to promote an electric vehicle infrastructure in the U.S. To support this agenda, Granholm said Energy is working on advancing research in battery technology to help bring down the cost of commercially-available electric cars and is partnering with the Department of Transportation to improve charging station availability nationwide.
“We have partnered with the Department of Transportation with a joint office that is set up to put out funding to achieve 500,000 additional electric vehicle charging units across the nation, both in transportation corridors as well as in areas where the private sector has not seen fit to put up charging stations perhaps because there’s no electric vehicles,” she said. “So we’re trying to solve the chicken and egg issue on that and we’re trying to bring down the price.”
As with many other agencies, Energy is also looking to both advance research in and make use of artificial intelligence systems. Granholm said that Energy has been using AI tech in some form since the 1960s, which gives the agency “unique insight” into both the potential and limits of AI and machine learning.
One program Energy has undertaken in tandem with the National Science Foundation is to ensure AI is democratized and that research is concentrated in academia and national labs, in order to develop an expert workforce that benefits from advancements in AI, as opposed to having foundational models concentrated in the private sector.
“We are eager to use AI for good in science,” she said.