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09/12/2008 05:52 AM     print story email story  

American Universities Falling Behind in Clean Energy Research

SustainableBusiness.com News

In Congressional testimony this week, representatives from several of the nation's leading universities warned that research and development (R&D) money dedicated to solving the climate crisis is woefully lacking on U.S. college campuses.

Even as a record number of students in math, science and technology are seeking curricula that focus on global warming and energy solutions, they are being shut out due to lack of resources, university leaders said.

In turn, other nations such as Portugal and Germany have aggressively invested in clean energy R&D, placing the United States at risk of falling behind in the global race to invent the green technologies of the future.

"These days, the funding of global warming and clean technology research on American campuses isn't making the grade," said Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which hosted the educators in a hearing. "Instead of opening up classrooms to create the clean energy jobs we all want, we're slamming the doors in the faces of our nation's greatest students."

Below are excerpts from the administrators and professors from the nation's leading research universities who testified before the Select Committee:

Dr. Susan Hockfield, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified:

• "If we fail to make major strategic investments in energy research now, we will swiftly forfeit the advantage to our competitors, from China and India to Germany and Japan. Other countries have the money and motivation, and they are chasing the technology almost as fast as we are. We must make sure that in the energy technology markets of the future, we have the power to invent, produce and sell, not the obligation to buy."

• "The (MIT) students' interest is absolutely deafening, and one of my fears is that if we don't fund the kind of research that will fuel innovation, these very brilliant students will see that a bright future actually lies elsewhere, even despite their passion for solving what I believe is the greatest challenge of our era."

Dr. Stephen Forrst, VP of Research, University of Michigan, wrote in his testimony:

• "Many of the young researchers I encounter are eager to join in and devote their entire careers to this grand effort. However, their enthusiasm is tempered by what has been the unpredictable and steadily declining level of support for energy R&D over the last two decades. Simply put, the U.S. has not responded in a manner proportionate to the threat posed by entering an energy-insecure future"

Dr. Daniel Kammen, Professor, University of California-Berkeley, testified:

• "While investment in research and development is roughly 3% of gross domestic product, it is roughly one-tenth that in the energy sector. By contrast, R&D investments in the medical and biotechnology field are roughly 15% of sales, almost a staggering 40 times more than in the energy field.

• "The fact that we see three to five times more cleantech jobs per dollar invested in the clean tech energy area -- and I am including energy efficiency that we have not mentioned explicitly here, but it is vital to the equation, this job dividend, green collar jobs, inner city jobs, as well as the high end jobs is a critical benefit that we can capture. And right now many of those jobs are going to Germany, Norway, Portugal. So we are losing out. In fact, little Portugal just set up a clean energy research investment fund larger than the entire U.S. investment in this area."



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