MIT President Hockfield at the White House: Investing in Energy R&D "Best Strategy" for Ec

March 23, 2009 | Jesse Jenkins,

Investments in clean energy innovation offer the nation's "best strategy" for economic recovery and "the only route to the breakthrough technologies we need" to tackle the nation's pressing energy and climate challenge, said MIT President Susan Hockfield today at a speech delivered at the White House.

Hockfield, an outspoken champion of clean energy innovation, spoke at the invitation of President Obama, who followed Hockfield's remarks with a speech outlining his plans to make unprecedented investments in clean energy technology and innovation.

"[S]ince World War II, by far the largest and most important source of US economic growth has been technological innovation, much of it springing from federally funded ... research," Hockfield said, echoing much of the work we've done at the Breakthrough Institute to advance public investments in clean energy innovation.

Facing both economic recession and pressing energy and climate challenges, clean energy innovation is critical, Hockfield argued:

"The R&D and technology investments that President Obama proposes have equally profound potential as an economic catalyst. That would be good news in any economy. But today, it provides a lifeline. ...

Not incidentally, these same investments [in energy innovation] also offer the only route to the breakthrough technologies we need to address the daunting challenges of energy security, rapidly accelerating energy demand and climate change."


In January, Teryn Norris and I cautioned about the "Danger of Green Stimulus" and called for "a shift from green jobs to a broader focus on green technology," a called echoed by Dr. Hockfield in the inspirational conclusion of her remarks:

"In hard times, America always invents its way to a brighter future. We have done it before, and we can do it again. For Americans out of work today, new "green jobs" will help. But for tomorrow, we need new green industries. And the only way to build those industries is by investing ambitiously now in basic and applied research."


Couldn't have said it better myself, Dr. Hockfield.

Since this is the third time now we've highlighted Susan Hockfield's spot-on remarks at the Breakthrough Blog, I think it's time she joins Energy Secretary and Nobel laureate Dr. Stephen Chu and dons the (entirely unofficial) mantle of "Honorary Breakthrough Institute Senior Fellow." Read on for her full remarks...

Hockfield.jpg
Press Conference with President Obama on Clean Energy Funding
23 March 2009

As President of MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I bring a perspective from America's research scientists and engineers.

We're focusing today on clean energy and the truly historic investment in clean energy research, development and technology that President Obama is advocating for the nation. Through the Stimulus bill, President Obama and Congress made a major commitment to new energy technology and energy efficiency--$39 billion overall, including $6.5 billion for R&D. The FY09 budget includes further increases for energy R&D and key "clean tech" programs, as does the President's FY10 budget.

Let me be clear: with these R&D commitments, led by funding for clean energy technology, President Obama is challenging the nation to make the largest and most important investment in science and technology since Sputnik launched the Apollo program. Those Sputnik-era investments spawned a set of technologies that have transformed our lives and workplaces, from the Internet, to desktop computing, to the guidance systems that enable modern air travel, to the satellites that drive the GPS system on your dashboard.

The R&D and technology investments that President Obama proposes have equally profound potential as an economic catalyst. That would be good news in any economy. But today, it provides a lifeline.

The best route out of recession is fundamental economic growth. And since World War II, by far the largest and most important source of US economic growth has been technological innovation, much of it springing from federally funded, university-based research.

Consistent, sustained, aggressive investment in basic and applied research has powered much of the U.S. economy over the last 60 years. Today, with the world clamoring for alternatives to business-as-usual energy sources, investing in energy R&D and technology represents our best strategy for longer-term economic recovery and lasting growth. In fact, a 1997 PCAST (President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) report that will be familiar to Dr. John Holdren, the President's new Science Advisor, who chaired the committee that wrote it, estimated that every government dollar invested in energy R&D produces--in energy efficiency, energy savings and new technologies--a 40-to-1 return on investment for the economy.

Not incidentally, these same investments also offer the only route to the breakthrough technologies we need to address the daunting challenges of energy security, rapidly accelerating energy demand and climate change. Solving these challenges has captured the imaginations and ambitions of young people--students at MIT and across the country, young scientists and engineers passionately committed to inventing a bright, clean energy future.

Let me close by bringing this abstract policy discussion down to the level of actual technology breakthroughs emerging from the laboratories of America's great research universities and labs. At MIT, we have made energy a major focus. The creative brilliance of our faculty and our students is producing breakthroughs with huge potential, and as you can see from the display, I brought some examples with me today.

We're developing innovations that would turn windows into highly efficient, cost-effective solar cells. We're also working to make electric cars truly viable by inventing new materials that make batteries long-lasting, safe and rapidly charging: we can now think seriously of charging an electric car's battery in the time it takes to fill your current car's gas tank. We're developing "quantum dot" light bulbs that are 500% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, with no sacrifice in light quality, and we're developing safer, more efficient nuclear power technologies. We are also bringing biology and engineering together, using benign viruses to make clear, non-toxic, lightweight batteries.

All of these new possibilities represent the fruits of federally funded research. With President Obama's new commitment to far-sighted, stable federal support, America's finest scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs will transform advances like these into an energy technology revolution.

In hard times, America always invents its way to a brighter future. We have done it before, and we can do it again. For Americans out of work today, new "green jobs" will help. But for tomorrow, we need new green industries. And the only way to build those industries is by investing ambitiously now in basic and applied research. Thank you, President Obama, for championing the historic investments in energy R&D and technology that will put the nation back on the road to lasting economic growth.