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National Research Council (US) Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Bioinspired Chemistry for Energy: A Workshop Summary to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2008.

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Bioinspired Chemistry for Energy: A Workshop Summary to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable.

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6Research Challenges, Education, and Training

Throughout the workshop presentations and discussions, several participants made suggestions for future research needs and pointed out the funding challenges involved. Participants also identified ways to improve education and training in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy. This chapter highlights those key points.

RESEARCH CHALLENGES

During the workshop, various participants made suggestions for future research needs in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy. Most of the suggestions have been collected and are summarized below in Table 6.1. Further details about these suggestions may be found in the earlier chapters of this workshop summary, or by directly contacting the speakers.

TABLE 6.1 Future Research Needs.

Table

TABLE 6.1 Future Research Needs.

During the discussion after the “Industry Perspectives” session various speakers and workshop participants highlighted funding gaps. Representatives from government agencies discussed current research funding issues. Eric Rohlfing of the Department of Energy (DOE) said that the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) could use more money. BES had a major push in fiscal year 2007 for funding fundamental research in solar energy and hydrogen, but it did not come to fruition during the budget cycle. He called for a balance between funding basic research and technology development. Judy Raper of the National Science Foundation (NSF) said that her agency does not have enough money in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy. NSF is a very small funding agency with respect to energy, but it tries to identify new areas of basic science to fund. John Regalbuto, director of the Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program at NSF, said that the conversion of biomass to hydrocarbons is poorly funded.

Charles Dismukes of Princeton University said that there is a need for adequate funding in the right agencies. He thinks that DOE should be funding more research in this area. Dismukes also suggested that the money be channeled into agencies that have a peer review process for determining where the funding goes.

Daniel Nocera of MIT said that political machines drive funding, and that sometimes, unfortunately, the funding is diverted. He called for an honest broker to keep federal government funding in check. He asked the workshop participants to suggest individuals or organizations that could serve as the most effective honest broker. Eric Rohlfing proposed that the National Academies serve as the honest broker since that is what they are chartered to do.

Brent Erickson of BIO presented the current government and commercial funding activities underway for biofuels, biopolymers, and renewable chemicals:

  • Congress passed the Energy Policy Act 2005, which is providing a great deal of funding for industrial biotechnology.
  • President Bush mentioned cellulosic ethanol during the 2006 State of the Union address, which sent shockwaves through the investment and commercial communities.
  • The DOE recently awarded six cellulosic biorefineries millions of dollars to build on a commercial scale.
  • One billion dollars have been provided by venture capital.
  • More supportive legislation on funding is coming soon. Senator Bingaman just marked up an energy bill (S.987) that has a large biofuels and cellulosic ethanol component. The House is looking at a similar bill.1
  • The upcoming farm bill (H.R. 2419) will have a significant portion dedicated to renewable energy and energy crops.2
  • There are new federal government policies and funding mechanisms supporting cellulosic ethanol research, development, and commercialization.

During the discussion after the “Fundamental Aspects” session (Chapter 3), Marcetta Darensbourg of Texas A&M University pointed out that it is not enough to fund only chemists. She said that biologists need to be adequately funded as well, and that computational chemistry is also critical to solving the energy problem. .

EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Workshop speakers and participants indicated ways to improve education and training in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy, including K-12, undergraduate and graduate education, postdoctoral training, and workforce training.

K-12 and Undergraduate Education

John Sheats of Rider University asked the speakers representing industry and government agencies whether they had plans to support undergraduate students. Brent Erickson responded that his organization supports education for all types of scientists in the biotechnology field. BIO has formed a biotechnology institute in the National Science Teachers Association that does outreach to K-12 education. Michael Clarke of NSF said that NSF has been promoting undergraduate research for several years. Programs such as the Research Undergraduate Institution Program comprise both centers and individual research grants for undergraduate institutions. Judy Raper of NSF also pointed out that NSF’s engineering division funds K-12 programs as well. Eric Rohlfing said that the DOE’s Office of Science has only a modest effort supporting workforce development of teachers and scientists mainly because Congress decided that DOE should not be in the business of education. Rohlfing said that the DOE laboratory system does, however, have a summer internship program for high school teachers. Peter Preusch of NIH mentioned the area-grant program, which engages undergraduate institutions through research activities. NIH also awards research education grants to individuals to develop studies on how best to educate students in the areas of science that are relevant to NIH’s mission, including chemistry. In addition, NIH’s Office of Science Education produces supplemental curriculum materials for K-12.

Graduate Education

During the discussion after the “Fundamental Aspects” session (Chapter 3), Thomas Rauchfuss of the University of Illinois said that his group spends a good amount of money on training students. However, he hopes to receive more funding so that he can provide even better training programs for his students. Eric Rohlfing said that if energy continues to be a critical issue, scientists who will be working in the chemical industries on energy issues need to be properly trained while in graduate school. Michael Wasielewski of Northwestern University pointed out that students currently entering the science and engineering field are aware of the energy problem and appreciate the opportunities that energy research can provide. Students are even asking to work on energy. He is optimistic that educated and qualified of students will be able to “carry the ball” into the future.

Postdoctoral Training

Daniel Nocera brought up the point that NIH is the only federal government agency that funds postdoctoral studies in the United States. He asked the group whether it would be possible to form a national postdoctoral program for students to work on energy research. Eric Rohlfing said that Congress is contemplating such a program, and mentioned the America Competes Act, which includes postdoctoral fellowships in energy. However, Rohlfing also said that DOE does not currently have the resources to support a postdoctoral program. Charles Dismukes stressed how important it is to capture the enthusiasm of students in the field through postdoctoral fellowship programs.

Workforce Training

During the discussion after the “Industry Perspectives” session (Chapter 2), Daniel Nocera stated that workforce training is critical. Brent Erickson pointed out that there is a shortage of construction firms and trained personnel that can run conventional ethanol plants. Erickson, therefore, called for additional workforce training.

Footnotes

1

As of April 4, 2007, S. 987 was with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

2

As of September 4, 2007, H.R. 2419 was received in the Senate.

Copyright © 2008, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK4089

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