June 3, 2016
Capitol Update

In this issue:


The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee recently held a hearing to discuss the future of “Leveraging the U.S. Science and Technology Enterprise.” Witnesses discussed the roles of the government, industry, and academia in science and technology research and development (R&D). Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) delivered opening statements, and spoke about the work of the Committee’s bipartisan Innovation and Competitiveness Working Group, led by Senator Peters and Senator Cory Gardner (R-MI), that has taken the lead in preparing the Senate’s version of the America COMPETES Act reauthorization.

The hearing remained cordial and for the most part, the panel addressed science and technology R&D from a 30,000 foot level, calling attention to the importance of basic research and how investing in science and engineering can lead to great advances down the road. Specific attention was given to the following subjects:

  • How to reduce and better balance the administrative burden being put on researchers by the federal government. It was said that 42% of a researcher’s time is spent on administrative activities, and while it is important that our federal dollars be accounted for, it would be beneficial to look at the current administrative requirements and consolidate or eliminate them where possible.
  • Desire for increased focus on commercialization of discoveries.
  • The peer-review process and whether the federal government should or should not promote investing in research that is “in the national interest,” or let peer review dictate which research be funded.

The written testimony and opening statements, as well as a video webcast of the hearing, is now available at: http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2016/5/leveraging-the-u-s-science-and-technology-enterprise.


Last week, the Energy Department released the On the Path to SunShot reports, a series of eight research papers examining the state of the U.S. solar energy industry and the progress made to date toward the SunShot Initiative’s goal to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by 2020. The solar industry is currently about 70 percent of the way towards achieving the Initiative’s 2020 goals, but as solar has become more affordable, new challenges and opportunities have emerged.

The reports explore the lessons learned in the first five years of the ten-year Initiative and identify key research, development, and market opportunities that can help to ensure that solar energy technologies are widely affordable and available to power millions more American homes and businesses. 

Launched in 2011, the SunShot Initiative was created with the goal to reduce the cost of solar energy technologies by 75 percent within a decade across the residential, commercial, and utility-scale sectors. Since then, solar technologies, solar markets, and the solar industry have changed dramatically. The On the Path to SunShot series serves as a follow-up to the 2012 SunShot Vision Study, which analyzed the economic and environmental benefits that would result from achieving SunShot’s ambitious 2020 goal. This new study series explores the areas of focus that could help the United States to achieve cost-competitive solar energy.

Among the conclusions from the study series, a recurring theme emerges that sustained innovation across all levels of the industry—from cell efficiency improvements to faster and cheaper installation methods— will help to achieve the Energy Department’s SunShot goals.

For additional information, go to: http://energy.gov/eere/articles/sunshot-story-challenging-solar-industry-say-what-if-2011


The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO2016) presents an assessment of the outlook for international energy markets through 2040. The IEO2016 Reference case projects increased world consumption of marketed energy from all fuel sources through 2040 (Figure ES-2). Over that period, renewables are the world's fastest-growing energy source, increasing by an average 2.6% per year between 2012 and 2040. Nuclear power is the world's second fastest-growing energy source, with consumption increasing by 2.3 percent per year over that period.

By energy source, natural gas accounts for the largest increase in world primary energy consumption. Coal is the world’s slowest-growing energy source in the IEO2016 Reference case, rising by an average 0.6 percent per year, from 153 quadrillion Btu in 2012 to 180 quadrillion Btu in 2040. World use of petroleum and other liquid fuels grows from 90 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2012 to 100 million b/d in 2020 and to 121 million b/d in 2040. Most of the growth in liquid fuels consumption is in the transportation and industrial sectors.

According to EIA projections, total world energy consumption rises from 549 quadrillion Btu in 2012 to 815 quadrillion Btu in 2040, an increase of 48 percent. Most of the world's energy growth will occur in the non-OECD nations, where relatively strong, long-term economic growth drives increasing demand for energy. Non-OECD energy consumption increases by 71 percent between 2012 and 2040 compared with an increase of 18 percent in OECD nations. Energy use in the combined non-OECD region first exceeded that of the OECD in 2007 and by 2012, non-OECD countries accounted for 57 percent of total world energy consumption. By 2040, almost two-thirds of the world’s primary energy will be consumed in the non-OECD economies.

The full report is available at: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/?src=home-b2


Federal agencies obligated $30.8 billion to 996 academic institutions for science and engineering (S&E) activities in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, the most recent year for which such information is available. This is a 6 percent increase over the previous year and the first increase in such funding since FY2009.

In current dollars, federal S&E obligations to academic institutions fell by $1.8 billion between FY2012 and FY2013, then increased by $1.7 billion between FY2013 and FY2014, according to a new report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). During that period of rising funds, the number of academic institutions receiving funding climbed by one.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Defense (DOD) together provided 85 percent of all federal academic S&E obligations. HHS accounted for 57 percent; NSF 16 percent; and DOD 12 percent. Most of the remaining funding came from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and NASA. All six of these agencies saw their obligations increase between FY2013 and FY2014.

The Johns Hopkins University, including its Applied Physics Laboratory, continued to receive the most funds out of any academic university, receiving $1.7 billion in FY2014. For a full list of the top 20 recipient universities, see the full NCSES InfoBrief at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16312/

Federal academic S&E obligations include six categories:

  • Research and development (R&D) -- all direct, indirect, incidental or related costs corresponding to R&D performed under grant, contract or cooperative agreement. This category increased by $1.5 billion.
  • R&D plant -- all projects whose principal purpose is to support the construction, acquisition, renovation, modification, repair or rental of R&D facilities, land or fixed equipment. This category increased by $89 million.
  • Facilities and equipment for instruction in S&E -- all programs whose principal purpose is to support the construction, acquisition, renovation, modification, repair or rental facilities, land and equipment used for S&E instruction. This category increased by $7 million.
  • Fellowships, traineeships and training grants -- all programs directed primarily toward the development and maintenance of the scientific workforce. This category increased $444 million.
  • General support for S&E -- funds for scientific projects and support activities within a specified discipline. This category increased by $5 million.
  • Other S&E activities -- all academic obligations that cannot be assigned elsewhere, and activities in support of technical conferences, teacher institutions and programs aimed at increasing pre-college and undergraduate students' scientific knowledge. This category increased by $334 million.

To review the complete report, visit http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16312/


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed increases in renewable fuel volume requirements across all types of biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The proposed increases would boost renewable fuel production and provide for ambitious yet achievable growth.

The proposed volumes would represent growth over historic levels:

  • Total renewable fuel volumes would grow by nearly 700 million gallons between 2016 and 2017.
  • Advanced renewable fuel — which requires 50 percent lifecycle carbon emissions reductions — would grow by nearly 400 million gallons between 2016 and 2017.
  • The non-advanced or “conventional” fuels portion of total renewable fuels — which requires a minimum of 20 percent lifecycle carbon emissions reductions — would increase by 300 million gallons between 2016 and 2017 and achieve 99 percent of the Congressional target of 15 billion gallons.
  • Biomass-based biodiesel — which must achieve at least 50 percent lifecycle emissions reductions — would grow by 100 million gallons between 2017 and 2018.
  • Cellulosic biofuel — which requires 60 percent lifecycle carbon emissions reductions — would grow by 82 million gallons, or 35 percent, between 2016 and 2017.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set annual RFS volume requirements for four categories of biofuels. By displacing fossil fuels, biofuels help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help strengthen energy security. EPA is proposing to use the tools provided by Congress to adjust the standards below the statutory targets, but the steadily increasing volumes in the proposal continue to support Congress’s intent to grow the volumes of these fuels that are part of the nation’s overall strategy to enhance energy security and address climate change. EPA implements the program in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy.

EPA will hold a public hearing on this proposal on June 9, 2016, in Kansas City, MO. The period for public input and comment will open until July 11. 

For more information on the announcement, go to: http://www.epa.gov/renewable-fuel-standard-program/proposed-renewable-fuel-standards-2017-and-biomass-based-diesel


The U.S. Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a technical study on lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident for improving safety and security of commercial nuclear power plants in the United States. This study was carried out in two phases: Phase 1, issued in 2014, focused on the causes of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and safety-related lessons learned for improving nuclear plant systems, operations, and regulations exclusive of spent fuel storage.

The Phase 2 report focuses on three issues:

  • Lessons learned from the accident for nuclear plant security;
  • Lessons learned for spent fuel storage; and,
  • Reevaluation of conclusions from previous Academies studies on spent fuel storage.

To download a free PDF of the report, or to read it online, visit http://www.nap.edu/catalog/21874/lessons-learned-from-the-fukushima-nuclear-accident-for-improving-safety-and-security-of-us-nuclear-plants?utm_source=NAP+Newsletter&utm_campaign=9ae64fe62c-Final_Book_2016_05_20_21874&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_96101de015-9ae64fe62c-103625165&goal=0_96101de015-9ae64fe62c-103625165&mc_cid=9ae64fe62c&mc_eid=016e9c1ea4

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