Bold Approaches to Energy Research May Spur Innovation
In a time of rising gas prices and growing consumer energy concerns, the U.S. House Committee on Science today considered the establishment of a program to competitively award cash prizes in an effort to advance the long-term research and commercialization of hydrogen energy technologies.
The Committee heard testimony from expert witnesses regarding H.R. 5143, The H-Prize Act of 2006, bipartisan legislation offered by Science Committee Members Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL).
"We in Congress have a responsibility to find creative and new ways to inspire researchers, business leaders, and our youth to utilize new energy sources," said Rep. Lipinski. "Hydrogen holds enormous potential as the base of our future economy, but we must take action today to ensure that we have the technology that we need tomorrow. The H-Prize will help us get there by inspiring researchers, entrepreneurs, and others to compete to find the keys to developing and commercializing hydrogen fuel."
The H-Prize legislation addresses a similar issue raised by Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) in his ARPA-E legislation (H.R 4435). Gordon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, or ARPA-E, builds upon an idea promoted in last October’s widely acknowledged National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. That report identified a range of action items that must be addressed if the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global marketplace. The report called establishment of an ARPA-E the key to producing "transformational research that could lead to new ways of fueling the nation and its economy."
H.R. 4435 establishes a new organization within the Department of Energy to pursue the development of transforming technologies to reduce the nation’s dependence on imported energy. Modeled after successful research and technology development programs such as DARPA, an ARPA-E would attract our country’s best and brightest minds to address U.S. energy challenges.
"When we reward talent, we get results that not only benefit our economy in the long term, but we encourage the U.S. research industry to new heights," stated Ranking Member Gordon. "We must make a serious commitment to continued global leadership in this arena and address pressing U.S. energy issues now. Ideas like ARPA-E and H-Prize could be a part of that effort."
The H-Prize legislation under consideration today designates prize-eligible categories for research, including: (1) advancements in certain hydrogen components or systems; (2) prototypes of hydrogen-powered vehicles or other hydrogen-based products that meet or exceed certain performance criteria; and (3) transformational changes in technologies for hydrogen distribution or production that meet or exceed far-reaching criteria, including minimal carbon emissions, and which may include cost criteria designed to facilitate the eventual market success of a winning technology.
"I support efforts to develop hydrogen technologies for transportation, especially to address the challenge of how we are going to generate hydrogen in an environmentally friendly manner," added Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Energy. "What concerns me about H.R. 5143 is the size of the awards that can be made, with a prize of $100 million possibly being awarded. The idea of prizes is that a relatively small financial prize is used to stimulate interest from the private sector and private investors, thereby leveraging the investment. I am not sure whether the large award allowed under this bill is necessary to stimulate interest, given the vast potential reward that a company that develops a transformational technology could reap."
Similar prize programs have been established in recent years to encourage the development of science and technology. However, it is too early to know whether the winning technologies will be part of the long-term advances in technologies in the areas in which they were awarded. One such recent award - the $10 million Ansari X Prize - went to Burt Rutan and his SpaceShipOne team for suborbital flight.