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Last week President Obama unveiled a new initiative to invest in emerging technologies and create new manufacturing jobs and increase the nation’s global competitiveness. During a visit to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., Obama introduced the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, which, according to the White House press release, will invest more than $500 million to leverage existing programs and proposals to meet these goals.
The press release said that AMP’s initial investments will target manufacturing for critical national security industries, advanced materials development, robotics, improving energy efficiency of manufacturing processes and accelerating the product development timeline for manufactured goods.
“Today, I’m calling for all of us to come together- private sector industry, universities, and the government- to spark a renaissance in American manufacturing and help our manufacturers develop the cutting-edge tools they need to compete with anyone in the world,” said Obama in the press release. “With these key investments, we can ensure that the United States remains a nation that ‘invents it here and manufactures it here’ and creates high-quality, good paying jobs for American workers.”
AMP is a response to the first of four recommendations made by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in their just-released report, “Ensuring Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing (pdf).” The report cites an erosion of domestic leadership in manufacturing and the heavy investment of other nations to fill that void, the advantages of having R&D and manufacturing located in the United States, the essential role of an advanced manufacturing competence in national security and that, historically, federal investment in new technologies has cleared the way for fledglings to become major new industries.
The PCAST report concludes that individual companies cannot go it alone: “Private investment must be complemented by public investment to overcome market failures. Key opportunities include investing in the advancement of new technologies with transformative potential, supporting shared infrastructure, and accelerating the manufacturing process through targeted support for new methods and approaches.”
To create an environment conducive to innovation and to overcome market failures, the PCAST report recommended a four-point plan:
AMP is the administration’s response to the first of these, and as recommended by PCAST, is a government, industry and academic partnership. It will be led by Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical and Susan Hockfield, president of MIT, and will work closely with the White House’s National Economic Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as with PCAST.
The first team has been picked already. From industry it will be Allegheny Technologies, Caterpillar, Corning, Dow Chemical, Ford, Honeywell, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Northrop Grumman, Proctor & Gamble and Stryker. Participating universities are MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, Stanford, UC-Berkeley and University of Michigan. Government players are DARPA, DOE, DOD, and the Commerce Department.
The White House press release gives examples of how several partnerships that are in place will modify their programs to support AMP goals. Several of the named agencies have a long history as important, strategic investors in materials science and engineering such as NSF, NASA and NIST. For example, NIST, a Commerce Department agency, issued a press release outlining its programs that will support the AMP initiative including robotics, nanomanufacturing, advanced materials design through the Materials Genome Initiative and an advanced manufacturing technology consortium scheduled for launch in FY2010.
The PCAST report recommended that AMP funding should rise from $500 million to $1 billion over the course of four years. While touring Carnegie Mellon and seeing demonstrations of several cutting-edge technologies developed at the university, Obama said that it was important for ideas to have a place to incubate and become products that can be made in the US and sold worldwide. “And that’s in our blood. That’s who we are. We are inventors, and we are makers, and we are doers.”
According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory press release, researchers have discovered a new path to convert sunlight to electricity. Researchers have found a new mechanism by which the photovoltaic effect can take place in semiconductor thin films. This new route to energy production overcomes the bandgap voltage limitation that continues to be detrimental to conventional solid-state solar cells.
Working with bismuth ferrite, researchers discovered that the application of an electric field makes it possible to manipulate the crystal structure and control the photovoltaic properties.
Working through LBNL’s Helios Solar Energy Research Center, Jan Seidel, a physicist who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the UC Berkeley physics department, and his team discovered that by applying white light to bismuth ferrite they could generate photovoltages within submicroscopic areas between one and two nanometers across. These photovoltages were significantly higher than bismuth ferrite’s electronic bandgap.
At the domain walls, the polarization direction of the bismuth ferrite changes and the photovoltaic effect arises.
“While we have not yet demonstrated these possible new applications and devices, we believe that our research will stimulate concepts and thoughts that are based on this new direction for the photovoltaic effect,” Seidel says.
Katie at Earth2Tech has the scoop on TerraPower and Toshiba starting to talk about an initiative to develop the former’s traveling wave design of small reactor. After Bill Gates, Toshiba would be the second well-heeled enterprise to jump on the TerraPower bandwagon.
Traveling wave reactors are attractive because they can, at least in theory, milk an initial batch of enriched uranium for dozens, if not hundreds, of years. TerraPower president John Gilleland goes so far as to claim that the company believes its reactor design “can provide nearly an infinite supply of low-cost, carbon-free energy.” He provides more information and a video to illustrate the theory here.
An even longer video of a presentation Gilleland gave at University of California, Berkeley, last April is available here. As Katie notes, one of the remarkable things in this talk is Gilleland’s assertion that “operation of a traveling wave reactor can be demonstrated in less than ten years, and commercial deployment can begin in less than fifteen years.”
Arun Majumdar, who currently heads a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab project that aims to help India reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, has been nominated by President Obama to head the newly-created Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy at the DOE.
The White House announced Majumdar’s nomination — which requires Senate confirmation — on Sept. 18. The IIT-Bombay graduate is not allowed to comment on the nomination until he is confirmed.
Majumdar — dubbed the nation’s new “green czar” by the press — is currently the associate laboratory director for energy and environment at Berkeley Labs in Berkeley, Calif. He also serves as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering at UC-Berkeley.
ARPA-E was created in 2007, but only received its budget this February, under the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan. The agency’s goals are to create technologies to reduce the country’s reliance on foreign energy and improve energy efficiency.
ARPA-E is also charged with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At Berkeley Labs, Majumdar heads a collaboration between the U.S. and India that aims to reduce the latter’s greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining sustained economic growth.
The collaboration, the Berkeley-India Joint Leadership on Energy and the Environment, involves researchers from Lawrence Berkeley Labs and UC-Berkeley, and other U.S. and Indian universities and organizations.
If you do a Google search of “top ten,” you get more than 90 million hits – from David Letterman, to New Year’s resolutions, to urinals (which is another ceramics story).
The list I want to share with you here deals with the patent strength and research prowess of U.S. universities. I suppose there are many ways to select the top ten research schools. What I found was a ranking of “Pipeline Power” created by IEEE Spectrum. The score is calculated using growth in patent activity, frequency of citations, number and variety of technologies drawing on the patents, and originality based on the variety of existing technologies the patents build on.
The nominees are MIT, Cal Tech, University of California, Harvard, Rice, Texas, Central Florida, Georgia Tech, Stanford and Wisconsin. The envelope please. And the winner is . . . MIT!
Also in the rankings business is Small Times. This website focused on microtechnology and nanotechnology in its “2009 University Report and Rankings.” Questionnaires and peer reviews were used in this study. Winners were identified for several categories:
Penn State received high research marks because of its facilities, staff, funding, students, degrees conferred and papers presented. SUNY-Albany scored high in spinoffs, patents awarded and IP licenses based on its micro/nano patents, startups and number of companies using faculty.