What Needs to be Done to Reach the Energy Security Target


1.                    We must focus on well-defined numerical goals: minimize the expectation value of the amount of gasoline and natural gas we NEED to use in the US in 2025, to avoid major dislocation. (Red herrings about “how much do we import from OPEC today” and fuzzy formulations that lend themselves to waste and vested interests can get in the way. Also, the goal is Not to put oil producers out of business; if we need to give them a kind of floor price as a trade for what we DO need, like what farms have, it would be worth it.) LNG imports to make electricity are a growing dependency, as serious as oil imports.

2.                    Critical needs are about equally in the hands of Congress (law, regulation) and in the hands of

technology funding agencies. We also need a mandate to put more time into discussions about international deals and linkups between other players, to facilitate their contributions.


Needs at the Legislative/Regulatory Level


New standards needed for “GEM” and “plug-in GEM” highway vehicles.  The GEM standard must include ability to use gasoline, E85, M85, “P-series fuels” (see google!), DME and all mixes thereof – as well as compliance with strong clean air standards when using gasoline. (Misfire diagnostics, idle control, cold start – previous standards later weakened.) GEM-plus requires GEM plus 10kwh battery in a plug-in hybrid car. Like “Energy Star” these should come with visible strong logos to assist marketing


Existing preferences for alternate fuel vehicles – both incentives and government procurement rules – should all be changed to apply only to GEM vehicles (the minimum standard), with additional preferences for GEM-plus.  Dedicated “alternate fuel vehicles” do not help an iota now to reach the goal here, and GEM is easy enough to attain. Conventional hybrids seem to be doing well enough on the market for now (though present incentives for consumers are not yet obsolete.)


By hook or by crook, we need to get GEM cars on the road, to the mass market, as fast as we can.

For 100% flexibility by 2025, new cars must be 100% flexible by 2010 – which is technically feasible, according to every expert I talk to (including very key engineers in the industry). We don’t have time to waste. Logic suggests we need an “open standards” rule; the word “mandates” blurs the fact that GEM is cheaper and easier to comply with than HDTV open standards, and that it opens up competition and value to the nation far more than the HDTV standards. However, given the huge stress on Ford and GM today, it

might be just as good to give them cash back, in effect, at a huge amount -- $300 per car for GEM, rising to $600 for GEM to bona fide rental fleets, to drop to $200 when 50% of the cars meet this, and so on. A one-time boost, still less expensive than that last energy bill. And $3000 for GEM-plus, to cover the $2000 cost of big batteries from China.


We also need fuel flexibility in gas stations, soon, though not quite so urgent. If gas tanks in gas stations met the same hydrocarbon standards that cars are required to meet, the rest wouldn’t cost so much. Maybe even MBTE mixes should be allowed in gas stations that comply with a tough version of GEM standards for gas stations.


Once national GEM, plug-in GEM and GE standards for highway vehicles are well-defined, the Federal government should give the States the clear power to create their own open standards, incemtives or procurement based on those standards. In effect, this gives them a menu of four types of cars to decide on – conventional, GE, GEM and plug-in GEM. For example, if Iowa wants all new cars in that state to be GE-flexible, the people in the state will have to pay for those cars, but they then provide valuable experience to the nation as a whole. Likewise if West Virginia or South Carolina choose to create a market for wood alcohol or other biofuels, to stimulate their own local biofuel industry.


Needs For New R&D Funding Activities


1.  Urgent Topics Requiring a Broad Net and New Arrangements


There are actually many unmet critical needs, even as some areas are overfunded. As I look at what is most urgent, on the “critical path” of energy security in 2025, I would highlight five specific topics, where

where more aggressive, more agile funding at a relatively low level – focused on universities and small businesses --could make a huge difference:

  1. Batteries and other key enablers for plug-in hybrid cars to include joint workshops and studies of technology in China, which is ‘way ahead of the US here, and sustainable manufacturing issues. China already sells the essential 10kwh batteries for $2000 each, far less than what the key US players have kept up; thus it is essential that we learn to appreciate, understand and use (buy) what they have, even as we bring together and mobilize our own unexploited enabling capabilities and address the issues of sustainability in manufacturing.
  2. “Stirling plus” – a breakthrough option no one is funding yet is clearly in hand, >50% probability, which among other things could cut the cost of large solar farms to 4 cents per kwh, enough to revolutionize the market, with many follow-on options as well for related new technologies.
  3. Brain-like intelligent grid, to use a scaled up version of a new intelligent systems technology, “adaptive dynamic programming,” to address time-of-day, price-responsiveness, and uncertainty issues far better than today’s narrow “black out and regulations” research will ever do.
  4. Sustainable biofuels – to explore options ‘way beyond the narrow ethanol-only conventional crops routes that are receiving most of the government money today, and also to keep an eye on sustainability as we do so. Pimentel says that Woolsey’s “switch grass” distillation technology requires more energy in than you get out in liquid fuel, but solar-Stirling and other options may overcome that obstacle to making Woolsey’s vision real.
  5. An open topic – to fund high-risk technologies (excluding small-scale nuclear technologies) which have a serious potential to supply at least half the US demand for liquid fuels or electricity at an acceptable price, when there is some hope of a unique new breakthrough.

See www.werbos.com/energy_strategy.htm for more detailed technical discussion of these and other important options.

Congress is currently discussing an idea called “ARPA-E” to fill in some of these possibilities. In my personal opinion, they are right to conclude that there is no existing US government agency able to do justice to these possibilities on its own, because of their various mixes of strengths and weaknesses. However, with adequate funding, the job could be done by a kind of crossagency effort, organized like the previous effort http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2002/nsf02098/nsf02098.pdf -- with a similar focus on a guiding quantitative goal, guidance to the community, and use of the NSF machinery for reaching out, peer review,

and e-commerce tools, overseen by technically deep people committed to the larger goal. Even DARPA proper makes heavy use of “agents.”

                Congress also points out rightly that there are very important capabilities and brilliant people in the DOE National Labs (and the NASA Labs) – though they aren’t always the ones who get the most attention and support. Thus it might be possible to insert special rules allowing them to compete here too, in addition to whatever happens along more conventional channels.


  1. Urgent Government R&D Topics Best Suited for Other Venues


There are several crucial unmet opportunities that could be met through venues such as nanotechnology or cyberinfrastructure. Most urgently, as Dowling has proposed, we may need to develop new tools for quantum mechanical computer modeling that tries to fully reflect the integrated predictions of quantum field theory, coherence and statistical effects, and thermodynamics, to allow us to simulate systems built up from nanopatterned materials. This would make it possible to do credible design and evaluation work at a relatively low cost – in an open competitive way – for key enabling technologies such as new lasers and energy scavenging chips, and others, within the scope of nanotechnology.


Likewise, DARPA and the Air Force have crucial and highly urgent roles to play in developing the dual-use space vehicle, based on near-term technology, which would make space solar power a very serious near-term option for cheap 24-hour electricity if the laser design effort works out. (Again, see www.werbos.com/energy_strategy.htm for the big picture, and www.werbos.com/space.htm for technical details.) Indeed, DARPA itself – working with ONR – could perhaps “plug the most urgent hole” regarding Stirling, because that dual-use technology could be of great value to military bases needing an independent secure source of electricity.