Academic institutions serve an essential role in furthering scientific research that can drive the commercialization of transformative products and services, said U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz during a visit to Austin.
Throughout his visit, Moniz touted an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, specifically efforts to promote investment in innovation and advanced manufacturing in the United States. He characterized The University of Texas at Austin as a leader in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
“UT Austin has grown into a research and teaching powerhouse, both educating the next generation of scientists and engineers and helping to drive cutting-edge research and innovation,” Moniz said during a speech on campus. “The Department of Energy is proud to partner with the university on more than $20 million of research each year.”
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz discusses the future of energy and STEM education (Credit: Marsha Miller)
He noted several examples of university research programs the Department of Energy supports, including projects involving geothermal systems and residential fueling systems for vehicles powered by natural gas.
Moniz applauded university leaders for championing cutting-edge research on challenging energy topics, as well as for fostering collaborations with private industry, nonprofits and clean-tech entrepreneurs to spur advanced manufacturing of new products and services.
The state of Texas, Moniz said, is “the perfect example of how President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy can go hand in hand with combating climate change.”
“This state is the No. 1 producer of oil and gas in the country. Texas has also been a national leader in clean and renewable energy production,” Moniz added. “And Texas has the highest wind-powered generation capacity of any state in the nation.”
Moniz announced the Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding $30 million to 12 projects across the country through the DOE’s ARPA-E’s Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight, or ‘FOCUS,’ program. FOCUS is working to develop new hybrid solar energy converters and hybrid energy storage systems that can deliver low-cost, high-efficiency solar energy.
“This means that solar energy will be readily available in homes across America — even when the sun isn’t shining,” Moniz said.
Moniz’s visit began with a tour of the Pike Powers Laboratory and Center for Commercialization and meetings with local clean-tech entrepreneurs and elected officials. The lab is a division of the Pecan Street Inc., a nonprofit research organization based at the university that develops new technologies and studies customer behavior surrounding advanced energy management systems. The Department of Energy provided startup funds to Pecan Street, whose founding members also include the City of Austin, the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Environmental Defense Fund.
In welcoming Moniz to campus, Executive Vice President and Provost Gregory L. Fenves commended Moniz and the DOE for championing the role of scientific research in tackling the nation’s energy challenges.
“Secretary Moniz’s visit is significant, for scientists, researchers and students at UT, and also for entrepreneurs involved in the commercialization of new technologies,” Fenves said. “We are thrilled to have Secretary Moniz on campus and appreciate his recognition of the important role UT Austin serves in driving cutting-edge energy research.”
Moniz met privately with graduate students involved in a variety of energy-related research projects, and he toured the university’s Visualization Laboratory (Vislab), operated by the Texas Advanced Computing Center. The Vislab features a large cluster of 30-inch monitors that are among the highest-resolution tiled displays in the world. The Vislab also serves as a research hub for human-computer interaction, tiled display software development and visualization consulting.
Thomas F. Edgar, a chemical engineering professor and director of the university’s Energy Institute, cited the importance of public-private collaborations in fostering the commercialization of scientific research.
“The DOE has been a strong supporter of energy research at this university, as well as of the private-public partnerships that further innovation and advanced manufacturing and clean energy initiatives,” Edgar said.
Watch Moniz’s speech on the UT campus.