Basic Research and Innovation
The challenge we face needs to be attacked with all of our talent and innovation. Building a market for alternative fuel strategies by putting a price on carbon will drive entrepreneurial innovation. But fundamental basic research can find answers that we can’t even imagine at this stage, which in turn will drive new entrepreneurial opportunities and new markets. There is an obvious synergy between funding basic research and the money from a price on carbon.
Superb work is going on currently at places major universities, national labs and agencies, and some companies. Already we are seeing major advances. MIT has an Energy Initiative which involves all parts of the university. Its research is bringing exciting new ideas to fruition, with accompanying entrepreneurial development. For example, the leaf, developed by Daniel Nocera, uses sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen; the hydrogen can then be used in a fuel cell to take the user completely off the grid. Other universities and national labs are also pursuing innovations. Many ideas — possibly just those ideas that will make the most difference — currently just languish because funding is not available.
The kind and scope of basic research we need goes far beyond private funding sources; it needs strong government support. Like our effort to get to the moon, and the phenomenal buildup the U.S. managed to ramp up to World War II, we have demonstrated that the U.S. is totally capable of rapid and focused effort. And it’s time to get started.