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NSF launches 4 new engineering research centers with $74M; large-scale solar energy, sustainable water systems, sensorimotor neural engineering and energy transmission networks

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is awarding $74 million to create four new Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) that will advance interdisciplinary research and education in partnership with industry. The centers will support research and innovation in solar energy; water infrastructure; neural engineering; and wide-area energy transmission.

For the first time, NSF’s investment in two of these centers will be matched by another federal agency—NSF and the Department of Energy will co-fund the ERCs investigating solar energy and energy transmission.

The four centers launched this year, as part of the third generation of NSF ERCs, place increased emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, partnerships with small research firms, and international collaboration and cultural exchange.

Including the new awards, NSF supports 17 ERCs in the areas of biotechnology and health care; energy, sustainability, and infrastructure; and microelectronics, sensing, and information technology. Brief descriptions of the new centers follow.



More waste.

Nice facilities for the bureaucrats who sit on their asses and never do anything. Anything other than "liasoning and monitoring" the few cents out of every dollar they dole out in contracts to politically connected friends.

For R & D on projects that no one other than government would ever fund, with their own money. When finished, a report will be produced and promptly filed in a cabinet to gather dust, as no one will ever bother to read it.

Having worked in the business, government R&D is terribly wasteful.


This could change if governments formed 50/50 (or other combinations) JVs with private sector interested firms to carry out essential research and mass produce or sell the relevant patents. Governments could get their investment ++ back within a few years, most of the time.


Afraid ExDemo might be right. Take for example the CURENT mandate. How do you "secure" thousands of miles of high voltage transmission towers? Armed guards? Bury the cables? Convert to cryo-conductor? Their own statement points to the problem:

Thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines connect hundreds of electricity generation sources. This aging system, however, is poorly equipped to respond to growing electricity demand, renewable electricity sources such as wind and sunlight, and unanticipated events.

More to the point: pushing electrons down thousands of miles of wire at increasing voltage, on towers that bisect wilderness and rural landscapes, HIGHLY vulnerable to elements and mischief - is a century old concept. i.e. Central energy transmission via metal conductors is seriously outdated.

How about Mr. President, Mr. Chu, NSF, et al take a REALLY bold step. Sorta like the moon project. How about we pioneer an entire new energy infrastructure constructed around highly localized energy production? Remember? "Think global, act local?"

The mandate for this project should be to eliminate above-ground electric transmission hardware. Where to start? Locally. With residential CHP distributed energy and micro-grids. Convert old coal plants to NG and shutter ones replaced by CHP. Put in a couple long distance regional cryo-conductors to move sunbelt solar East and plains wind East and West. Then, replace light industry demand with local co-gen/CHP.

A key word: Decentralization. Motivation? Security, efficiency, economy. A distributed energy infrastructure is 95% LESS vulnerable to weather and attack. And reduced maintenance makes it cost effective.

As hard as it may seem, government needs to be far more bold and visionary. We need to change our entire approach to energy and sustainability. Just as the private sector builds new cellular networks to meet demand - government/private needs to build new energy infrastructure to meet demand.

The play is to develop the energy portfolio. Wind where there is wind, solar in sunbelts, new nukes (thorium eg), CHP, coal to NG conversions, and municipal waste to fuel/energy. Combine with continued electrification and we can lead the world in sustainable, clean energy.

A well executed infrastructure becomes an exportable product. i.e. We create an entire new business of energy innovation and management and sell the model to the rest of the planet. Some people call this "cleaning up our side of the street." We call it pragmatic.


We use almost 100%% highly efficient and reliable Hydro power. Not everybody can have this type of facilities in their back yard. Very high voltage transmission lines are used to minimize lost. Thousands of co-located wind turbines are being installed and may reach 30% of the total by 2030+. In many areas, wind power may supply base loads and Hydro for peak loads. The same power lines will be used to transport the energy south.

Underground DC lines could easily replace aerial cables. Cables could be installed in re-enforced plastic pipes similar to those used for sewage or built to be buried as is.


You may not be considering the cost of mass conversion to HVDC underground transmission. First, the cost of the power conversion AC/DC/AC limits access to these lines; e.g. the aerial Quebec James Bay to Sandy Pond Massachusetts line operated by Northeast Utilities. Second the cost of burying HVDC and maintaining it carries greater cost than aerial due to access.

On the other hand buried cable is not exposed to elements the way aerial lines are. HVDC is good for long run limited access transmission at the very high cost of AC/DC power conversion. Need for transmission decreases and becomes more manageable with residential distributed CHP lowering grid demand.

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