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Innovation Inducement Prizes: At the National Science Foundation
Green chemistry. In recent years industry, consumers, and environmentalists have all embraced the concept of green chemistry as a promising strategy for avoiding or substantially reducing the creation of risks to human health and the environment by choosing alternative chemicals or by redesigning processes to use or create lesser amounts of harmful environmental releases or waste. Because many of the most common organic chemicals are also used in myriad applications, a strategy of one-for-one substitution of less harmful for more harmful substances is not always feasible or successful. An inducement prize contest or contests could be organized around discovery of new products and processes to allow for substitution of one or more widely used, highly hazardous chemicals in commerce.
Low-carbon energy technologies. Reducing greenhouse gases, and energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in particular, is a crucial national and international goal. Significant reductions in carbon dioxide require large-scale changes in the technologies used to produce energy, the products and processes that consume energy, and the means available to store energy. Substantial innovation in low-carbon energy supply technologies and in the efficiency of energy-using technologies holds promise for achieving such carbon reductions at significantly reduced cost. Given the widespread application of energy technologies and the broad reach of energy systems, there are many possibilities for employing innovation inducement prizes to overcome technical and scientific challenges in low-carbon energy supply, demand, and storage technologies, including biofuels, solar energy, advanced wind energy, fuel cells, advanced lighting, nuclear fission and fusion, hydrogen storage, and advanced batteries. At the same time, because energy production and utilization systems are complex systems with many interdependent parts, it will be a considerable challenge to design successful prizes that contribute to replacing significant amounts of the high-carbon energy currently used in industry, transportation, and residences.
Catalysts for converting cellulosic biomass into liquid fuels. Recent advances in enzymatic catalysis have opened new possibilities for converting a wide variety of cellulosic biomaterials into useful liquid fuels. Further improvements in the performance and reduction in the cost of process that use catalysts is a top priority for the energy sectors in government and industry as a means for helping curb the use of fossil fuels. Current catalytic processes usually are not cost efficient for production of large quantities of liquid fuels. A prize could be given for discovery or development of one or more new catalysts that have the desirable technical properties, promise to be manufacturable at low cost, and enable production of high volumes of fuels. Experts in the field should be able to agree on the technical properties relatively directly. Additional study and