6
Research Challenges, Education, and Training

Throughout the workshop presentations and discussions, several participants made suggestions for future research needs and pointed out the funding challenges involved. Participants also identified ways to improve education and training in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy. This chapter highlights those key points.

RESEARCH CHALLENGES

During the workshop, various participants made suggestions for future research needs in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy. Most of the suggestions have been collected and are summarized below in Table 6.1. Further details about these suggestions may be found in the earlier chapters of this workshop summary, or by directly contacting the speakers.

During the discussion after the “Industry Perspectives” session various speakers and workshop participants highlighted funding gaps. Representatives from government agencies discussed current research funding issues. Eric Rohlfing of the Department of Energy (DOE) said that the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) could use more money. BES had a major push in fiscal year 2007 for funding fundamental research in solar energy and hydrogen, but it did not come to fruition during the budget cycle. He called for a balance between funding basic research and technology development. Judy Raper of the National Science Foundation (NSF) said that her agency does not have enough money in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy. NSF is a very small funding agency with respect to energy, but it tries to identify new areas of basic science to fund. John Regalbuto, director of the Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program at NSF, said that the conversion of biomass to hydrocarbons is poorly funded.

Charles Dismukes of Princeton University said that there is a need for adequate funding in the right agencies. He thinks that DOE should be funding more research in this area. Dismukes also suggested that the money be channeled into agencies that have a peer review process for determining where the funding goes.

Daniel Nocera of MIT said that political machines drive funding, and that sometimes, unfortunately, the funding is diverted. He called for an honest broker to keep federal government funding in check. He asked the workshop participants to suggest individuals or organizations that could serve as the most effective honest broker. Eric Rohlfing proposed that the National Academies serve as the honest broker since that is what they are chartered to do.

Brent Erickson of BIO presented the current government and commercial funding activities underway for biofuels, biopolymers, and renewable chemicals:

  • Congress passed the Energy Policy Act 2005, which is providing a great deal of funding for industrial biotechnology.

  • President Bush mentioned cellulosic ethanol during the 2006 State of the Union address, which sent shockwaves through the investment and commercial communities.

  • The DOE recently awarded six cellulosic biorefineries millions of dollars to build on a commercial scale.

  • One billion dollars have been provided by venture capital.

  • More supportive legislation on funding is coming soon. Senator Bingaman just marked up an energy bill (S.987) that has a large biofuels and cellulosic ethanol component. The House is looking at a similar bill.1

1

As of April 4, 2007, S. 987 was with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.



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    6 Research Challenges, Education, and Training Throughout the workshop presentations and discussions, He thinks that DOE should be funding more research in this several participants made suggestions for future research area. Dismukes also suggested that the money be channeled needs and pointed out the funding challenges involved. into agencies that have a peer review process for determining Participants also identified ways to improve education and where the funding goes. Daniel Nocera of MIT said that political machines drive training in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy. This chapter highlights those key points. funding, and that sometimes, unfortunately, the funding is diverted. He called for an honest broker to keep federal gov- ernment funding in check. He asked the workshop partici- RESEARCH CHALLENGES pants to suggest individuals or organizations that could serve During the workshop, various participants made sug- as the most effective honest broker. Eric Rohlfing proposed gestions for future research needs in the area of bioinspired that the National Academies serve as the honest broker since chemistry for energy. Most of the suggestions have been that is what they are chartered to do. Brent Erickson of BIO presented the current govern- collected and are summarized below in Table 6.1. Further details about these suggestions may be found in the earlier ment and commercial funding activities underway for bio- chapters of this workshop summary, or by directly contact- fuels, biopolymers, and renewable chemicals: ing the speakers. • Congress passed the Energy Policy Act 2005, During the discussion after the “Industry Perspectives” session various speakers and workshop participants high- which is providing a great deal of funding for industrial lighted funding gaps. Representatives from government agen- biotechnology. • President Bush mentioned cellulosic ethanol during cies discussed current research funding issues. Eric Rohlfing of the Department of Energy (DOE) said that the Office of the 2006 State of the Union address, which sent shockwaves Basic Energy Sciences (BES) could use more money. BES through the investment and commercial communities. • The DOE recently awarded six cellulosic bio- had a major push in fiscal year 2007 for funding fundamental research in solar energy and hydrogen, but it did not come refineries millions of dollars to build on a commercial to fruition during the budget cycle. He called for a balance scale. • One billion dollars have been provided by venture between funding basic research and technology development. Judy Raper of the National Science Foundation (NSF) said capital. • More supportive legislation on funding is com- that her agency does not have enough money in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy. NSF is a very small fund- ing soon. Senator Bingaman just marked up an energy bill ing agency with respect to energy, but it tries to identify new (S.987) that has a large biofuels and cellulosic ethanol com- areas of basic science to fund. John Regalbuto, director of ponent. The House is looking at a similar bill.1 the Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program at NSF, said that the conversion of biomass to hydrocarbons is poorly funded. Charles Dismukes of Princeton University said that As of April 4, 2007, S. 987 was with the Senate Committee on Energy 1 there is a need for adequate funding in the right agencies. and Natural Resources. 

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     BIOINSPIRED CHEMISTRY FOR ENERGY TABLE 6.1 Future Research Needs Suggestions for Future Research Workshop Participant Peter Preusch • Address the underlying principles of how to control the metabolism of an organism. National Institutes of Health • Analyze the complexity of biological systems. (Chapter 2) • Understand and influence feedback loops. • Understand logic circuits and how best to represent them. Brent Erickson • Develop technologies that go beyond a simple starch-to-ethanol platform. Biotechnology Industry Organization • Deal with biomass waste using genetically modified organisms. (Chapter 2) • Address issues regarding the biorefinery infrastructure. Magdalena Ramirez • Determine what to do with the waste from biorefining and how to innovatively process the final product. British Petroleum (Chapter 2) Daniel Nocera • Solve the multibody problem, a fundamental physics theory for reaction chemistry. Massachusetts Institute of Technology • New discoveries in catalysis and new modes of reactivity. (Chapter 2) • Find new ways to split water. • Discover new fundamental molecular science. • Discover new microbes or thermochemical catalysts for lignin and cellulose conversion Michael Wasielewski • Need instrumentation allowing mechanistic studies with high-time resolution. Northwestern University • Need systems that provide dynamic detail and mechanistic studies. (Chapter 3) • Identify more structural changes as a function of time. Marcetta Darensbourg • More work on mutations. Texas A&M University (Chapter 3) Thomas Rauchfuss • Need for research on bioinspired syngas-like chemistry University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne (Chapter 3) Thomas Moore • Engineer a catalyst to break carbon-carbon bonds so that a direct ethanol fuel cell can be developed. Arizona State University • Research focused on fuels by photosynthesis created by cyanobacteria grown on nonarable land and (Chapter 4) photovoltaics for electricity. • Reengineer photosynthesis to double or triple its power of conversion efficiency. G. Tayhas Palmore • Facile expression of enzymes using heterologous hosts. Brown University • Truncated enzymes. (Chapter 4) • Acidophilic and thermophilic organisms and their enzymes in the stabilization of chemistry. • Stabilization of enzymes. • Electroactive nanocomposites. • New redox-active compounds. • Turnover numbers vs. measured current. • Engineered microorganisms. Mark Emptage • Basic understanding of how the enzymes operate on complex structures. DuPont (Chapter 4) • The upcoming farm bill (H.R. 2419) will have a University pointed out that it is not enough to fund only significant portion dedicated to renewable energy and energy chemists. She said that biologists need to be adequately crops.2 funded as well, and that computational chemistry is also • There are new federal government policies and critical to solving the energy problem. . funding mechanisms supporting cellulosic ethanol research, development, and commercialization. EDUCATION AND TRAINING During the discussion after the “Fundamental Aspects” Workshop speakers and participants indicated ways to session (Chapter 3), Marcetta Darensbourg of Texas A&M improve education and training in the area of bioinspired chemistry for energy, including K-12, undergraduate and grad- uate education, postdoctoral training, and workforce training. As of September 4, 2007, H.R. 2419 was received in the Senate. 2

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    5 RESEARCH CHALLENGES, EDUCATION, AND TRAINING k-12 and Undergraduate Education for his students. Eric Rohlfing said that if energy continues to be a critical issue, scientists who will be working in the John Sheats of Rider University asked the speakers chemical industries on energy issues need to be properly representing industry and government agencies whether trained while in graduate school. Michael Wasielewski of they had plans to support undergraduate students. Brent Northwestern University pointed out that students currently Erickson responded that his organization supports education entering the science and engineering field are aware of the for all types of scientists in the biotechnology field. BIO has energy problem and appreciate the opportunities that energy formed a biotechnology institute in the National Science research can provide. Students are even asking to work on Teachers Association that does outreach to K-12 education. energy. He is optimistic that educated and qualified of stu- Michael Clarke of NSF said that NSF has been promoting dents will be able to “carry the ball” into the future. undergraduate research for several years. Programs such as the Research Undergraduate Institution Program comprise Postdoctoral Training both centers and individual research grants for undergraduate institutions. Judy Raper of NSF also pointed out that NSF’s Daniel Nocera brought up the point that NIH is the only engineering division funds K-12 programs as well. Eric federal government agency that funds postdoctoral studies in Rohlfing said that the DOE’s Office of Science has only a the United States. He asked the group whether it would be modest effort supporting workforce development of teachers possible to form a national postdoctoral program for students and scientists mainly because Congress decided that DOE to work on energy research. Eric Rohlfing said that Congress should not be in the business of education. Rohlfing said that is contemplating such a program, and mentioned the America the DOE laboratory system does, however, have a summer Competes Act, which includes postdoctoral fellowships in internship program for high school teachers. Peter Preusch energy. However, Rohlfing also said that DOE does not cur- of NIH mentioned the area-grant program, which engages rently have the resources to support a postdoctoral program. undergraduate institutions through research activities. NIH Charles Dismukes stressed how important it is to capture also awards research education grants to individuals to the enthusiasm of students in the field through postdoctoral develop studies on how best to educate students in the areas fellowship programs. of science that are relevant to NIH’s mission, including chemistry. In addition, NIH’s Office of Science Education Workforce Training produces supplemental curriculum materials for K-12. During the discussion after the “Industry Perspectives” Graduate Education session (Chapter 2), Daniel Nocera stated that workforce training is critical. Brent Erickson pointed out that there is a During the discussion after the “Fundamental Aspects” shortage of construction firms and trained personnel that can session (Chapter 3), Thomas Rauchfuss of the University of run conventional ethanol plants. Erickson, therefore, called Illinois said that his group spends a good amount of money for additional workforce training. on training students. However, he hopes to receive more funding so that he can provide even better training programs

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