Energy official touts public research, private implementation

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – A high-level energy official said the present condition of the United States’ energy security is comparable to 1959, when the Soviet Union caught America by surprise by launching the first satellite.
“The space race started October 4, 1957, with … Sputnik,” said Dr. Arun Majumdar, director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and senior advisor to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “It was visible to everyone in the United States … that the Soviets were ahead.”
He said the nation’s responding emphasis on science, math and technology had eventually helped America develop global positioning satellites, the Internet, stealth technology and other advances that afforded both military and economic advantages.
Majumbar told a gathering of faculty and students at the University of Mississippi on Wednesday that the nation’s present dependence on imported energy, much of it from unstable countries, again presents a major challenge to the nation.
“We are in a Sputnik moment,” he said.
The agency Majumdar heads, known as ARPA-E, funds energy-related research in a host of directions including batteries to make electric cars practical, low-cost capture of carbon dioxide, non-photosynthetic biofuel production, energy-efficient cooling and others.
In introducing Majumdar, Congressman Alan Nunnelee said the United States should address the challenge of energy security as it did President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to explore the moon.
“I don’t think there’s any one magic answer to achieving energy security – it’s going to be A, B, C, D and all of the above – but part of the answer is going to be new sources of energy,” Nunnelee said. “My idea of the proper role of government is that it’s appropriate for government to invest in research and technology, and then as that research transforms into commercial applications, for the private sector to take over and begin to utilize it.”