Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Future Directions for Hydrogen Energy Research and Education
National Science Foundation
June 28, 2004
Good morning, and welcome to the National Science Foundation.
Hydrogen energy is a subject that has received considerable attention
in the United States since President Bush proposed a billion-dollar
research initiative in his 2003 State of the Union address.1
In particular, members of the energy research community are being
asked to accelerate the development of basic knowledge that can
lead to scientific and technological capabilities to help move
hydrogen from the laboratory bench to road, residence, farm, and
factory. Concurrently, the community is asked to help develop a
science and engineering workforce to carry this knowledge into
society. At this workshop, we look forward to your identifying
some creative research and education ideas that would give focused
dimension to the National Science Foundation's support in this
NSF supports basic hydrogen research primarily in its physical
sciences and engineering programs, with increasing connection to
the social and biological sciences. Providing a clean energy source
is just one of the potential outcomes of that research. Now, with
the public eye focused on hydrogen as a promising alternative to
gasoline, the iterative stepping stones we supply toward that goal
have taken on renewed importance.
We all know that energy security reaches across geographic borders
and plays a role in economic and political stability. And that
cleaner, more efficient energy sources would be a great boon to
the economy and the environment worldwide.
We recognize that new ideas will come from every part of the globe,
and we welcome partnerships that combine the best resources of
laboratories, institutes, and universities everywhere.
The challenge will require a lot of those resources. The public
has high expectations of seeing fuel cell vehicles within a few
years, and others would like to see hydrogen-powered combustion
engines and turbines, for transportation and electricity generation.
However, although we know more than we did a few years ago, we
still have a limited grasp of how to make hydrogen a practical
commodity. If anything, we know more about the obstacles we face.
Most of NSF's investment--indeed, much of the research across
the United States--is focused on the first step in the science
and engineering process: developing knowledge and capability. NSF's
process is to fund research and education at the very frontiers
of science and engineering--promising ideas with societal applications
mostly yet unknown. These investments lay the groundwork for improving
people's lives, form the context for new enabling technology, and
steer potential new courses for academe, business and industry.
In anticipation of scientific breakthroughs, segments of the science
and engineering community other than NSF are preparing for the
later stages--the transition to manufacturing, marketing, and development
of a hydrogen infrastructure.
Yet, the fact remains that fundamental breakthroughs are needed
before we can realistically claim a future of safe, large-scale
hydrogen production, storage, delivery, and use.
Our research projects branch in many directions--from the examination
of chemical catalysts and molecular transformations to the novel
ideas of producing hydrogen from algae or wastewater. Biohydrogen
is seen by some as an attractive "natural" source of
sustainable, environmentally benign energy. Others are drawn to
wind and solar power as a natural means to achieve electrolysis.
NSF-funded research encompasses the small and large--the nuts
and bolts of fuel cell interactions and the modeling of widespread
distribution systems. It includes some innovative approaches to
the important question of carbon sequestration.
But we could do more. In addition to these basic building blocks,
the drastic cost reductions that are needed in hydrogen technologies
call for integrative systems research. That means resolving not
just the technical challenges of production, storage, and distribution,
but also the economic, social, and political dimensions of moving
to a hydrogen economy. With NSF's growing emphasis on research
in the social and behavioral sciences, these are appropriate arenas
for NSF support.
Another of NSF's responsibilities is to help shape the education
and training of the workforce needed to design, build, and operate
new technologies. Without skilled people, good tools are superfluous.
NSF has some useful capabilities within the federal government.
The agency excels at opening doors to colleges and universities,
and to international partnerships. As an independent research and
education voice, NSF works to ensure that ideas get a fair hearing,
regardless of risk or timeline to reward.
There will never be a better time to take the risks that lead
to greater knowledge and capability. The President's initiative,
and the growing global demand for energy, add extra impetus to
Energy is a valuable commodity--one that people everywhere cannot
continue to take for granted.
Moving forward with the innovative research that NSF is known
for--the kind that can throw the switch between the hope for hydrogen
and a practical hydrogen future--makes good economic sense and
contributes to energy and environmental security.
Your discussions today can help point us in those directions and
we thank you for the considerable skills you bring to this task.
1 President George W. Bush, in his January 28, 2003, State of the
Union address, proposed "$1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world
in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles."
Return to speech
Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.