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Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
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 area.

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 accelerated action.

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."
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