III. The Energy, Environment, and Related Sciences and Engineering Role

A. Main Findings

This section of the report reviews the laboratories' energy and environmental roles (minus activities associated with clean-up of waste sites, which are dealt with in Section IV), and includes the Task Force's general observations about missions of the laboratories.

1. The Energy Mission of the Laboratories

The national laboratories have an important energy mission which, in the view of the Task Force, remains absolutely vital to the national security and economic welfare of the nation. This mission started with the efforts to create peaceful uses of nuclear energy (a major goal of the civilian Atomic Energy Commission) and assumed new direction and urgency as a result of the energy crises of the 1970s. The 1973 oil embargo prompted Congress the following year to create the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), folding together nuclear programs from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), fossil energy and utility distribution programs from the Interior Department, solar and geothermal programs from the National Science Foundation, automotive propulsion programs from the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as several other dispersed functions. Although the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) was to be a transitional agency, replaced by the Cabinet-level Department of Energy in 1977, progress was made in bringing together diverse energy activities previously scattered among many federal agencies. One legacy of the Department's origins, however, is that the different areas of energy supply and end-use R&D remain balkanized--operating as isolated fiefdoms. Additionally, the Department's applied energy programs are not well integrated with either the Department's environmental or basic science programs.

The Task Force believes that one of the most important challenges facing the Department and its laboratories is to achieve greater integration of its various applied and fundamental energy R&D programs (i.e. fossil energy, nuclear fission and fusion, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and basic energy sciences). The integration that is necessary should be both internal, into a portfolio of programmatic activities organized according to a common framework of policy objectives, and external, including both cross-governmental, and Department-private sector initiatives. In the Task Force's view, there is a long list of exciting, challenging, and vital areas of research and technology development that constitute the appropriate energy agenda for the laboratories.

It is important to note that the Department's applied energy programs are executed in a variety of ways, including at the laboratories, both with and without industry cost-shared involvement; directly between the Department and industry, through cost-shared collaborations; and directly with universities. Of the Department's FY 1994 applied energy budget of roughly $1.8 billion, only 30 percent is expended at the laboratories. The Task Force recognizes that another group of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board is examining the applied energy programs;[6] however, in the course of our examination we did develop firm views about the energy mission both at the Department and the laboratories.

In general, the Task Force believes that the energy mission is of extreme importance and deserves greater attention by the national laboratories, working in collaboration with the private sector. Additionally, we believe that the Department needs a framework for rationalizing the management of energy supply and conservation technologies in terms of a strategic portfolio of research and development projects.

National and Global Energy Needs

During the next 20 years, world energy demand will grow by 50 percent. Most of this growth will occur in the developing world, where energy is perhaps the single most important factor for economic expansion and enhanced quality of life. Given the environmental impacts of current modes of energy use, research on means of enhancing the efficiency of energy utilization and on substitutes for fossil fuels is of critical national importance. Although oil, natural gas, and coal will remain the dominant energy source in the world for the next 20 years - still providing as much as 80% of the global energy supply in the year 2015 - the development of clean, sustainable, alternative forms of energy will be essential as projected fossil fuel supplies dwindle and environmental constraints mandate a dramatic switch in fuel sources during the next century. The global market for clean energy sources could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars 20 to 30 years from now, yet the R&D involved is of a sufficiently high-risk and long-term nature, and the public purpose of this research is sufficiently compelling, that it properly should be addressed through collaborative work between the public and private sectors.

The Task Force generally believes that the highest priority research areas by the Department and the laboratories are in the areas of energy efficiency, conservation, renewable energy sources (including photovoltaics, biomass, wind, geothermal, and hydrogen), and more efficient recovery of gas and oil resources. The laboratories should also continue to be involved in nuclear fission-related R&D. The Task Force was divided concerning a recommendation for the level of support needed in the area of fusion energy. At a broader level, the Task Force believes that the Department's energy programs should be managed more as a portfolio of investment areas, giving appropriate attention to the diverse and sometimes conflicting goals in various areas of energy supply and conservation R&D. These goals must be balanced with the overall energy objectives of the Department - which must be based on the national goals for energy development and utilization.

These goals must be coordinated closely with the energy supply industry, with makers and users of energy conservation technologies, and with other stakeholders to develop a meaningful strategic plan for investments in energy supply and conservation technologies. This is the most important single aspect of the rationalization of the energy R&D work of the Department. A consensus must be developed among potentially competing technologies, users, and stakeholders that defines the R&D needs of the nation in sufficiently explicit terms that conclusions can be drawn to guide the implementation of a rational R&D strategy.

Alliances with the industrial users of the technology will be critical. R&D produces knowledge, but the implementation of that knowledge in plants and products must be done by industry. If industry is not intimately involved in the planning and development of that knowledge, they will be slow to implement it if they do so at all. The Department currently has several major collaborations in place with the Gas Research Institute, Electric Power Research Institute, fossil fuel extraction companies, and energy-intensive industrial sectors, such as the pulp and paper industry. The Task Force commends these efforts, which help guide appropriate areas of government vs. private sector R&D, and help ensure eventual commercialization of new technologies and processes.

The Task Force recognizes, however, that the energy mission of the Department is broader than the interests of the existing private sector in important ways. For example, both energy producing and energy using industrial sectors will have an inevitable bias toward existing technologies and infrastructure, and a relatively short-term outlook. The Department, on the other hand, must consider the long-term energy and economic security of the nation, which are closely linked. Accordingly, the Department must be careful to ensure that, while working closely with energy producers and users, its energy R&D program is not captured or dominated by short-term interests, since the most appropriate areas for laboratory investment using public funds will be in areas which address long-term uncertainties and needs.

Within the portfolio concept, each area of energy technology, and indeed potentially each R&D project, should be evaluated in terms of four key elements:

Section VI of this report provides additional considerations regarding the development of applied energy work at the laboratories.

2. The Environmental Mission of the Laboratories

The DOE laboratories have a diversified environmental mission, which includes two traditional areas of activity and one emerging area. The traditional areas are science and technology development associated with the clean-up of nuclear waste (addressed in Section IV), and R&D related to assessing the environmental impacts of energy use (e.g. global climate modeling, atmospheric chemistry). The emerging area involves systemic approaches to reducing energy and materials consumption in specific industrial applications - such as environmentally-conscious manufacturing - and also for entire segments of the economy.

In Technology for a Sustainable Future[7], the Administration has presented an integrated vision of long-term economic growth that creates jobs and protects the environment. Environmental technologies - ranging from clean energy sources to energy efficient manufacturing techniques to industrial processes that create new products from waste materials to the development and use of new energy efficient materials - are viewed as the means of helping industry shift from waste management to pollution prevention and efficient resource utilization, and a critical step toward implementing industrial ecology. This would enable companies to enhance their competitiveness by lowering energy and resource needs and reducing or eliminating waste disposal costs, and benefit the nation by reducing the environmental impact of economic activity.

The Department of Energy national laboratories should play a significant role - in collaboration with energy- and material-intensive industries - in the development of environmental technologies and an enhanced understanding of resource utilization in the economy. The concept of "industrial ecology" has begun to take root within the private sector as a way to examine energy and materials flows for industrial systems, products, and services, with the objective of providing a systems approach to designing environmental compatibility and sustainability of those systems. The scientific and technological capabilities needed to advance our understanding of energy and material use in the economy, in an industrial ecology framework, include:

These capabilities are broadly resident in the Department's national laboratories and are already being applied to a number of projects that hold the potential for substantial improvements in resource utilization by various industrial sectors. For example, in the general area of manufacturing and process technology, projects at the ten laboratories amount to more than $100M/year in FY 1994.

The Task Force believes that the laboratories could, and should, make a significant contribution to the integration of energy, raw materials, technology and environmental science throughout the nation's economy, and the development of the field of industrial ecology. However, at this point neither the Department or the laboratories are organized or managed to support this R&D area. Accordingly, we encourage the Department, working with the laboratories, to develop an integrated plan, based on the portfolio concept, for supporting this important area of research. We encourage the Department, as part of this effort, to establish an Industrial Ecology Advisory Board, including members from the laboratories, state, private industry, public interest groups and other government agencies.

We do not see this as a new mission area for the laboratories, but rather as an extension and integration of existing missions in energy and environmental quality. In fact, the Task Force believes that, without developing additional capabilities in environmental technology and industrial ecology, it will be difficult for the Department to carry out either its energy or its national security mission, such capabilities will augment and add value to the primary missions of the Department and laboratories, rather than being a new mission in itself. In addition, although the Task Force believes that there exists considerable potential within the laboratories to contribute to the development of environmental technology and industrial ecology, we recognize that R&D performers in academia, industry, and other government agencies also have significant roles. The level of support to the laboratories should be determined solely by the quality of performance and the comparative advantage of these institutions in addressing complex technical challenges involving energy and resource utilization.

3. General Observations About Laboratory Missions

Over the past two decades, several studies of the Department of Energy's laboratories have observed that these laboratories do not have clear mission assignments which would enable them to remain tightly focused on specific national priorities and programmatic goals. This Task Force found a continuing lack of mission-derived structure both within the individual national laboratories, and across the system of ten laboratories which were the subject of this review (although the phenomenon is less pronounced at the three weapons laboratories). The multi-program laboratories currently have self-generated mission descriptions which are so broad and generalized that they are essentially indistinguishable. As such, it appears that each laboratory is attempting to keep its options open in all fields of science and technology, which is compounding the problems of effective management. Researchers at the laboratories feel a sense of drift in no small part because the laboratories do not have sufficient focus or clarity of purpose.

The Task Force believes that diffuse mission assignments for the national laboratories may have been politically acceptable and fiscally affordable during the Cold War, but do not meet the political, budgetary, management, and programmatic needs of the present and future. At the same time, the Task Force recognizes that there are important and practical limitations on how narrow one can be in delineating missions for multi-program laboratories which exhibit vast breadth both in technical expertise and programmatic activities, and whose uniqueness in large degree derives from an ability to support complex, multi-disciplinary R&D activities. Such limits also stem from the inherent difficulty of assigning goal-oriented missions to institutions which perform a considerable amount of basic research - activities which the Task Force believes are essential for the nation, but for which the timing and nature of discoveries is fundamentally unknowable.

The Task Force did not elect to take on the task of suggesting specific areas of programmatic focus for each of the national laboratories. However, we do feel strongly that the Department and the laboratories - working together - must go much further than they have to-date in developing mission assignments for these laboratories which will balance both the strength of these institutions as multi-program laboratories with the need to provide greater strategic focus within a tight federal budget environment. Such mission descriptions, which should help guide funding decisions by the Department, should:

The Task Force believes that the development of more refined mission statements for the laboratories, disciplined by Departmental budget decisions and strategic planning, will result - over time - in greater differentiation and specialization among these institutions. One mechanism for institutionalizing this specialization could be, for example, the creation of a number of "Centers of Excellence" within the laboratory system. This will have the beneficial affect of ensuring that the critical mass of programmatic focus in various mission areas will be secured within the confines of individual institutions, rather than being dispersed at sub-threshold levels across the entire system of laboratories. It also will provide the basis for programmatic consolidation and elimination of functional activities which are being performed better elsewhere in society.

The basis for public support of the national laboratories is: 1) that they are locations for centralized, generally large-scale R&D facilities that could not be maintained by academia or the private sector, and 2) they perform R&D for which there is a strong public purpose (e.g. national defense and complex, long-term research), and which for reasons such as market failures or other deficiencies in the national R&D infrastructure, the highest quality performance is through federal funding for these institutions. The basic mission of these laboratories should be to strive for quantum advances in our knowledge base, and to work with other R&D performers to transition such knowledge into applications that meet national needs. One of the great strengths of the multi-program laboratories derives from the diversity of technical expertise that can be brought to bear from within these laboratories on specific scientific and technical challenges. In recommending that more specific missions be assigned to the laboratories, therefore, the Task Force seeks not to force specialization that would fundamentally jeopardize the multi-attribute character of these institutions. Rather, the Task Force is responding to a fundamental fiscal reality that has forced corporations and universities alike to concentrate on areas of strength, and to divest from areas of mediocrity.

While the Task Force believes there is considerable value to ensuring a concentration of capabilities at common locations, we also recognize the value of competition in spurring innovation (i.e. the highest quality proposals, as determined by peer review processes, should be the ones that are funded--regardless of whether proposals to satisfy DOE mission assignments come from a DOE laboratory, university, or industry). However, to-date there seems to have been a pattern of spreading the wealth across the multi-laboratory system rather than concentrating resources at individual laboratories or specific Centers of Excellence.

The Task Force also recognizes that there is considerable potential in achieving greater coordination of R&D expertise across the lab complex. The national laboratories are equipped with the information technologies and the culture of communication via computer networks which could provide the basis for close programmatic integration. The Task Force believes that the goal of efficiency in utilization of the national laboratories mandates that these institutions be managed better as a system, and that complementary strengths be integrated to the extent possible through the establishment of "virtual laboratories" via computer networks and lead laboratory assignments. As the laboratories are given more discrete missions which result in enhanced R&D focus, the creation of "virtual laboratories" will be an important means for retaining complex, multi-disciplinary approaches to problem solving across the laboratory system.

B. Recommendations

  1. The Department should organize itself to achieve greater integration among its applied energy programs, between these programs and industry, and between the applied energy and basic energy research work performed at the laboratories. The Department's applied energy work does not appear to be managed as a portfolio, rationalized and integrated under a common strategic framework; rather, it operates like disparate fiefdoms. Greater coordination could be achieved through planning efforts that apparently do not now exist.

  2. The integration of energy and environmental considerations should be a fundamental organizing principle for much of the Department's activities. Energy production and use, environmental protection, and economic output are increasingly interrelated, and the Department--through its laboratories--have substantial technical resources to address these national needs in an integrated fashion. At the present time, however, neither the Department nor its laboratories are organized to meet the potential that the Task Force believes exists to further the development of environmental technologies that meet the shared needs of energy, environment, and the economy. The Department should continue and expand R&D partnership efforts between the laboratories and resource-intensive industries, utilizing the concept of industrial ecology as a method for deriving outcomes that contribute to sustainable economic development. An Industrial Ecology Advisory Board should be established to support this effort.

  3. The Department and the national laboratories should move promptly to establish clear mission statements for the laboratories which will be utilized as tools for budget decisions and long-term strategic planning. The process of establishing missions for the laboratories should be exploited as an opportunity to clarify the precise character of the world-class strengths within each of these institutions, as well as the areas which may be appropriate for downsizing, elimination, or consolidation elsewhere within the laboratory system.

  4. Mechanisms should be established to enhance the management of the multi-program laboratories as a system. The Department should develop a means of breaking the existing pattern of laboratory management, which treats each lab as a conglomerate of hundreds of individual programs, and all of the laboratories as separate and distinct entities. Greater efforts should be taken to coordinate and integrate the complementary strengths of these institutions through communications networks. In addition, institutional arrangements should be established to facilitate joint planning by the full group of multi-program laboratory directors and senior Departmental officials.

  5. The Department should establish lead laboratories according to mission assignments and programmatic strengths. The current management of programs by the Department from headquarters promotes the existing balkanized structure of program execution. Lead laboratory designations would vest substantial management responsibilities closer to where the work is performed, while leaving Departmental program managers with the job of focusing on research needs, mission success, and long-range strategic policy.

  6. The Department should establish Centers of Excellence within the laboratory system. These should reflect specific high priority national and Department research needs, and can be either wholly within one laboratory, or a "virtual Center of Excellence," drawing upon the resources of several laboratories. In this way, specialization while retaining broad multidisciplinary capabilities can be encouraged.

To Section IV, The Environmental Cleanup

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