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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) announced on July 21, 2022, publication of a new report entitled The Importance of Chemical Research to the U.S. Economy. The National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the American Chemical Society (ACS) asked NASEM to convene a committee to consider strategies to sustain and enhance the economic activity driven by fundamental research investments in the chemical sciences. According to NASEM, “a new and evolving chemistry landscape requires changes with regard to funding, training, and a focus on integrating sustainability into manufacturing, product usage, and product disposal.” NASEM states that the report identifies strategies and options for research investments intended to support U.S. leadership “while considering environmental sustainability and developing a diverse chemical economy workforce with equitable opportunities for all chemistry talent.” The report recommends that funding agencies and philanthropic organizations that support the chemical sciences “fund as large a breadth of fundamental research projects as possible.” The chemical industry and their partners at universities, scientific research institutions, and national laboratories “should align the objectives of fundamental research” to assist directly with new practices toward environmental stewardship, sustainability, and clean energy. Additionally, the report recommends that funding agencies “make substantial investment toward education research to enable innovative ways of teaching about emerging concepts, tools and technologies.”

Tags: DOE, NSF, NIST, ACS, NASEM, Research,

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
On March 16, 2022, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy will hold a hearing on “Bioenergy Research and Development for the Fuels and Chemicals of Tomorrow.” According to the hearing charter, the purpose of the hearing is to examine the status of bioenergy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) activities carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The hearing will also consider advancements in bioenergy research and the potential role of this resource in a cleaner energy transition. Lastly, the hearing will help inform future legislation to support and guide the United States’ bioenergy RD&D enterprise. Witnesses will include:

  • Dr. Jonathan Male, Chief Scientist for Energy Processes and Materials, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL);
     
  • Dr. Andrew Leakey, Director of the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign;
     
  • Dr. Laurel Harmon, Vice President of Government Affairs, LanzaTech; and
     
  • Dr. Eric Hegg, Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Michigan State University.

The hearing charter notes that in addition to fuels, biomass can be used to create valuable chemicals and materials, known as “bioproducts.” According to the hearing charter, approximately 16 percent of U.S. crude oil consumption is used to make petrochemicals and products, such as plastics for industrial and consumer goods, fertilizers, and lubricants. Common biobased products include household cleaners, paints and stains, personal care items, plastic bottles and containers, packaging materials, soaps and detergents, lubricants, clothing, and building materials. The hearing charter states that the production of bioproducts relies on much of the same feedstocks, infrastructure, feedstock commoditization, and technologies that are central to biofuels production. Therefore, according to DOE, once technologies are proven for bioproduct applications, they could be readily transferred and greatly improve biofuel production.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
 
The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing on March 17, 2021, on “Brain Drain:  Rebuilding the Federal Scientific Workforce.”  The Subcommittee heard from the following witnesses:

  • Ms. Candice Wright, Acting Director, Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO);
     
  • Mr. Max Stier, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Partnership for Public Service;
     
  • Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists; and
     
  • Dr. Betsy Southerland, Former Director of Science and Technology, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

During the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Bill Foster (D-IL) submitted a Majority staff report into the record on “trends in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce within federal science agencies following the sequestration in the early 2010s that impacted staffing within federal agencies and workforce-related actions taken by the Trump Administration that contributed to destabilizing the federal STEM workforce over the last four years.”  The staff report, “Scientific Brain Drain:  Quantifying the Decline of the Federal Scientific Workforce,” evaluates how STEM civil service employment has expanded or contracted over the past decade at several federal agencies, including EPA.  According to the Committee’s press release, the report finds significant declines in the STEM workforce at EPA, particularly within the Office of Research and Development, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as that racial and ethnic employment gaps are significant in STEM fields compared to the total federal workforce.  The press release states that “[t]hese trends suggest the United States may need to recommit to promoting U.S. competitiveness in science and innovation, especially as China redoubles its investments in advanced technology and commitment to a pipeline of highly educated STEM workers.”