What do I mean by transformational technology? I mean technology that is game-changing, as opposed to merely incremental. For example, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when AT&T Bell Laboratories was focused on extending the life of vacuum tubes, another much smaller research program was started to investigate a completely new device based on a revolutionary new advance in the understanding of the microscopic world: quantum physics. The result of this transformational research was the transistor, which transformed communications, allowed the computer industry to blossom, and changed the world forever.
The Deparment of Energy must strive to be the modern version of the old Bell Labs in energy research. Because the payoffs from research in transformational technologies are both higher risk and longer term, government investment is critical and appropriate. Here is an example of current DOE transformational research. As this Committee knows, we have funded three BioEnergy Research Centers – one at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; one led by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, in close collaboration with Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan; and one led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Each of these centers is targeting breakthroughs in biofuel technology development that will be needed to make abundant, affordable, low-carbon biofuels a reality. While these efforts are still relatively new, they are already yielding results, such as the bioengineering of yeasts that can produce gasoline-like fuels, and the development of improved ways to generate simple sugars from grasses and waste biomass.”