Saturday 01 Oct 2016

Research Funding
AJ Robinson

I recently read an interesting article about a new development in the energy field. A scientist has created what is essentially an artificial leaf. Now, it can’t mimic photosynthesis, but it does produce hydrogen and some other by products.


A clean energy source.

His first thought was using the hydrogen in fuel cells as a clean energy source. There is just one problem: we have no hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure. Now sure, some areas are talking about trying to build such an infrastructure, but that’s for the future. Right now, we have a more mundane and old-fashion means of delivering fuel to our vehicles.

This scientist took the process a step further. Taking his by products, he fed them, literally, to a microorganism that could use them to create a fuel, a fuel our existing engines can burn. Great idea, don’t you think?

Well, it has potential. Right now, his yield is quite poor and so he is carrying out research to improve his numbers. He’s getting some funding from the government via the Department of Energy.


Many government-funded products are part of our everyday life.

That got me to thinking. Many products started as unknowns, but now form a part of our everyday lives. Quite a few of these products needed government funds to get off the ground to do the old “proof of concept” scenario. Yet, how often do we hear some conservative pundit say the following: “Well, if it was something truly viable, a private company would invest in it.”

I used to agree with that, but then I got to thinking, no, that’s wrong. In the first case, many companies won’t touch a risky product. If they can’t see profit on the immediate horizon, they’re not interested. They have to know that they’re going to get a return on their investment in no later than the next fiscal year. That does not tend to encourage research into untested and promising fields.

Then there’s the issue of too small a profit. Some products, some drugs for example, have a very limited market. As a result, companies realize that to invest in something like that is very risky. They have to put up a lot of money, take a lot of time, which is going to take years for them to recoup their investment and see a profit. This is what led to Congress passing the Orphan Drug Law. It gave drug companies major tax breaks to offset the cost of developing drugs to treat diseases that had very few people suffering from them.

Finally, there are those products that would threaten the current profits of some companies. As an example, look at the artificial leaf. It has the potential to replace or at least augment fossil fuels.


Companies don't like to invest in artificial or maybe products.

Would a coal or oil companies want to invest in something an artificial? The idealist in me likes to think so. After all, they’d be embracing the future; the realist knows otherwise.

How often have we heard lobbyists for the fossil fuel industries complain about tax breaks for renewables? They make the argument that there should be a “level playing field.” Of course, these same lobbyists whine and complain should anyone suggest the government might cut subsidies for their companies.


With a GOP Congress, maybe funding for everything, except pork barrels, will be cut.

They’ll have to excuse me if I don’t agree. I sincerely hope the government continues to fund his research, it could mean true energy independence for our nation. Of course, with the GOP in control of Congress, who knows when cuts, in all funding, will come?



Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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