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House greenlights energy research and innovation bill

The U.S. House of Representatives has signed off on a new bill to promote energy research and development and provide policy direction to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced H.R. 589, the Department of Energy Research and Innovation Act, which was unanimously approved by the House Jan. 24.

Statutory direction and priorities for basic research programs within the DOE’s Office of Science are outlined in the bill, which also authorizes R&D in clean energy programs, such as solar fuels and electricity storage, among other things.

The DOE will be required to better coordinate research and development, to ensure there is no "duplicate" research across the agency and to provide general cost savings. Under the bill, the DOE secretary will be allowed to identify costly programs that could possibly be passed off to the private sector.

The bill also reauthorizes a strategic research portfolio analysis that will help identify key areas for collaboration across science and applied research programs, including at the DOE's national laboratories and universities and in the private sector.

Under the bill, which also aims to streamline the management of the DOE's national laboratories, the laboratories will have more flexibility for public-private partnerships and the DOE technology transfer process will be simplified.

"Although important progress has been made in cost reduction and deployment of clean energy technologies, accelerating clean energy innovation will help meet critical competitiveness, energy security, and environmental goals," the bill said. To do that, the measure said existing research and development programs at the DOE national laboratories must be supported.

Additionally, the bill provides direction on nuclear energy research and development and priorities by focusing on nuclear innovation and permitting certain research and development activities. The goal is to ensure new experimental and computational tools are accessible to relevant research communities, including private sector entities pursuing development in nuclear energy technology, according to the bill.

A timeline is also outlined for the agency to complete a nuclear reactor facility by December 2025 for proprietary and academic research to develop super computing models and design next generation nuclear energy technology.

"This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will enable the development of next generation technology and promote innovation and economic growth," Smith said in a statement.

"This bill includes the first comprehensive authorization of the DOE Office of Science, which is the largest supporter of physical sciences research in the country," added ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas. "This is a nearly $6 billion office that manages 10 of our national laboratories, often called the crown jewels of our national research infrastructure."