Universities frequently win Fossil Energy research competitions or join with private companies to submit successful research proposals. Today approximately 16 percent of the Office of Fossil Energy's annual R&D funding goes to academic institutions.
The University Coal Research Program
Universities have traditionally fared well in the Energy Department's open competitions for federal research grants and contracts. In 1979, however, the Department took an additional step to encourage greater university participation in its fossil energy program. The agency set aside funding for a special university-only competition that required professors to conduct cutting-edge research alongside students who were pursuing advanced degrees in engineering, chemistry and other technical disciplines. Not only did new discoveries in energy science and technology emerge from the Nation's campuses, but also a new generation of scientists and engineers with hands-on experience in coal-related research entered into the Nation's workforce.
Starting in 1979 when Congress enacted this program, the Department's Office of Fossil Energy has run a competition annually for the best university research proposals in categories that support the government's highest coal research priorities. In its 30 years of existence, the agency has received as many as 200 proposals in a given year from academic institutions across the Nation. The number of grants awarded varies depending on the size of each award and the amount of the year's appropriation. Typically between $2.4 million and $5 million is available annually. Private companies also provide funding to help leverage federal dollars in some of these projects.
Since the program's inception in 1979, more than 728 research projects have been funded. With a combined value in excess of $132 million, these projects have provided new insights into coal's future use, and have given more than 1,800 students invaluable experience in understanding the science and technology of coal.
In 1984, the Office of Fossil Energy took another step to expand university participation in its research program. It initiated the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Education Training program to expand learning opportunities for university students and increase collaborative efforts between the Nation's minority students and the fossil fuel industry.
Typically, annual competitions are held with about $1 million made available each year for research and training at these institutions. Research proposals can span virtually the entire spectrum of fossil fuel topics, from advanced ways to use coal cleanly to new methods for recovering and processing oil and natural gas, and innovations in fuel cell technology. Recently, the focus has been on sensors and controls; computational energy sciences; and advanced materials for power generation and for hydrogen separation and storage.
The goal of the HBCU/OMI Program is to enhance research methods and capabilities of minority institutions that can help expand diversity for future generations of energy scientists and engineers.