More US Taxpayer Cash Giveaways for Clean Energy


Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The US Government is concerned that huge taxpayer underwritten loan guarantees for renewable energy projects aren’t producing the results they want, so they have decided to step up the effort to give away money, by offering free cash and work space to projects which are too “high risk” to attract investment from venture capitalists, or qualify for other green funding schemes.

For America’s next generation of clean energy innovators, getting started can be the hardest part.

That’s why the Department of Energy is testing a new model for clean energy research and development (R&D) through a program called Cyclotron Road. The goal is to support scientific R&D that is still too risky for private‐sector investment, and too applied for academia.

Participants receive the time, space and capital to pursue their research and the support to find viable pathways to the market. The projects have enormous potential to create economic and social impacts. The program also aims to grow something bigger:

“We’re trying to build a community of the best innovators from across the country who are all working on the hardest problems in energy and climate.” – Sebastien Lounis, Co-founder, Cyclotron Road

Cyclotron Road is sponsored by our Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Berkeley Lab, one of our 17 National Laboratories. Watch the video to see how we’re supporting these entrepreneurs today and how their technologies might change the world tomorrow.

Read more:

The government website links to the Cyclotron Road website, which provides more information about some of the projects being funded.

For example, take Mosaic Materials:

Critical need: 10% of global energy consumption is used for separations. The majority of chemical separations are carried out via energy-intensive distillations. New materials are needed to switch to low-energy adsorption-based processes, enabling up to an 80% reduction in energy use.

Mosaic Materials wants to create high tech materials which selectively absorb important industrial gasses, to facilitate separation of gasses from byproducts with less work than existing processes.

The only kick is to a large extent, the “competing technology” has already been created.

Competing technology: Zeolite, carbon, and other MOF-based sorbents and membranes are under development to address the same separation challenges.

Zeolites are already extensively used in home oxygen concentrators, for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other chronic conditions which require ready access to oxygen. The zeolite material selectively absorbs oxygen from normal air, allowing it to be concentrated and pumped to an oxygen mask.

Zeolites are also used in industry for water purification, and for separating other gasses, such as sulphur dioxide.

If there are potential uses for such materials which have not yet been realised, surely it is up to the companies which stand to profit from new innovations to fund the research, rather than the taxpayer picking up the tab.

Another Cyclotron Road project, Spark Thermionics, plans to improve combined heat and power electricity production, to replace solid state systems with a form of vacuum valve technology.

Competing technology: Current practice for directly converting heat to electricity relies on thermoelectric devices, which use thermal gradients within solid-state materials to drive electric current. However, thermoelectrics are limited by parasitic heat losses intrinsic to the solid-state technology itself. The fundamental advantage of thermionic conversion lies in the vacuum gap architecture, a nearly perfect thermal insulator that allows enormous temperature differences between the hot and cool electrodes.

Sounds like a great innovation. But there is already a high efficiency heat engine, developed in 1816, which is used extensively in combined heat and power systems, and which somehow didn’t make it to the list of “competing technology”.

Stirling engines have a high efficiency compared to steam engines, being able to reach 50% efficiency. They are also capable of quiet operation and can use almost any heat source. The heat energy source is generated external to the Stirling engine rather than by internal combustion as with the Otto cycle or Diesel cycle engines. Because the Stirling engine is compatible with alternative and renewable energy sources it could become increasingly significant as the price of conventional fuels rises, and also in light of concerns such as depletion of oil supplies and climate change. This type of engine is currently generating interest as the core component of micro combined heat and power (CHP) units, in which it is more efficient and safer than a comparable steam engine. However, it has a low power-to-weight ratio rendering it more suitable for use in static installations where space and weight are not at a premium.

Read more:

Perhaps I am being unfair, and missing the point of some of these projects. But rather than spending yet more of our grandchildren’s income on long shots, surely it would make a lot more sense, to let America’s world leading venture capital system do what it does best – allocate R&D resources efficiently, to projects which produce the maximum possible return on investment.

The video which introduces Cyclotron Road:


54 thoughts on “More US Taxpayer Cash Giveaways for Clean Energy

  1. There is more than one way to look at this if you are considering value for money. If it is to find a specific alternative energy to combat climate change then it’s really a waste. But, if you consider the potential of spin off discoveries such as you had with the space race, it might pay off in totally unintended ways.

    My fear would be if a researcher found something intriguing, but which had zero potential in regards to fitting the renewable energy meme, they might not be allowed to pursue it.

    As well, if one of them were so foolish as to reach the conclusion that something like Windmills for instance was nothing more than a good looking boondoggle, they’d find themselves escorted from the building by security before the ink was dry on their report.

  2. The clear argument is that basic research into how things work would not get funded if it were in a pure competition with applied knowledge research. That argument is valid.
    The history of discoveries is replete with scientists looking for one thing finds something they weren’t looking for that is even more lucrative, serendipity. Applied research typically discards unrelated observations as failures.

    Industry needs the promise of an eventual payout. Venture capitalists fund risky ventures on the hopes that 1 in 10 may become Intel or Google. Academic research (universities) rely heavily on government then for basic research grants, but that exposes them to political manipulation, as is now happening with the climate scam via NSF grants held hostage by the puppet strings coming from the President’s science advisor.

    • I lost my basic research job in 1994 after Al Gore “reinvented the government” and eliminated IR&D funding from government production contracts.

      • That came out wrong, I was agreeing that applied vs basic scientific is very hard to compare and judge from a far, and base research often seems trivial to non science people unaware how it goes together.

      • No, you twist the logic. The NSF grants were for work developing the basic concepts and algorithm (pagerank) they used for their dissertation work to make a Digital Library Index of the internet. The hardware they needed came mostly from industry donations.

        They then took their PageRank algorithm and created Google in a garage.
        From the NSF page:

        “By the end of the Early DLI Age in 1998, Page and Brin obtained funding that allowed them to move their growing hardware facility from the Stanford campus into a friend’s garage and to incorporate Google, Inc.”

        (that funding was VC)

        The govt money funded basic research ideas to find ways to organize and index internet web pages into meaningful approaches.
        The entreprenurial initiative of Brin and Page then went forth, got private funding and created Google.

        The progression path from basic research to applied research clearly followed a govt money to private VC money model, and those men are now billionaires and the US internet based economy fluorished providing huge economic growth to pay taxes back to the govt. Keep in mind this also happened before Obama ordered the FCC to start controlling and regulaing the internet like an old wireline phone monopoly. Innovation is now being strangled by our socialist, come dictator, President and his minions.

      • So how come the taxpayers don’t get their due rewards, from having funded the Google project.

        If we funded it, we should be colleting dividends from it.


      • The “internet” was already being developed in the private sector at the time of that DARPA project.

    • The Mercury/Gemini/Apollo manned moon project came in ahead of schedule, and under budget; and then the ENTIRE program cost, was recovered in less time than the project took, just from reduced crop losses in the American South East due to the vastly improved short and midrange global weather forecasting that as made possible, by the global communication and weather satellite systems, that were a mandatory requirement of a MANNED space exploration program.

      NASA required continuous uninterrupted communication and weather reporting around the globe because of it being a manned program.

      A robot system, would have been cheaper, without life support needs, but it wouldn’t have needed the development of communications and weather satellites.

      Elon Musk just lost $280 M or so at Tesla Motors, because his much vaunted X model SUV seems to be another dud. He scoffs at the subsidies paid by the government to Tesla buyers, and claims that big oil is also subsidized.

      Baloney. The biggest single beneficiary of the fossil fuel industry is the US Treasury who gets more money from big oil than do the shareholders and owners of the oil businesses themselves. And then they collect from the users of big oil products in taxes as well.

      Tesla is just another silicon valley scam, same as Solyndra.


    • A close colleague who has a new technology that has a very high probability of providing a very reliable, low cost “total” solution has attempted multiple times to obtain “token” funding to demonstrate the capabilities of this new technology. Over the last 6 years, every government funding for this transformative technology went to pre-determined bidders, a “favorites” of the advisers, not to the transformative technology. This current administration is simply wasting tax payer money and gives the money to political supporters who funnel it back to the politicians in funding — corruption at the highest (all the way to the WH) — while these guys continue to go bankrupt.

      • So your close colleague could try the Shark Tank for token funding. Those folks seem eminently competent at evaluating very high probability opportunities.

        And for a quite low cost (to your colleague) any such “new technology” could be patented to protect his invention.


      • If his technology has the kind of potential that you claim, private investors would be falling over each other trying to buy a piece of that action.

        Why is it that your friend is only trying to get government funding?

  3. Perhaps one of the most innovative power sources to be developed is the Cyclone Power Technology CYPW external combustion engine. Capable of using a variety of fuels from solar to bunker fuel. Very capable of bringing electricity to isolated areas of the world and literally powering anything that moves.

  4. Just another in a long line of government-funded boondoggles chasing energy unicorns and rainbows, in the wasted effort to create “clean energy” in order to “solve climate”.

    • Doing the same things (that cost lots of taxpayer money) over and over and over until one gets a different result… because those in government who make decisions about funding are idiots (appointed, not necessarily elected)?

      • They also aren’t spending their own money, so they suffer no consequences for being wrong.

  5. A nice addition to this article would be the opportunity costs, what aren’t being funded?
    1) Better inner city schools
    2) VA Hospitals
    3) Pay down the debt
    4) Extended unemployment for Coal Miners
    5) Job training for Coal Miners
    6) Solving cancer

    Etc etc etc. The impact on CO2 of all this spending is immeasurable, the opportunity cost is measured in destroyed lives. We are destroying lives and industries for an immeasurable impact on atmospheric CO2.

    Wasting other people’s money to the tune of trillions of $. People are starving, don’t have clean water or medicine, and we are trying to control the weather. What a joke.

  6. From the post,
    “10% of global energy consumption is used for separations.”
    That is quite an assertion?

    • From their website, it appears to be just a claim that they assert.

      One of the fuels they claim high energy costs for distillation is ethylene; with methanol and propylene apparently requiring lesser amounts of energy.
      Puzzling that they attribute so much energy usage to ethylene when methanol and propylene are derived from the same series or processes. One also wonders if they meant methane rather than methanol.

      Perhaps higher purity levels are required for ethylene destined for polyethylene production?

      As you point out David A, so many assertions along with many vague assumptions.

  7. It’s one thing to fund research, and another thing entirely to require use of technology like windmills and PV that aren’t economically viable. Currently, much more is going to the second type of funding.


    “Terence Kealey, a biochemist turned economist, tells this story to illustrate how the linear dogma so prevalent in the world of science and politics—that science drives innovation, which drives commerce—is mostly wrong. It misunderstands where innovation comes from. Indeed, it generally gets it backward.

    When you examine the history of innovation, you find, again and again, that scientific breakthroughs are the effect, not the cause, of technological change. It is no accident that astronomy blossomed in the wake of the age of exploration. The steam engine owed almost nothing to the science of thermodynamics, but the science of thermodynamics owed almost everything to the steam engine. The discovery of the structure of DNA depended heavily on X-ray crystallography of biological molecules, a technique developed in the wool industry to try to improve textiles.

    Technological advances are driven by practical men who tinkered until they had better machines; …”

  9. The amount of money DARPA-E wastes on hairbrained energy scheme grants is many times this also wasteful spending idea. Have seen a lot of that up close and personal.
    Anything other than a very small (like 1HP) Stirling engine is not commercially practical because of the massive radiator requirement. Been looked at seriously several times. Dean Kamen was going to power Segways with Stirling engines until he discovered this truth the hard way.

  10. Let us be fair – money spent on pure scientific research is never really “thrown away” – only money spent on actually building some hare-brained energy schemes is wasted.

  11. The next president should order the IRS to account for where all of the money Obama doled for renewables and Climate Change went and what it accomplished.

    I bet they’d find many $100,000 screwdrivers and large donations channeled to Democrats.

  12. The problem always has been that we waste a huge proportion of the energy consumed in the U.S., much of it through poor residential home construction, the use of over-sized personal vehicles, a railway system that’s so poorly maintained that it provides an incentive for long-haul trucking. It was once estimated that drivers in Los Angeles and New York and New Jersey waste about 75 gallons of gas a year just sitting in traffic. If you start to solve those problems you reduced pollution and make peoples lives better in meaningful ways.

    • Who gets to decide when a car is “oversized”?
      Do you have any evidence that the rail system is poorly maintained?
      Long haul truckers already make extensive use of the rail system, it’s called piggybacking.
      The existing rail system is pretty much maxed out, you would have to build more if you wanted long haulers to use it more.
      Then you have the problem of where to build, and how much?
      You also have to deal with the time it takes to load and unload a train, that has to be added to the delivery time for any item, and it may be trite, but time IS money.
      Even with trains, you still need trucks to get the goods from the train yard to the factory or store.

      The only way to solve the problem of sitting in traffic in NYC and LA, is to convince a lot of people to no longer live in NYC and LA. In both situations, road infrastructure is getting close to being maxed out. Building more roads has a rapidly diminishing rate of return.

  13. Sounds like basic research to me, and that’s where the govt might properly send our its money. As long as it’s small grants to individuals and not big bucks to anybody with a DC lobbyist, okay.

    If it’s in the yellow pages, the government shouldn’t be involved.

  14. “More US Taxpayer Cash Giveaways for Clean Energy”
    Perhaps I am being unfair, and missing the point of some of these projects. But rather than spending yet more of our grandchildren’s income on long shots.

    Eric you are not being unfair, Obama and his kind borrow money to distribute it to friends and rent-seekers, this is just one small example of the river of cash flowing out the door of taxpayers and borrowed deficit cash.= Approaching $21trillion US debt!

    I heard that Obama will be amass a fortune when he goes into private life = money for nothing and kickbacks for free, What a crooked system we have!!!!!!

  15. Cyclotron
    Take away the cy and the ron.
    What is left pretty much sums up whoever thought this one up.

  16. Remember Solyndra. On vacation in San Francisco. Drove past the old Solyndra building on 880 in Fremont. It is now Solar City !

    • One of my neighbors is hooked on “Solar City” until I asked him what about the 4 months out of the year that we have an inversion and our valley has a “lid” on it? Hasn’t talked to me since after spending thousands on solar, ( we live past 50 degrees north).

  17. This looks like a move of desperation to me. Since the Administration has funded so many failures including duplicate efforts for biofuels and other mature technologies trying to get blood out of a stone, that simply will not work and anyone versed in the “technology” knows it is either not economic or will not achieve the objective. Now they start off with funding projects that have no pathway to success hoping they will hit the lottery.
    The administration funded projects cancelled or never approved by the Bush Administration. Think Solyndra and Carbon Capture and Sequestration both of which the Administration wasted $$$ either out of ignorance or knowing the odds of success were low .

    The goal of the DOE was to hire people who know how to let contracts, not people who could vet a proposal to determine if it was new or had a chance of success. Therefore the numerous failures. Is anyone surprised given the track record of his scientific adviser?

    • @ Catcracking, “This looks like a move of desperation to me. Since the Administration has funded so many failures including duplicate efforts for biofuels and other mature technologies”

      Did you mean manure instead of “mature” ?

  18. Gray energy. Still, non-renewable technology and renewable drivers should be considered as part of a comprehensive energy production strategy. As for basic research, we don’t know what we don’t know, and we should be discerning of what we do know.

  19. “…The US Government is concerned that huge taxpayer underwritten loan guarantees for renewable energy projects aren’t producing the results they want, so they have decided to step up the effort to give away money, by offering free cash and work space to projects which are too “high risk” to attract investment from venture capitalists, or qualify for other green funding schemes…”

    Sounds like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and sub-prime lending!

    • I hope everyone enjoyed the humor at the end regarding Cannes which was the lead in to the Paris Climate Accords. Here is something else that went down:

      I added this in comments of my latest Regarding Nancy Pelosi. We have another article regarding her husband running under my latest regarding SUNE.

      Pelosi to Obama: boost U.S. biofuels program ahead of Paris talks

      U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and three other lawmakers are pressing President Barack Obama not to back-peddle on the country’s biofuels program just days ahead of global climate change talks in Paris.

      The Democratic Representatives – Pelosi from California, Steny Hoyer from Maryland, Collin Peterson from Minnesota, and David Loebsack from Iowa – asked the administration to rethink a proposal for the controversial Renewable Fuel Standard and to keep the program “robust” in a letter dated Nov. 18.

      The push comes just over a week ahead of a Nov. 30 deadline for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize mandates for renewable fuels use through 2016. That date coincides with the start of the Paris discussions.


      FogFuels is Pleased to Announce the Addition of Paul Pelosi Jr. as Vice Chairman

      ATLANTA, GA–(Marketwired – October 30, 2013) – Paul Pelosi Jr. joins Atlanta based FogFuels as Vice Chairman and a speaker on environmental policies that encourage individuals and local governments to take a more active role in conserving natural resources and reducing carbon footprints.

  20. It’s like the pyramids. Useless public works projects designed to use up as much labor and resources as possible. How else can you produce scarcity as a pretext for mandatory population reduction? Only thing worse is the biofuels that directly reduce the food supply.

  21. I followed the links to Cyclotron Road and watched the video on testing devices for extracting energy from waves. I suspect that if Leonardo da Vinci considered extracting energy from waves, he was probably not the first one to do so. There should be vast quantities of information regarding extraction methods that did not work that should probably be analyzed to avoid repeating failures that have already been accomplished. I did find the video quite informative. It very effectively demonstrated that this group is quite willing to spend a lot of money producing a video that provides no information whatever about what the project is expected to accomplish and how it will accomplish that.

    • You are absolutely correct. Somebody needs to compile a comprehensive archive of all of the previous innovations and the reasons for their failure and abandonment. And the same with wind power innovation.
      I’m beginning to notice that some of the designs have come back around for a second fail.
      Is it possible that we are stuck in a time loop and repeatedly “inventing” the same things over and over again?

  22. Ok, why not put it Oak Ridge where real estate, construction, and labor are cheaper? Oh wait! No parochial interest here whatever.

  23. Adsorption techniques are already being used for air separation. The most common technique is PSA (Pressure Swing Adsorption). The problem with these absorption systems is that although they do a reasonably good job for many applications, there are some where only cryogenic distillation can provide the required purity. One very important such application is the fabrication of semiconductor devices. The purity demanded for acceptable semiconductor yield is in the parts per billion range for O2 in H2 or Ar. This is far beyond the capability of any known adsorption technique.

  24. For the record, the mention of Stirling Engines always brings up the idea that heat has to be turned into rotary motion to create electricity.

    The thermoelectric generators of course have nothing to do with Stirlings. They are solid state and are pathetically inefficient. 1-2%.

    Turning heat into electricity efficiently, compared with a TEG, is the TAG or thermoacoustic generator. This uses a resonant wave traveling back and forth through two heat exchangers for warming and cooling, essentially a long pipe filled with pressurised helium.

    These are actually Stirling engines with only one moving part. That part is the magnet that is shaken by the >200 dB sound wave. The design of these things is so well understood that there is a computer program freely available from the Los Alamos website. It is a Stirling engine desiging tool that has boon available for more than 20 years. While experiments continue in Holland and Australia into refining certain approaches to TAGs and thermoacoustic refrigeration (TAR) (which is essentially identical without the magnet) the fundamentals are well understood.

    TAG and TAR technologies are far better, cheaper and easier than solid state devices. While that may seem to some to be an ‘opportunity’, it is strange not to use the available technologies rather than chasing the ones that have proven so unyieldingly difficult.

    When the TAG is mass produced it will turn every fire in every stove or furnace into a generator far in excess of the solar PV and wind products, plus be available on demand. It will be transformative. Why not support things that already work instead of rolling out things that obviously don’t (yet)?

    Support for basic research is great, but commercialisation brings the paybacks which fund further work.

  25. How many startups are backed by or even started by former political aides with no technical knowledge. With weak due diligence at the core of the mandate, the manipulators are encouraged to apply.

  26. Waste, Violations in $25 Mil Program to Fight Climate Change in Guatemala

    This one is officially known as Climate Nature and Communities in Guatemala (CNCG) and it’s a tiny slice of the president’s broad and costly initiative to conquer global warming in developing nations. The goal is to conserve Guatemala’s wealth of natural resources and support the country’s efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Since the U.S. launched CNCG in 2013, nearly half of the money allocated has been disbursed to a New York-based nonprofit called Rainforest Alliance that oversees a consortium of environmental, academic and business institutions. This group gets a lot of money from Uncle Sam for its various biodiversity conservation causes and, not surprisingly, there’s lots of waste and mismanagement.

    In the Guatemala program the issues are documented in a federal audit that blasts Rainforest Alliance for violating government funding rules by, among other things, failing to contribute its share of costs under this contract. Under the arrangement, the U.S. gives the nonprofit $25 million and it agrees to contribute $3.75 as “cost sharing.” The group’s portion must come from in-kind contributions or other sources but can’t come from the government. The audit reveals that Rainforest Alliance claimed it met its cost sharing obligations in the Guatemala program with cash it received from the government under a different deal for firefighting. “Including the firefighting funds as part of cost sharing has resulted in overstating the actual cost share amount by $26,708,” the audit says. “Lack of monitoring by the implementer and the mission can lead to reporting inaccurate information and prevent them from complying with the agreement.”

    This is just a snippet of the pervasive fraud and corruption in the vast majority of the administration’s green initiatives. Besides failed domestic programs like the ones mentioned earlier, the U.S. has spent billions to fight global warming in poor countries, mainly through a program known as Global Climate Change Initiative. The cash keeps flowing into its coffers because the administration claims that climate change is one of the century’s greatest challenges that can compound pre-existing social stresses, including poverty, hunger, conflict, migration and the spread of disease. The U.S. also contributes to climate change causes via a multi-billion-dollar World Bank initiative to combat its effects in poor and African and Asian countries that stand to suffer most. The U.S. is the World Bank’s largest contributor so Americans are getting stuck with a huge chunk of that tab.



  27. One constant with govt, no matter what the problem, the solution is always more govt.
    And when the first solution doesn’t work, the response is always, more govt.

  28. When a government announces it is going to give away $$2.5 Billion( Obama ) you will get
    a line up of rent seekers to build anything . ….for a while . They suck in other investors , pump the stock and then surprise surprise crash and burn . The biggest pigs paid themselves royally and tax payers
    got ripped off by both the government and the rent seekers on corporate welfare . The failed ” renewable”
    companies don’t even have the courtesy to wait till Obama is out of office . So little respect . But at least that is deserved .

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