Dec 10, 2008

Obama chooses Steven Chu for Energy Secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Barack Obama will nominate Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his energy secretary, CNN reported on Wednesday.

Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics and is a former chairman of the physics department at Stanford University in California and head of the electronics research laboratory at Bell Labs.

The Lawrence Berkeley Web site says Chu was an early advocate for finding scientific solutions to climate change and has guided the laboratory on a new mission to become the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.

That experience will be useful as the next energy secretary, as Obama wants to spend billions of dollars to promote alternative energy sources and create millions of green energy jobs.

A spokesman for the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory offered no comment on the prospect of Chu becoming the next energy secretary. Chu is traveling abroad in Asia and Europe and will be back at work on Monday, he said.

Chu will have to work closely with a new White House council that would coordinate energy and climate policy among the various federal agencies.

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner is the leading contender to head that panel, according to a source close to the Obama transition team.

Browner, a principal at global strategy firm The Albright Group LLC, heads Obama's advisory team on energy and the environment.

(Writing by Tom Doggett and John Whitesides, editing by David Alexander and Doina Chiacu)


Anonymous said...

What? A scientist? There must be some mistake. Hopefully he will act quickly and throw Bechtel and the rest of the process-prone, assembly line morons out with the LANS upper management trash.

Anonymous said...

For once we have some good news.

Anonymous said...

Now, if we can just get rid of NNSA's Tom D'Agostino and replace him with a good scientist/leader. Perhaps Sig Hecker would take the job?

Anonymous said...

Great pick! Finally someone with inside knowledge of the science and research side of DOE. Also he has direct knowledge of what its like to be the head of a DOE contractor site and deal with DOE oversight/second guessing of your operations. I bet some DOE Fed Site Managers/staff who make their living pushing stupid rules onto their contractor and not caring about the scientific work their contractors are trying to do, will be reaching for tums after they hear this news.

Anonymous said...

Change, as 'The Man' said, is definitely coming!

Hopefully, he can shake up a badly mis-managed and dysfunctional DOE.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised someone with his background and current position would take the job.

Anonymous said...

"...Chu...has guided the [LBL] laboratory on a new mission to become the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy."

Cool, so how does LANL fit into the "...millions of green energy jobs"?

Anonymous said...

How much sway will the DOE secretary have over the NNSA, it was supposedly set up as a semi-autonomous agency. And by the way, NNSA just rewarded Bechtel with a 1 year extension on the LANS contract:

or from Bechtel's press corp:

Anonymous said...

Any chance he'll send D'Agostino away to rot in hell?

Anonymous said...

At least he's a real scientist and not a political hack like so many of the other DOE and NNSA leaders have been.

Anonymous said...

NNSA is semi-anonymous? No way!

Just look at how security has slowly been brought back into the DOE's fold. And notice at the Congressional meetings involving lab issues how you always see the top DOE people giving testimony (perhaps because the NNSA people you see at these meetings seem to be completely incompetent).

The NNSA was an experiment that failed. It's not anonymous and it's not semi-anonymous. It seems to be in some fuzzy limbo-land.

With money being larded into new energy research, being in a lab under NNSA is NOT where you want LANL to be going forward. I'm continuing to hear many rumors that the weapons budget (i.e., ASCI, weapons engineering, etc.) is going to be treated to huge cuts for FY10. If LANL remains segmented off from DOE under the NNSA then this lab will see little of this new energy funding which might help cover for the weapon budget cuts.

A LANL that continues to stay under the banner of the NNSA will shrink and die, especially the science side of the house. That pattern should be fairly clear by now.

Anonymous said...

For years, the DOE energy labs (ORNL, PNL, INEL, LBL ) took a back seat while the defense labs (LANL, LLNL and SNL) thrived and got the lime-light.

Now the tables have switched. It will be DOE energy labs (one of which Dr. Chu heads as Director) which will thrive in this new environment. SNL, being well diversified and somewhat of a "energy" flavored lab, will also do very well in this new environment.

The article listed in this blog about ORNL picking up LANL scientists is telling. Some of the best and brightest at LANL have obviously already figured this thing out.

Anonymous said...

So you all truly believe this guys going to do you some good? I hope you're right but my bets going to be this. He'll fall into the political grove and forget his roots, except for his nationality.

Anonymous said...

The top scientist at LBL, a nobel prize winning physicist, is your new secretary of energy.

Now, imagine that. LANL sends its top scientist to DC to advocate the Los Alamos case to the new DOE secretary.

Question: who would that top LANL scientist exactly be?

Anonymous said...

He'll fall into the political grove and forget his roots, except for his nationality.

12/11/08 1:13 PM

Ah, Dr. Chu's nationality? I believe he's an American citizen. But, then, that wasn't the ugly, racist implication you were aiming at with your comment, now was it?

Anonymous said...

got to love the irony: a chinese-american will be running the DOE...

Anonymous said...

Separated at birth:

Rod Blagojevich ...... Terry Wallace

The visual resemblance is striking and their personalities sound very similar. Could they be long lost brothers?

Anonymous said...

The Professor will ultimately fail at the helm of DOE. The high-level politics will eat him alive.

Anonymous said...

Excellent question 7:58.

The answer is me!

Anonymous said...

At least, DR. Chu, is not navy.

Anonymous said...

If you want to know where science is headed under LANS all you have to do is keep up with the funding for subscriptions to archival journals by the research library. For the 2nd time (3rd time?) LANS has forced them to cancel many by cutting their funding. Is this just another piece of the plan to starve science to death at LANL?

Anonymous said...

The weapons budget does need to be reduced. There is an enormous amount of waste in the LANL weapons program.

Anonymous said...

"The weapons budget does need to be reduced. There is an enormous amount of waste in the LANL weapons program." (6:01 AM)

Say, what? If there is, indeed, a great deal of waste in the weapons program, then it DOES need to be reduced to help squeeze out the waste!

Anonymous said...

Who is the most outstanding scientist at Los Alamos?

Anonymous said...

A good article on Dr. Chu can be found here:

Science Born Again in the White House, and Not a Moment Too Soon
- Wired Magazine, December 12, 2008

..."The federal government has an opportunity to do something," said physicist Steven Chu, Obama's Nobel Prize-winning choice to head the Department of Energy. "To give more money to a few universities and a couple of national labs, to a core of people who can get this done."

"If the backers are willing to back you, you go for the home run. Bell Labs would go for the home run," he said. "The United States should put down research bets to go for the home run."

...The way to solve the energy problem, Chu said, is to take it on the way Bell Labs scientists tackled the problem of replacing the inefficient vacuum tubes it used to connect phone lines from one side of the country to the other, with the long-term support of a forward-thinking company. But this time, the government has to make the investment.

...At Berkeley Lab, he turned his considerable strength and determination as a scientist and as a leader toward ambitious energy projects in an effort to make the lab the world leader in renewable energy research. He convinced BP to spend $500 million over 10 years on a solar energy project at the lab that is researching ways to store solar energy as transportation fuel. He brought several national labs, universities and industry together to work on bioenergy at the Joint BioEnergy Institute and the Energy Biosciences Institute.

Anonymous said...

This is great. There will be more funding for ground breaking new science. Oops, I forgot -- we don't do that any more. Just our luck.

Anonymous said...

Carol Browner will be driving the agenda, Paul Chu a mere lapdog.

Anonymous said...

I predict a daring new concept of energy research at LANL. Proposals will be judged by peer review and will be compared by quality, experience, past performance and cost.
Unfortunately, this does not give the lab the "leg up" of the Domenici years. Furthermore, the lab tradition of reassigning scientists to projects where they have no training or experience must come to an end. It's no bargain for the nation to pay a full FTE for an unqualified staff member.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Dr. Chu is great news for the DOE energy labs (LBL, ORNL, PNL, INEL, etc). They'll be swimming in a sea of new funding because energy research is their main charter.

Dr. Chu is NOT great news for the NNSA weapon labs (LANL and LLNL). I see very lean times ahead for these labs.

You got to believe that most of the LANL scientists in areas like material research and nanotech are beginning to look for a way to leverage their DOE clearance and jump over to one of the energy labs ASAP. The only thing holding many of them back is the bleak housing situation. As soon as NM housing improves, LANL is going to start hemorrhaging technical staff.

Who wants to work at a place were the funding is tight and morale is low when other labs are rolling in cash and getting great press coverage? Almost no one, that's who.

Anonymous said...

This is an important interview with Steven Chu with Forbes.

FORBES/WOLFE Weekly Insider:
DEC.12.2008 by Josh Wolfe (email: )

Obama's High-Tech Energy Pick
By Josh Wolfe

Below is an interview after sitting down with Nobel laureate Steven Chu to talk the future of energy and investing. President-elect Obama just nominated him as Secretary of Energy. Here’s his background

Dr. Steven Chu is the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Additionally, he serves as a professor of physics and professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, he was at Stanford and Bell Laboratories, where his research included tests of fundamental physics, polymer physics, single molecule biology and the development of methods to trap and cool atoms with laser light. He has become active in the energy space and is co-chairing an InterAcademy Council study, "Transitioning to Sustainable Energy." Chu has received numerous awards, most notably the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics. He received A.B. and B.S. degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Rochester, a Ph.D. in physics from UC Berkeley and 10 honorary degrees.

Forbes/Wolfe: Energy and environmental issues are the rage, fueled either by rhetoric and emotion or reason and empiricism. How do you see the debates shaping up?

Chu: There's three key things. First, there is an energy dependency issue reshaping worldwide politics. The U.S., for example, spent $250 billion importing fossil fuels in 2005--a significant fraction of the wealth we have in the U.S. While we buy from Canada, others buy from Venezuela, and others from Iraq--it's a commodity. So our foreign policy is highly directed in trying to get guaranteed access to oil.

The other component has to do with security. Zurich, for example, is extremely vulnerable to the gas supplies in Russia. And we in the U.S. are no longer a net exporter of natural gas. So there is sort of an economic competitiveness. As you spend more money on this stuff, everybody wants to keep the cost of energy, electricity and gasoline down. But those costs are low relative to virtually all other countries.

Another component is that those companies that took this issue head-on realized that they could actually become more economically competitive. Wal-Mart decided to spend less on energy and go greener, which will make it more economically competitive. Dow Chemical decreased its energy costs of producing its carbon components that it buys in the forms of natural gas and oil. And it decreased its energy input for producing certain types of plastic by more than 25%. This can save the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

Wolfe: What about the financial players?

Progressive investment houses like Goldman Sachs are beginning to see that the more energy efficient you are, the more competitive you will be. The long-term view is that energy is just going to get more expensive. So these companies are positioning themselves so they can be more competitive.

Wolfe: Even if we make a single device more efficient, the proliferation of new applications found by those devices suck up electricity such that the aggregate amount of energy we use always increases.

Chu: Fair enough. I think there are certain cases where the so called "rebound effect" you are talking about is true. The first pass of remote controls were very inefficient until we started to realize they were gobbling up tens of milliwatts, and now there are laws being passed in California because these were so called "vampire" devices which sucked lots of energy.

Refrigerators are now 4.5 times more efficient than they were in the 1970s! And even though the refrigerator itself went from an average size of 18 cubic feet to 22 cubic feet, the inflation adjustment price went down by a factor of two.

Wolfe: But what do the figures look like when you analyze the total aggregate energy used then versus now?

Chu: It depends on which state. In California, it's been flat. From 1975 to 2005, it's within 10% per person what we've been using for electricity. The rest of the United States went up by about 60%. Now that's another myth that people propagate. If you are going to become more energy efficient, you need to compare energy use to GDP, and in the years 1975 to 2005, the GDP in California went up by 90%--1.9 times higher GDP. It's because of appliance and efficiency standards that we've been able to keep our energy usage relatively flat, and considering California is on average a warmer state, that's pretty amazing.

Wolfe: OK, now let's turn to the environment.

Chu: The carbon in cleaning up the environment weighs very heavily on my mind. The earth is warming up faster than we thought, and the ice caps are melting faster than we thought. The world average for glacier melt is 1.2 meters per year, but in Greenland it's much faster. Most of the people in the world climate community think there is about a degree of warming left if we turned everything off now.

But there is a big push to keep it below two degrees. If you go higher than that, there are other tipping points, especially the release of carbon in the tundra and the things frozen in the tundra region, and that tipping point means it becomes very nonlinear and all of a sudden--boom!--there is a big hit of CO2 that is caused by the climate warming. That would mean a very high probability of all of Greenland melting. If that were to happen, Bangladesh would be gone, New Orleans gone, and probably part of Florida. This would not be good.

Wolfe: There's a myriad of solar approaches from thin-film to nanostructured. What's the key breakthrough we need?

Chu: We need a factor of two or three times better, and you'll see every box top warehouse putting it on their roofs. That kind of efficiency approaching $1/watt will make it happen. On hot summer days, you'll charge a lot for electricity, which makes sense for utility companies because everything boils down to return on money invested. If we get a factor for three to four times improvement in efficiency and cost per watt, then homes will adopt solar rapidly, as it will start paying for itself in less than 10 years.
Special Offer: Motorola has stumbled badly in recent quarters, but now the company has announced a new joint venture with Ericsson.

Wolfe: What are the odds we see a breakthrough this year or next?

Chu: Pretty low, maybe 1%. But a lot of smart people and a lot of money are going into this.

Wolfe: What about the impact of nanotech?

Chu: That's really heavy in our program, and that's because we're very good at it. You can rewrite the book of what's possible in terms of materials capturing photons and turning them into electrons and getting them into electrodes. The scale is so thin, literally 100 nanometers' worth of material. If we can make silicon a few microns thick, which is all you need because of new light-trapping techniques, the price will plunge.

So you get thin-film silicon technology or nano thin-films with spincast or wet processing techniques, and the scalability becomes very promising. Right now, it requires very high temperature, you need to refine with batch processing like baking cookies. But what you want is a continuous process. And that will drive down large-scale manufacturing costs.

Wolfe: I agree. I coined a word, "simplexity," to put manufacturing complexity into simple chemistry.

Chu: That's what we're trying to do. I recently visited Applied Materials, which started out just on integrated circuits but now makes thin-films for infrared coatings on windows. It's still very complex, with a sputtering vapor deposition process. And nearly all of our work here in photovoltaics is on new applications of nanotechnology. And as you look at emerging approaches like using biology to assemble or pattern nanostructures, because this area is moving so rapidly, the probability of having a big breakthrough is much higher than just trying to get silicon on a thin-film, because that's already been around for 60 or 70 years.

Wolfe: What is the focus of the new BP-sponsored $500 million institute?

Chu: UC Berkeley and Berkeley Labs, the idea here is that it's mostly on traditional route, grow biomass and extract energy. The important issue is, Can you develop better feedstock and avoid nitrate runoffs and water supply issues, and make the crops drought-resistant and make unproductive land be more productive and so on? The other side is, How do you take these long chains of polymer sugars and separate out the lignin from them? The lignin is actually a high-value compound, but you have to get it away from the sugars. Right now, we use hot acids, steam explosions. We want less energy intensive, and ultimately microbes that could break it down naturally.

Wolfe: What areas should we be focusing on?

Chu: Energy will become increasingly high-tech, generation and use. High-tech companies spend 10% to 15% of revenue of R&D, right? Well 10% to 15% of $2 trillion, which is what we spend on energy, is a lot of money. It's $200 billion. I'd be happy if we spent 1%, $20 billion. At $20 billion you go into nanotech solar, wind doesn't need more research; you just need mechanism for long-distance transmission lines. Capital should also be directed to power engineering, things like DC conversion and transmission technologies. There are longer-term things like fusion or nuclear fuel recycling, carbon sequestration--especially after combustion in coal plants.

Wolfe: What advice would you have for a young scientist?

Chu: Work on something you're passionate about. The likelihood of getting rich or a Nobel Prize is small. The single most important problem science and technology has to solve is this energy issue. Getting carbon-neutral energy in a cost-effective way, it's really scary.

Anonymous said...

Word around Washington is that Rose Gottemoeller is being considered to replace D'Agastino. After all, with the campaign donation she gave Obama she deserves the post, right? If she is appointed NNSA administrator you can expect even less funding for the nuclear weapons R&D as those monies will be diverted to nonproliferation programs.

Anonymous said...

You can kiss large segments of the nuclear weapons funding goodbye at LANL. It's about to go into a nose dive. Even stockpile stewardship money will soon be pulled way back to help fund other things like energy research. There is no St. Pete standing by to protect the NNSA labs.

Some extra amounts of funding for non-proliferation is a given with this new Administration, but I doubt it will make up for the enormous cuts that are coming to the traditional nuclear weapons budget. Expect to see layoffs hitting LANL sometime in FY10.

Congress probably believes that the scientists at LANL can easily find positions elsewhere due to their technical skills. They don't grasp the fact that Los Alamos is basically a one company town -- fire the scientists and they can't sell their homes and they then go into bankruptcy!

Add to this the lack of papers published in the non-classified community and the niche weapons knowledge of many of the people at LANL. It all means that they will have a very hard time finding jobs outside of the NNSA complex once they get laid off.

Anonymous said...

I agree, 9:53 AM. Rose Gottemoeller sounds like a good bet for heading up NNSA under an Obama Administration. So long to the good ol' Navy boys club...


Experts Urge Obama to Turn Around U.S. Nuclear Policy

Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008

The Bush administration created a U.S. nuclear "policy vacuum" that must be corrected with a dual-track approach by President-elect Barack Obama, according to an experts' report issued this week (see GSN, Nov. 18).

The report, Nuclear Weapons in 21st Century U.S. National Security, urges Obama to "re-establish ... global leadership in nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and disarmament matters," while simultaneously working to "ensure a credible nuclear deterrent for as long as is needed ... without creating any new nuclear weapon capabilities."

The suggestion to rely on the existing U.S. arsenal rejects a Bush administration effort to develop a new nuclear warhead that advocates have said would enable deeper cuts to the U.S. stockpile (see GSN, Dec. 5). In addition, the report criticizes the administration in broad strokes.

"U.S. nuclear policy and strategy in the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment have not been well articulated," says the report, issued jointly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "This policy vacuum regarding our nuclear deterrent must be addressed alongside our efforts to prevent further nuclear proliferation."

The report urges Obama to narrow his nuclear-related goals.

"The truly pressing nuclear issues that will demand presidential attention are few in number," the report says, listing three: preventing additional nations from acquiring nuclear weapons, securing global stocks of nuclear weapons and materials, and engaging Russia in arms reduction measures.

Pursuing "a new strategic dialogue with Russia" tops the report's specific list of suggestions, in particular reaching agreement to extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that is due to expire in one year (see GSN, Nov. 20).

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in extending the treaty, which limits the number of long-range nuclear missiles and bombers each nation can deploy. A follow-on agreement, START II, was abandoned after the United States withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in 2002.

Yesterday, Russian Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov reaffirmed Moscow's desire to extend the pact and to seek new provisions, the Associated Press reported. Makarov said a new treaty could address all forms of nuclear weapons, not just the strategic weapons covered by existing agreements, and could contain measures to slow the deployment of warheads from storage facilities.

The Obama administration might be interested as well, according to one analyst interviewed by AP.

"Prospects are quite good that a new agreement can be reached," said Rose Gottemoeller of the Carnegie Moscow Center. "The new administration in Washington realizes that we have a clock ticking, that START I will go out of force in December 2009, and so basically the United States and Russia have a deadline, a very firm deadline."

The report experts also urged Obama to maintain the U.S. arsenal.

"Both to enable deeper reductions in the total inventory and to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent as long as it is needed, the United States should continue to refurbish and update the U.S. nuclear stockpile as necessary," it says. To achieve this goal, Obama should work to keep the nation's nuclear expertise at the Energy Department's national laboratories.

"A broader mission for the nuclear weapons labs that addresses energy security as well as nuclear security interests can help recruit, retain and sustain highly skilled and motivated scientists and engineers," the report says (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Dec. 11).

Anonymous said...

Get that lucrative VP slot ready for me, Bechtel. I'm a come'in!

(Tom D'Ag.)

Anonymous said...

Any chance he'll send D'Agostino away to rot in hell?

Yip, he's coming to Los Alamos. He's gonna sit right next to Dave Beck and Rich Marquez, doing absolutely nothing. LANL has turned into a protection-haven for ex-NNSA, ex-Navy, ex-DOE and ex-Bechtel tycoons "do nothings".

Anonymous said...

I'm quite interested in the statement that non-proliferation funding might help the lab. When I left, in the last century, we seemed to have exhausted the potential for that research. Luckily, with Domenici's help, we can recycle those ideas because there is little record keeping of failed programs.

Anonymous said...

Wow.. a Secretary of Energy that knows the science of energy. I've been in the DOE complex at LANL, LLNL and SNL for 20+ years, I've seen various Secretaries of Energy come in who had been successful politicians, bureaucrats, and business leaders - and they all did their best to screw over something they didn't really understand, the national labs. Maybe I'm dreaming, but I think Dr. Chu is an excellent pick - just maybe the right man at the right time to save the labs.

Anonymous said...

"Luckily, with Domenici's help, we can recycle those ideas because there is little record keeping of failed programs." (2:43 PM)

Sounds like the 'Ground Hog Day' events happening over at DARHT.

They just keep fixing the 2nd axis and handing out manager awards, fixing the 2nd axis and handing out manager awards, fixing the 2nd axis and... (repeat as needed).

Anonymous said...

12/14/08 11:56 AM, I agree with you. However, I think a smaller and stable weapons complex is the only way to support its customer DOD. I would break LANL into two distinct labs with separate management contracts - a NNSA weapons lab and a DOE science lab. Los Alamos Defense Systems Laboratory run by LANS, and Los Alamos National Science Laboratory run by a non-profit university. DOE broke up Oak Ridge several years ago into separate sites (Y12, ORNL), so its been done before.

Anonymous said...

Breaking up LANL into a separate NNSA weapons lab and DOE science lab would cut off the funding supply for LDRD, which comes out of an 8% tax on all incoming funds. Therefore, it is unlikely to ever happen. Same goes with pit production out at TA-55. Spinning it off like Y-12 would have a serious impact on LDRD funding for basic science at LANL.

Anonymous said...

Check out "Coal is My Worst Nightmare" and the suggestion that "Chu is good for China..." -