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As world demand for energy rapidly expands, transforming the way we generate, supply, transmit, store, and use energy will be one of the defining challenges for America and the globe in the 21st century. At its heart, the challenge is a scientific one. Important as they are, incremental advances in current energy technologies will not be sufficient. History has demonstrated that radically new technologies arise from disruptive advances at the science frontiers. The Office of Basic Energy Sciences in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science established the Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) program, to accelerate such transformative discovery, combining the talents and creativity of our national scientific workforce with a powerful new generation of tools for penetrating, understanding, and manipulating matter on the atomic and molecular scales. In 2009 five-year awards were made to 46 EFRCs, including 16 that were fully funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). An open recompetition of the program in 2014 resulted in four-year awards to 32 centers, 22 of which are renewals of existing EFRCs and 10 of which are new EFRCs. In 2016, DOE added four new centers to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to support the Department’s environmental management and nuclear cleanup mission, bringing the total number of active EFRCs to 36.
These integrated, multi-investigator Centers involve partnerships among universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit firms that will conduct fundamental research focusing on one or more “grand challenges” and use-inspired “basic research needs” identified in major strategic planning efforts by the scientific community. These Centers integrate the talents and expertise of leading scientists in a setting designed to accelerate research toward meeting our critical energy challenges. The EFRCs harness the most basic and advanced discovery research in a concerted effort to establish the scientific foundation for a fundamentally new U.S. energy economy. The outcome will decisively enhance U.S. energy security and protect the global environment in the century ahead.