Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chu On This!

[This story originally appeared in New Scientist. See the 0riginal Here.]

"Chu is the man!" "Chu gets it!" "Chu is hardcore!"

The eco-blogosphere is caught in an orgiastic frenzy over the pending announcement of Nobel laureate and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab director Steven Chu as US energy secretary.

So what's all the excitement about?

First, Chu would be the first person with a Nobel Prize in science to ever serve in the cabinet of a US president. The only other Nobel laureate in such a position was US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

But what makes Chu "hardcore" is the full-on assault he's launched against climate change since taking the helm of Lawrence Berkeley in 2004.

His homepage says he is on a "mission" to make the national lab "the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy".

In the past four years, he's formed some cutting-edge energy science centres, including the Joint BioEnergy Institute and the Energy Biosciences Institute. One of them, Helios, will draw on synthetic biology, a discipline that aims to rewrite the basic operating instructions of living cells, to produce new sources of clean energy.

In 2007, Chu co-authored "Rising Above the Gathering Storm", a report put out by the National Academy of Sciences that called for an energy agency similar to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) as a way to fund developments in renewable energy.

The same year, he co-chaired a report commissioned by the governments of China and Brazil outlining steps they could take toward a sustainable energy future. With Chu, who is a Chinese-American researcher and a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, heading the DOE, I wouldn't be surprised to see further collaborations on this front in the coming years.

The only possible blemish in Chu's eco-career was sealing the deal on a $500 million biofuel development handout from oil giant BP for the national lab, UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois that some felt would compromise the institutions' academic integrity.

Check out a video of Chu speaking at the National Clean Energy Summit in August. He seems like a bit of a numbers wonk, but is adamant about energy efficiency and clean energy research and development. Who better to lead the world's biggest assemblage of scientists developing renewable power?

Phil McKenna, correspondent (Image: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab/Roy Kaltschmidt)

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