Giant Leaps Symposium (session 2), “The Next Giant Leaps in Energy, the Environment and Air Transportation” - MIT AeroAstro
WAITZ: Welcome back. We're now going to turn our attention to a look at some future challenges and opportunities. And what we sought to do with this discussion was to broaden it beyond just space exploration to look at some other challenges related to air transportation, energy, and environment. And the order of the sessions was chosen in a particular manner to sort of set a contrast. It's already been identified that some of those challenges are very different in character from the challenges of Apollo or, indeed, the challenges of the future of space exploration. And by putting these things next to each other in some contrast, we hope that it will draw some clear distinctions between them.
It's my great pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker for this session, the Honorable John Holdren. Dr. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology within the Executive Office of the President. Prior to joining the Obama administration, he was the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy and Director of the program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government. He was also professor of environmental science and policy at Harvard's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and a Director of the Woods Hole Research Center.
He also co-chaired the independent bipartisan National Commission on energy policy. He holds a degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from our department and a degree in Theoretical Plasma Physics from Stanford so very broad background. He's the author of some 350 publications on global environmental change, energy technology and policy, nuclear arms control and non-proliferation, and science and technology policy. He's a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Academy of Arts and Sciences. And he's one of the first recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship.
And thinking back on some of the comments that Ted Sorensen made this morning, related to the Pugwash Society, also note that 1995 he gave the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance lecture on behalf of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Pugwash is an international arms control and scientific cooperation organization in which he has held many leadership positions. Please join me in welcoming Dr. John Holdren.
HOLDREN: Well, thank you, Ian, and thank all of you. It's certainly a great pleasure for me to be back at MIT with so many old friends and, particularly, a pleasure to be back here on the occasion of this symposium on the next giant leaps, looking back on the achievements of the Apollo program and all that followed, and looking ahead to the new achievements in Aerospace, Science, and Technology that the great challenges before us are going to demand.
My own trajectory from undergraduate and master's degrees in core 16 more than 40 years ago to my current position advising President Obama on the full range of science and technology matters that are germane to the policy issues of the day I think illustrates, in a small way, both the wide ranging relevance of the disciplines that come together in the study of aerospace, science, and engineering. And it also illustrates I believe the enduring value of an MIT education. And because there are a lot of students I know in the audience, I'm going to dwell on that history for just a moment, how I came to make this transition.
My main focus is as an undergraduate here were on fluid mechanics, and rocket propulsion in the Aero and Astro Department and on electromagnetic theory and space physics in the Physics Department. I had the privilege of learning from some of the greats in all of those domains. And to my amazement, I had the privilege of talking with them one on one in their offices even as a freshman, which is one of the many things I loved about the Institute. We used to call it the glorious Institute in those days. I don't know if people still do.
In the Summers of my undergraduate years, I worked at Lockheed on reentry aerodynamics on the orbital mechanics of reconnaissance satellites, on a blade of rocket nozzles for the Poseidon submarine launch ballistic missiles. And then the collective senior project in the class of '65 in Core 16 turned out to be designing a manned Mars mission. I was the co leader of that effort with my classmate Jim Hester. We named that project Project Aries, interestingly enough.
I suspect the report is still on some shelf in the department library. As one of the highlights of that effort, Doc Draper, who was the chair of the Aero and Astro Department at that time, had the whole class flown on an Air Force C-54 to Cape Kennedy for spring break. And we got to see the main assembly building and the crawler and the whole works. It was just extremely exciting for a bunch of MIT seniors in Aero and Astro to have that experience, which Doc Draper was able to arrange because he held the honorary rank of Colonel in the Air Force among many other honors he had.
For my master's thesis here, I worked with Professor Jim McCune on a problem in theoretical plasma physics. And that domain had come to interest me both for its fascinating science, really, at the intersection of fluid dynamics and electromagnetic theory but also for its simultaneous relevance to astrophysics to defense science and technology and to the alluring challenge of harnessing fusion energy. In the course of that work, I was inspired by the great MIT fusion scientist and nuclear engineering Professor David Rose to think about how fusion might relate to the larger and wider challenges of energy supply and demand worldwide.
What then ensued, as Ian mentioned, was a PhD in plasma physics, which I completed jointly in the Aero and Astro department and the Institute for Plasma research at Stanford. That was followed by a job as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore Lab, engaged in both energy and weapons applications of plasma science and technology. My experiences there helped turn me into an energy wonk. But they also help turn me into an arms controller, preoccupied more with how to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons than with how to further improve their performance.
And earlier, while still at Stanford, I had started to work on the side with Professor Paul Ehrlich, another biologist there, on the intersection of energy and resource technology with problems of population and environment and with the Caltech geochemist, Harrison brown, on issues of science and technology for economic development. All of those threads then came together in interdisciplinary research and faculty positions at Caltech Berkeley and, finally, again, as he mentioned at Harvard and the Woods Hole research center, where I focused in variable proportions on energy, on environment, on nuclear arms control, and non-proliferation. And on the theory and practice of Science and Technology Policy
And I think it was that collection of focuses more than any one of them that then President-elect Obama thought a sufficiently good fit with his needs in science and technology advisor to offer me, last December 15th, the immense privilege and opportunity of serving him in that capacity. For the students, the postdocs, and the young faculty members and researchers in this audience-- and I think you're my most important audience today with all respect to the senior statesman of space science and technology who are here-- the lesson in this lucky life I've lived at the intersection of science, engineering, and public policy is that you have more options than you may think you have.
Many of you will stay focused for all of your careers in or near the scientific and engineering specialties in which you've been mainly trained. I think it's important that many of you do that for we will continue to need specialists in these domains in abundance. But for those of you who feel as I did, the pull to cross the boundaries of disciplines, and not only within the natural sciences and engineering but across the larger divide to the social sciences and the domain of public policy, I'm here to tell you that the science and engineering training that you have gotten and are getting at MIT and even in lesser institutions with which I'm familiar, such as Stanford, Berkeley, Caltech, and Harvard is--
--is a strong foundation, a strong foundation from which to do that, from which to cross those boundaries. Now, let me now turn to my main topic for these remarks, which is a little broader than the one advertised in the program, I want to talk about the intersection of aerospace, science, and technology with the great challenges that the United States faces as a nation and the ones that we all face as a globe. I will talk about the advertised topic of energy and environment and aerospace technology as well. But I'm going to talk more broadly as I expect many of you would want from someone in my current position. And excuse me? I thought I heard a comment from the floor.
But my closing introductory remark is that we do need, along with more specialists in individual disciplines or small subsets of them, we do need more specialists in wider interdisciplinary integration. And I hope some of you will take inspiration from the many successful examples in my generation and generations in between to follow that path. Let me then come to the main messages of my talk today.
First of all, science and technology and science and technology education are absolutely key to meeting the great challenges we face as a nation and a world in the 21st century. Aerospace, science, and technology have been and will remain a crucial contributor to and driver of many of the relevant capabilities. And a key point here is that President Obama not only understands these realities, he's putting them into practice in his priorities, his appointments, and his policies.
Even so, achievement of everything we need from aerospace, science, and technology is being impeded, both by longstanding inadequacies in federal budgets, coordination, and execution and on the space side and the aero sides alike. We have some big challenges here.
The solutions are very much a work in progress. We don't, by any means, have all the answers yet. Overall, budget stringency in and after the current economic crisis is going to remain a major challenge. And I'll come back to all of these points in a bit of detail. Let me start with what the challenges are that we face and that preoccupy the president.
Obviously, economic recovery and growth and, in my domain, the issue there is the role of science and technology as drivers of recovery and growth. Infotech, biotech, nanotech, green tech, and other kinds of tech that we haven't even thought of yet have roles to play there. Second big challenge and preoccupation is health care. We need to find ways to get better outcomes for all Americans and do it at lower cost. That is also an area in which science and technology have an important role to play.
In energy, we need to reduce our dependence on unstable parts of the world for oil supply. We need to reduce both conventional and heat trapping pollution from our energy sources. Other resource and environmental issues-- toxic substances, sustainable agriculture, water supply, adaptation to climate change, all big tough issues where science and technology are going to play a role.
National and Homeland Security, where scientific intelligence, cyber and power grids security, nuclear and biodefense are all important parts of the challenge. Global challenges-- deploying science and technology for poverty eradication, for development, for voluntary fertility limitation. Combating preventable and pandemic disease, transforming the whole global energy system-- we must do no less. And land use practices to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change-- we're already experiencing dangerous climate change. The question is, are we going to be smart enough and quick enough to avoid catastrophic climate change?
We need to reconcile the competing human demands on land and water for food, fiber, biofuels, and ecosystem services. And we need, of course, to maintain the ecological integrity and productivity of the oceans. Again, these challenge challenges as well as the strictly national ones are going to be immensely demanding of science and technology going forward. Reducing the risks, finally, from nuclear and biological weapons, a tremendous challenge, still a tremendous set of dangers-- although many people think they went away at the end of the Cold War, they did not.
There are some cross cutting science and Technology Foundations of success in grappling with these challenges. I formulate them as follows-- one, of course, and very much at the top of the list is the capacities and the health of the institutions that do our fundamental research, our universities, our national and private laboratories. Another, again, very close to the top of the list is science, technology, engineering, and math education, pre-school to grad school and, indeed, life long. We need that not only to be sure we get the next generation of scientists and engineers we're going to need to address these challenges but we needed to get the informed citizenry who can be effective participants in a democracy where science and technology are more and more a part of almost every major policy issue.
The availability, capacity, and robustness of our infrastructures-- information, communications, transportation, and energy-- our capabilities in space, which I put in red to indicate I have not forgotten the topic that brings us together here today, international cooperation in science and technology, an immensely important cross cutting foundation certainly going forward, and what I call the supporting institutional processes and guidelines-- issues of intellectual property, transparency, scientific integrity, visas, export controls, all of those issues, essential to get right if we're to get all of the rest right.
Now, let me turn to the relevance of aerospace, science, and technology. Fundamental research and the quest for knowledge, of course, the Hubble the International Space Station's experiments, including the alpha magnetic spectrometer that's to fly on the last scheduled shuttle mentioned before the end of 2010, human and robotic exploration. STEM education-- space has played an enormously important role in this domain. And we already heard a lot about why this morning.
Sputnik and the Space Race of the late '50s and '60s inspired a generation of young people to study science and engineering, one of my inspirations to study science and engineering, certainly. And revitalizing space science and space exploration alongside new challenges for science and technology for clean energy, better health, and innovation for economic development and growth can do this for us again. We can inspire a new generation with these major issues to which science and technology have so much to contribute.
But it's not just about science, not just about exploration, not just about inspiration. It's about a lot of more nitty gritty things-- infrastructure, military and civil satellite communications, military and civil geopositioning, the efficiency, capacity, and safety of the air transport system, earth observation and national security, tracking capabilities and activities of potential adversaries, arms control and nonproliferation monitoring and verification, early warning, battle management. The other side of earth observation-- civil and multi-purpose uses of space for observing the earth, weather forecasting, storm tracking, monitoring the atmosphere, oceans, vegetation, and transitions in land use under climate change and other influences-- immensely important.
Spin-offs into other domains of the economy, health care, environment, and security-- and here I offer a quote from President Obama's speech to the National Academy of Sciences on April 27th where he talked about the spin-offs from the Apollo program. To those of you who have not read that speech by President Obama at the end of April at the Academy, I invite you to do so. It's on the White House website. It's on the National Academy website, really, an extraordinary speech talking about the importance and relevance of science and technology to the challenges we face today and emphasizing, among other things, the enormous importance of fundamental research even when nobody knows where it's going.
This brings me to President Obama's initial initiatives in the science and technology domain. I'll start with priorities reflected in his rhetoric since I've just shown you a quote from one of his speeches. He has put science and technology front and center in his campaign, in his inauguration speech, in his speech to the joint session of Congress, in his speech to the National Academy of Sciences, even in his speech to the Islamic world in Cairo, where he rolled out a number of initiatives for expanded science and technology cooperation with Muslim majority countries. His priorities have been reflected in his appointments. Seven members of the National Academy of Sciences are in top positions in his administration. I suspect that has never happened before.
A Nobel Laureate in physics leading the Department of Energy. One of the world's leading marine biologists leading NOAA. A CTO and CIO, chief technology officer and chief information officer, in the executive branch for the first time. His priorities have also been reflected in his budget.
Science got an enormous boost in the stimulus recovery package formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA, and in the FY2009 omnibus and the FY2010 budget, NIH, NIST, NOAA, DoD basic research, DOE science, all getting major boost. In some, 2009-2010 are the highest federal research spending in history. Tens of billions more were in the stimulus for information technology, transportation infrastructure, applied energy technology. The ARRA and the FY2010 budget added something over 2 billion dollars to NASA. I'll come back to that later.
Priorities are also reflected in budget goals. Clean energy and energy efficiency are targeted to get $150 billion over 10 years, $15 billion a year, an enormous boost in that domain. And in the National Academy speech, the President announced the goal for national investment in R&D, public and private combined, to reach and exceed 3% of GDP, a level it has never achieved. At the height of the Space Race, it got to 2.9% of GDP.
Priorities have also been reflected in Presidential events. This is the President hooked up by video link to the astronauts on the International Space Station. The kids in the background are middle school science students from around the DC area. Next to me is Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Transportation, and Science.
And you can see by the smile on the President's face that he's enjoying this. This is in the Roosevelt Room in the White House, the Discovery astronauts with their colleagues on the International Space Station. He has talked also to the Atlantis astronauts while they were still in orbit. He welcomed the Discovery astronauts after they got back for an animated and energetic conversation in the Oval Office. He is immensely interested in and excited about space. And he is immensely excited by getting kids interested in space, again, as you can see in that last picture.
But the administration has done more still in science and technology. Very early in his term, instructed my office to prepare new guidelines for across the executive branch on scientific integrity. There will be no more altering of scientists' conclusions by political minders, either at NASA or anywhere else in the executive branch. The Visa MANTIS procedures have been substantially revised. This was effective a week ago, Friday.
There was an article in the New York Times about it. But it considerably understated what has actually been done. There's been a substantial modification of procedures, which is going to drastically reduce both the backlog and the wait time for visas for graduate students, postdocs, and research scientists and professors in science and technology.
STEM education-- significant amounts of the recovery package money for education is going to go to science lab, science teacher training. We're going to restore space, science, and technology and establish clean energy as sources of inspiration and sources of learning. There is a new effort already named Re-energized, into which the Department of Energy and NSF are putting substantial funds to get that done.
Let me turn to some of the issues that the space program faces. And you all in this audience, most of you at least know already what these issues are without my listing them. There is a disparity between vision and budget and an associated gap in the capacity of the United States to put US astronauts into space on US launchers. The last President articulated a grand vision for returning Americans to the Moon and going to Mars but without providing budgets to match. The president never requested and the Congress never provided the budgets that would enable serious pursuit of that vision.
The attempt to deal with the mismatch stretched stressed budgets all across NASA but still without finding enough money to implement the vision. And now we face a gap of five years or more between the end of shuttle operations scheduled at the end of 2010 and the availability of a successor capability in the Constellation program to put US astronauts in space with US launchers.
We have both fragility and gaps in the earth observation satellite fleet. The national polar orbiting Earth observation satellite series in post, which is a joint venture of NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Defense, is far behind schedule and over budget due in part to poor coordination and cooperation among those agencies. This problem threatens the quality of our long range weather forecasts and our hurricane tracking, among other things. The Landsat earth observation satellite series is in fragile condition with failed instruments, the remaining satellites operating beyond their intended life and gaps impending. This threatens the continuity of climate and vegetation monitoring data sets that are extremely important for understanding what's happening on planet Earth.
And there are issues for the aeronautics program. Aeronautics research has long suffered in NASA from inadequate budgets, above all recently. And that has had impacts on the pace of advances needed to modernize our antiquated air traffic control system, said impacts on research to further improve fuel efficiency and reduce the noise of Civil Aviation aircraft, impacts on understanding the intersection and envelopes of fuel burn, air pollution, and noise taken together. Look for a moment at the air traffic control issue.
The costs of congestion and delays in the US Civil aviation system currently have been estimated at figures ranging from $10 to $40 billion a year. The $10 billion figure is from the Department of Transportation. The $40 billion figure is from the Joint Economic Committee of the Congress.
The use of non-state of the art tracking and communication technologies is contributing to congestion as well as to fuel inefficient routing and fuel waste in holding and taxiing. It's also a safety issue, of course. And in the face of all of this, US Civil Air traffic is forecasted to increase as much as two-fold by 2025.
If you look at the energy environment issue-- my advertised topic for today, I finally get to it for a moment-- this is a diagram. A little hard to read, I'm sure in most of the room. We call this in the energy business a spaghetti diagram. It tells you what the flow from sources to end uses is in the petroleum liquids sector of the US energy economy for 2007. The width of the arrows represents the magnitude of the flow.
The key point is that jet fuel in 2007, the fuel for the civil aviation industry as well for the military, about 1.6 million barrels a day. Of that, 1.2, 1.3 is civil aviation. The rest is military. That compares to a considerably larger number in motor gasoline, over 9 million barrels a day. Total US imports for comparison-- about 12 million barrels a day.
The oil consumption then is not a large fraction of the total. But it's not insignificant either. US oil consumption going into jet fuel is in the range of Prudhoe Bay and its peak production just as a comparison for you. And of course, it's already suggested the growth potential in aviation is large. In the United States and worldwide, aviation's contributions to total greenhouse gas emissions measured in terms of global warming potential is in the range of 5% the total. Again, not dominant, but not insignificant either, and it is forecasted to grow substantially.
If you look at the opportunities for dealing both with the energy use, oil dependence, and environmental impact dimension of this, obviously, one leverage point is the fuel economy of the aircraft, how well do they do in terms of energy use per revenue passenger mile. That's the units in this diagram. Again, a little hard to read, but it starts at 1965 on the left and goes to 2025 on the right. And the dotted line up the middle is the year 2000, which was when this study was done with the end of the historical data and the beginning of the forecasts.
The upper dark line on the left is the US fleet average at actual load factor the line at the bottom is the US fleet average at the 2000 load factor of 0.72. And the individual dots are different aircraft that came into use in the years indicating. Crucial thing here is summarized at the bottom.
In the late 1960s, the typical fuel economy for civil jet aircraft was three to four megajoules per revenue passenger kilometer. By 2025, we expected to be a fourth to a third of that, 1 megajoule per revenue passenger kilometer. This is immense progress in increasing the efficiency of jet aircraft.
And somewhat comparable progress has been made in reducing the noise from civil aircraft, which has been very important. Further reductions in specific fuel burn are desirable and expected. They should be accelerated.
But interestingly, the cost of emissions permits under a cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gases is going to add only modestly to the incentives for doing that. It is quite likely that when a cap-and-trade system goes into effect, probably in 2012 if we manage to pass out of the Congress this year, the cap-and-trade legislation currently embodied in the Waxman Markey bill, it's unlikely for some years to come that the permit price will go over about $30 per ton of carbon dioxide. That's $110 per ton of contained carbon.
And that only translates to about a $0.30 gallon. Again, that's not negligible. But it's probably not as important to the airlines as the bigger fluctuations that occur in the price of fuel in the global oil market.
Coal to liquids, tar sands, oil shale could all help with our oil import dependence. But without carbon dioxide capture and sequestration, those options for alternative fuels for jet aircraft actually make climate change worse. They increase by a substantial margin the total greenhouse gas emissions per liter of fuel in the airplane.
And of course, the motor vehicle solutions for reducing mobile greenhouse gas emissions-- plug-in hybrids, pure electric cars, hydrogen vehicles-- either don't work at all for aircraft or they require radical aircraft redesign as in the case, say, of a hydrogen fueled aircraft. This means that the main short and mid-term focus for reducing aircraft greenhouse gas emissions beyond what improved fuel economy can achieve has to be converting sustainably grown biomass to something that's, essentially, the equivalent of kerosene.
The currently most promising way to do this is Fischer-Tropsch liquids produced from cellulosic biomass. This is a technology that basically works. We know how to do it. It's been done for years on a small scale. But we need substantially more research and development on the compatibility of these fuels mixed with conventional jet fuel on their emissions characteristics, engine performance, and so on.
Let me turn, now, to what's being done on these problems in the aerospace domain. On the aeronautics side, NextGen, the Next Generation Air Transportation System, a public private partnership to transform US civil aviation by 2025. It was initiated by Congress in 2003, in the last administration, through an act of Congress called VISION 100, the Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act.
It's led by the Department of Transportation and the FAA, with participation by NASA, DoD, Department of Homeland Security, NOAA, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which I direct. It's managed by a Joint Planning and Development Office and the NextGen Senior Policy Committee, on which I sit.
It has a number of interesting features in the air traffic control domain, Automatic Dependent Surveillance and Broadcast-- which is going to enable both pilots and controllers to see the same real time displays of air traffic, which should substantially improve safety while increasing system capacity-- System Wide Information Management-- has the wonderful acronym SWIM-- to reduce redundancy and facilitate information sharing, and NextGen Data Communications Technologies that are going to allow for a much better exchange of all kinds of information between pilots and controllers, and as a result, undoubtedly, increase the productivity, capacity, and safety of our Civil Air system.
We have a National Aeronautics R&D Policy, since 2006, that was produced by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science and Technology Council, which is an inter-agency body which OSTP organizes with the deputy heads of the various relevant cabinet agencies and other executive branch agencies. That R&D policy enunciates overall goals, including increased efficiency, fuel availability, and environmental protection. And it was made official policy by an executive order in the last administration as a guide to aero R&D efforts through 2020.
Going with it, and materializing in the next year, in 2007, a national plan for Aeronautics R&D and related infrastructure. That included specific goals, mostly numerical, versus time for engine efficiency improvements, alternative fuels, emissions, and noise.
The FAA has an Aviation Climate Change Research Initiative organized under NextGen to advance, mostly, these same goals-- cleaner, quieter, more efficient aircraft technologies, and the development and demonstration of alternative fuels for aviation.
It is being supported by something called the Continuous Lower Energy Emissions and Noise. Again, another wonderful acronym, CLEEN-- misspelled, but "clean," nonetheless. It's a partnership of FAA with industry. Another initiative in there is the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, which is public, private, and indeed international in the partnerships involved.
NASA has got something called the Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project, authorized in the 2010 budget, a new effort focused on both aircraft technologies and on aviation operations to get at some of these issues.
What's being done in space? I mentioned before that to begin addressing NASA's budget problems, $2 plus billion got added to the FY09 and FY10 budgets in the Recovery Act and the FY2010 request. The trick is how to finish addressing the budget problems.
A little over a week ago-- a couple of weeks ago, now, retired general and former astronaut, Charlie Bolden, was nominated by the president as the new head of NASA. There was a lot of complaining out there that there wasn't a new NASA head.
This was taken by some to be an indication that the administration wasn't really interested in space. Not true. For a whole variety of reasons, the process of selecting a new NASA administrator proved to be more time consuming than expected. But we were working at it all along.
I spent a lot of time with Charlie Bolden in the initial interviews, and then in meetings with him and the president. And I would say that he clearly understands the challenges of budget and rebalancing that NASA faces, including balancing space versus aeronautics, balancing human versus robotic exploration, balancing exploration versus science, and balancing looking up versus looking down.
He's got a big challenge ahead of him. He knows it. But he has a deep understanding of the program, deep experience with the program. And I think he's going to make an excellent NASA administrator.
There is-- this has already been mentioned-- a new blue ribbon panel, chaired by Norm Augustine, that will report to me, the NASA administrator, and the president, by August, on the options for the human spaceflight program going forward.
Questions that that panel will be addressing is, can we figure out any way to reduce the gap in the capacity of the United States to put astronauts in space on our own launchers? It will look at what the options might be for extending the life of the International Space Station beyond 2016.
It seems a terrible waste for everybody to have put the immense amount of money that's gone into that space station and then not get the full scientific value out of it. The Panel will look at how we think about the timetable for missions beyond low Earth orbit, given the likely budget constraints going forward, and some more.
The Earth-observing satellite issues are also starting to get addressed. My office is convening the principals from NASA, NOAA, and indeed the Commerce Secretary, as well, and the Department of Defense, to address the cooperation and coordination problems that have plagued that program. And I'm optimistic that we're going to turn that around.
We're undertaking reviews of LandSat and the other Earth-observing satellite systems across a wide variety of agencies, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Science and Technology Council, NASA, NOAA, and the National Academies all looking at that.
But here's where we end up. We end up with a continuing federal budget challenge that is going to be extraordinarily difficult. What you're looking at here is FY2008 through FY2014. The big budget categories, many of them are nondiscretionary. Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and of course, a big chunk of Department of Defense.
The amount leftover for other discretionary, out of which the space program and aeronautics have to come, is not very big and looking pretty flat. So it is really going to be a huge challenge to get everything done we need to get done and want to get done in this domain in this budget situation.
My closing observation is that President Obama has been very clear that, in order to succeed in this challenging environment, we're going to need all hands on deck. What that means is that the science and technology community and its aerospace component are going to have to come together.
They're going to have to come together across government, industry, universities, the academies of science and engineering, other professional societies, and NGOs, and across countries in new levels of commitment, communication, and cooperation. I would say that giant leaps are going to require giant partnerships. Thank you, very much.
WAITZ: Thank you, John. We're going to take just three questions from the floor for Dr. Holdren. And then I will invite our panelists up for a broader discussion. Please come to the mics, if you can.
HOLDREN: We have mics in the two center aisles.
AUDIENCE: Einstein sent Roosevelt a letter in the late '30s. And by the early '30s and with war threatening, we were able to go ahead on fishing and produce a whole city in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which I happened to be in on that, and other facilities in Columbia, and later for the bomb.
And why is it-- why don't we have the leadership now to do something like this? Because a case can be, I think, made that the threat that the United States now in the energy crisis is comparable, or somewhat comparable, or maybe even worse, than it was in World War II.
And yet, that's not happening. I know in Livermore, they they were supposed to fire off the 192 lasers last week? I haven't seen anything of that. But why don't we have that pressure?
HOLDREN: Well the first thing I would say is I would agree with your tentative proposition that the energy challenge is more difficult than the challenge of building the first atomic bomb. It's more difficult than the challenge of going to the moon. And the frequently heard remark that if we could build the atomic bomb, if we could go to the moon, we can certainly solve the energy challenge, in a way, might be right. But it understates the magnitude of the energy challenge.
The president, in proposing $150 billion over 10 years to start to address the energy challenge in the science and technology domain in a more responsible way is a recognition of the magnitude of the problem. I should tell you, by comparison, that what the United States has been spending on Federal Energy R&D-- the total fission, fusion, fossil, renewables, transmission, and distribution, the whole works, and fundamental energy science-- has been about $3 billion a year.
So by proposing an additional $15 billion a year, he's proposing to increase the US investment in Federal Energy research development and demonstration by a factor of 6. I mean, this is a gigantic increase, and a response that most folks think is in the ballpark of what we would need to increase the pace of innovation in energy technology to the place it would have to be to give us the options we're going to need to address this array of challenges in a cost effective way. So I think this president does understand how big this challenge is. And the question is, will the Congress let us have the money? Yes.
AUDIENCE: I'm Allan Klumpp, MIT of '59 and contributor to the Apollo program and other space programs, but working recently on energy and the environment problems. Have you considered the possibility of hydrogen powered airplanes that follow, essentially, a recent Boeing design that have a fuel tank in the front and rear of the passenger compartment because of the much greater volume needed to power airplanes by hydrogen. And the hydrogen could be transported from solar or wind farms to the airports using the star super cables, which conduct electricity superconductivity, on the outside, where the cables are cooled by transporting liquid hydrogen at near 0 temperatures on the inside.
HOLDREN: The short answer is Yes. We're looking at everything, believe me. And I get about six interesting proposals a day across the transom in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. We look at them all.
What I meant by saying that powering aircraft with hydrogen requires radical redesign applies to that case.
AUDIENCE: Yes, it does.
HOLDREN: That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. But it means it's likely to take longer. And we need to do a good many other things in the meantime. But I think the possibilities, ultimately, of hydrogen powered aircraft are very interesting.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. I figure that my grandchildren's grandchildren will be able to fly on those airplanes without emissions anywhere in the world.
HOLDREN: Third one. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, hi. My name is Peter [INAUDIBLE]. I'm with the Smithsonian. This may go against the general way that space is done, or just the plans, that the way people think. But I have always thought to improve the innovation, we need to shrink the of the projects, make many, many, many more for the same amount of money.
But we also need to reduce the emphasis on success. Obviously, I'm not talking about dealing with human involved flight. But space, robotic kinds of things, there's always this emphasis on near 100%.
So that drives the price up. It also drives the time out. And I was kind of shocked to see that the Gemini program put up so many flights in two years.
Yesterday, I was asked how quickly I could do anything in space. And I said, well, minimum, maybe three years. I was kind of chuckling to myself that we had, I don't know, 10 Gemini flights in 2 years. I don't think I could do that now, especially with the rules.
So I was thinking that something along the lines of the nascent CubeSat program, which is much, much, too small, but aims as working on things that are, maybe three or four times that size, but in the range of the $4 to $6 million, and maybe have 10 or 15 of those a year. And you'd really see an explosion in the innovation out of science and engineering.
Obviously, that's not going to be the up lookers that you're talking about. Because those have to be extraordinarily large. But down lookers and in situ, and space weather, and things like that, all could be done in that kind of range.
HOLDREN: Yeah, I am aware of thinking of this sort that is going on in looking at the options for getting better at looking down in more cost effective ways. Certainly, that is something that is under consideration. I think there's some interesting ideas in there.
WAITZ: Good. Thank you.
Thank you, very much. I'd like to introduce our panelists who all work in this domain of air transportation, and environment, and energy. First, Mike Bair is Vice President of Business Strategy and Marketing for Boeing commercial airplanes. He leads their strategic business planning and marketing activities. He was also the lead for the team that developed the new 787 Dreamliner and was responsible for all aspects of that airplane program. Among his several degrees, one of them is an MBA from our Sloan School of Management.
Seated next to him is Dave Danielson. Dave started, I think, just two months ago-- is that right? Two months ago as one of the founding program managers within the US Department of Energy's Advanced Research Project Agency dash Energy-- ARPA-E, a new agency designed to accelerate the development of transformational high-risk, high-reward new energy technologies.
Prior to that he was in the business of being a venture capitalist working on clean energy. And prior to that, he's, I think, best known here at MIT as the founder of our MIT Energy Club, which was something that started from an idea and very rapidly grew to include about 1,000 people involved in that. So it's sort of a dramatic level of interest.
Seated next to Dave is Alan Epstein Alan is currently Vice President of Technology and Environment for Pratt and Whitney. He's responsible for their long-term technology and environmental strategy. He's also the RC Maclaurin Professor in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. He has a long history of working on problems of aerospace propulsion, power, and energy. He also, as a student, worked on the Apollo 11 landing at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory as an electronics technician. So he was in very early in that program.
Seated next to Alan is Dr. Lourdes Maurice. Lourdes is the Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Environment within the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Environment and Energy. She's their primary technical lead for all basic and exploratory research, advanced technology development that focuses on environmental impacts, as well as alternative fuels. She also manages a program that I lead, so I've had the benefit of having a very close collaboration with her for seven years.
So this is a very talented set of panelists. And I'm going to ask them each a question, just to get things started. And then we'll open it up for all of the panelists for questions from the floor.
So first, Mike, if I may start with you-- given what you've heard today about Apollo and air transportation, energy, environment, and some of the challenges that John listed here, what do you take as the important lessons? And what role can big commercial aerospace play in providing some solutions?
BAIR: Very good. Actually, I get to reinforce some of the comments that John made, which is always great, as opposed to arguing with people. First, just a couple of quick facts.
8% of the world's GDP, 30 million jobs, 40% by value of all the exports depend upon commercial air transportation. So you throw those numbers in and all the intangible things that air transportation brings to the world. So the fact that we get to choose in the winter something other than oranges for fruit and cabbage for vegetables, the fact that we can gather people like this together from around the world, around the country, to have these sort of conferences, the fact that people can travel to different countries and realize that we're more alike than different, all dependent upon air transportation. So clearly a huge and very important industry to the United States and to the world in general. So it's obviously to our best interests to do everything we can to further the development of this industry.
The industry has had a wonderful history. It grows faster than GDP. That's a journey that we are really, really interested in continuing. But we have two really major challenges that we face in this industry. One is economics.
As a capital goods provider to the airlines, it's not lost on us that they have failed to return their cost to capital over their entire history. Not a good thing. So that needs to be addressed. It's an awful business model.
Second one is obviously our carbon footprint. And as was indicated, we're small single digits of the problem. I think if you were to ask us probably as an industry and certainly my company maybe three or four years ago what we should do, our response would have been, leave us alone. And go pick on the people that really matter.
Clearly, that's not a constructive approach. And we've decided over the last few years that we need to be far more responsible in what we do in terms of addressing our contribution to global climate change, especially given the fact that we are going to continue to grow faster than GDP. So we are not going to be a smaller part of the problem, but a bigger part of the problem, unless we do something.
So those are two big problems. The good news for us is that, unlike most of the issues that we all work at, the answers to these two problems are not compromises between them, because the answers for one tend to support the other. So we've got things that we can do to affect change in both of this regard. And what we do in one will help the other side.
And we're really focused on three major thrusts. And they were mentioned by John. First is fuel efficiency. We've had a great ride. Since the start of the jet age, we've improved the fuel efficiency of the airplanes some 70%. Pretty remarkable.
But with jet airplanes, that's 50 years worth of technology. With aluminum airplanes, that's 70 years worth of technology. We're kind of running out ideas. And that's really what the 787 is all about. It's a step function change. 20% improvement over what we can do today is what the 787 represents.
But probably even more important than that 20% step function is that it's the start of a new journey. Everything that that airplane brings to the marketplace and all the technology that we put in that airplane, we've also generated a laundry list of things that we can do better when we do the second generation 787 type airplane.
So we're off on another journey to continue to make dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency, but it doesn't stop there on fuel efficiency. I think one of the things that we recognize is that we are going to have to affect regulation. And we are, as a company, and I think as an industry, trying to get fuel efficiency standards mandated on our industry.
And what our approach is, hopefully, is to get them modeled somewhat after the noise standards that were put in place some 30, 35 years ago that have been remarkably effective, even though they have been diametrically opposed to the economics of the industry. So we think there is great merit in a fuel efficiency standard being imposed on this industry and are actively advocating that happen.
Second, as was mentioned, is air traffic management-- not a failure in technology, a failure in policy. And around the world, technologies that have been in existence for decades could improve the fuel efficiency and therefore the carbon footprint of the industry by 12% across the board. And all it takes is the political will to implement them. And that is low hanging fruit by the definition of low hanging fruit.
And lastly, what we think is the ultimate solution for the industry is biofuels. As has been mentioned, we cannot find any alternative fuel source that has the energy densities that allow us to build airplanes that are cost effective. So we are going to be the last burners, in our view, the last burners of hydrocarbons left on Earth. So those hydrocarbons have to be friendly.
We are absolutely confident that biofuels are the answer. We've done enough science on them in actual tests to know the chemistry works. We are actively pursuing certification of the fuel. The next real step is in industrializing the production of the biofuels.
And while we are not an insignificant use of petroleum, the numbers that we burn are sufficient that you can get your arms around a biofuel solution for the aerospace industry. So those are the three major thrusts that we are focused on at the Boeing Company.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mike. Dave, you were a catalyst here at MIT. You were a venture capitalist working for a company that had that in its name. And now, you're charged within the DOE of being a catalyst, as one of the founding program managers at ARPA-E.
From your perspective, being a relatively young participant in things, what should we do to inspire technical leadership? And how do we give the young technical leaders all the tools that they need to achieve the great steps forward that we need?
DANIELSON: Well first, you know, after two months at ARPA-E getting the thing set up, 18-hour days, weekends, I don't know how young I feel. But I will try to speak for the young folks. By the way, a large number of people in your federal government are working really, really hard to get the recovery money out the door and to keep the energy innovation humming. And so I think that's something we should all appreciate. You know, I'm brand new to government, and I was just really impressed with the level of work, and the quality of the people, and the devotion that is happening at the Department of Energy and other parts of the government.
So I thought that I might frame this in an interesting way. So I thought to myself, 40 years from now when we run this event at MIT, but for energy, who will be the astronauts in energy innovation who we will look at as people who are in their early 20s or early 30s or at an event like this, and who will be those people who actually did transform our energy economy? And also I was thinking, what will have been their Sputniks? What will be the things that drew them in to devote their lives to this?
So one thing that Ian asked me to comment on is, how do we inspire young people? My first answer is that they're already incredibly inspired. It didn't take much to get 1,500 MIT students to join the MIT Energy Club. Everyone is incredibly fired up. In many cases, people are devoting more time to multidisciplinary energy studies through the Energy Club than they are to their thesis, which many advisors don't like. And indeed, my successor as the president of the Energy Club, his advisor found out about his being the president of the Energy Club when he heard him on NPR driving in to work.
So like I said, A tremendous amount of interest-- like 1,500 students who are actively engage in weekly or biweekly hardcore energy discussions and dialogues on campus at MIT. Even more interesting, I think, is that a MIT student founded something called the Collegiate Energy Association, which represents essentially a consortium of energy clubs across the country and around the world.
And at this point, there are 25 similar clubs that other universities across the country-- four in Europe, two in Canada, three in Asia, and one in China. And I think that that bodes well, that these leaders are actually getting together once a year and discussing the energy problem. And so if these young leaders are forward-looking enough to engage each other, from China, to the United States, to Europe-- those kind of international collaboration's going to be needed going forward. So I think that bodes really well.
So I thought a little bit about there's just been a tremendous amount of activity in the last five years even-- in the last 10 years, especially. When I came to MIT in 2001 to begin my PhD work in photovoltaics, I couldn't find a single professor to work with. I couldn't find anyone who was working on solar photovoltaics. And now in 2009, if we look at what we have now, there are at least 50, 60 folks full-time working in this area. So we've got an order to two orders of magnitude more innovation going on, which is very exciting to me.
So what is it that drove that, these large numbers? This is just a huge ramp in interest. And is it real? Is it going away? I don't think so.
So my hypothesis, for the people that will be sitting up here as the astronauts of this new energy generation-- you know, I'm biased because I do come from the entrepreneurship world-- I believe they're going to be energy entrepreneurs and innovators and inventors that are truly going to invent transformative new technologies or greatly increase the cost effectiveness and performance of existing energy technologies to get us to a low-carbon, low-energy cost, secure energy future.
So I kind of thought of a few things that I think represent a number of Sputniks that really inform the kind of young people that I think will be leading going forward. The first is maybe counterintuitive-- the internet boom of the late 90s. I believe that that made entrepreneurship personal. I think that doing a startup became a very reasonable thing to do, and that most people in their early 20s and 30s think, hey, I could do a startup. And I think, you imagine 20 years ago, doing an energy startup seemed like a pretty crazy idea. But there are hundreds, if not thousands of energy startups right now.
I think that very informative for many of us young energy innovators were the 9/11 attacks. You know, there's a very vivid memory for all of us that gave us pause as to our role in the world. And there are energy implications that relate to that.
The oil price spike was actually a big one. 2004, I started the Energy Club in 2004. In 2005, I think that my membership went up almost in lockstep with oil prices. So I think that gave everyone pause as to, can we run a modern economy if we need to rely on expensive oil?
Hurricane Katrina-- you know, it was not a reasonable thing to directly attribute that to climate change. I think gave everyone an example of the kind of future we could potentially be looking at in a world where climate change is not mitigated. And global instability-- you know, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weigh heavily on a lot of young people as well. And then most recently, the economic crisis. I think that a number of young people believe that a way for us to invent our way out of that is to actually reinvent our economy and develop a completely new infrastructure based upon clean energy.
So those are a number of Sputniks, maybe too many. But if you actually look at young people who are devoting their lives to energy, it really informs what they're all about. I think, if you look at folks who devoted their lives energy in the late 70s, you see a really stark difference.
There are folks who committed their lives to more traditional energy production are very proud of that. I talk to them frequently. And providing low cost domestic energy is critical in order for the economy to move forward. And then there are a set of environmentalists who typically put themselves outside of the energy system and pounded on it from outside in, trying to slow it or shut it down.
I think, if you look at the new generation, what you see in the new generation of energy innovators and young people devoting their lives energy, it's much more about getting inside the machine, getting inside the economic apparatus, and actually inventing technologies and getting them deployed with appropriate policies to try to solve all of these problems. You know, low cost energy-- we all want low cost energy. It's critical for the economy, and it's critical for the developing world. Low carbon energy is critical to avoid climate change issues. And secure energy is mission critical in order to avoid global instability.
So I see it as young people are very entrepreneurial about this. And they look at it as, we're going to solve all these things. And we're going to use more market innovations to actually do it.
So I guess that a few comments about what young energy innovators are going to need to be up here in 40 years and to be able to say that we've made a big impact. One is clear. And it's so obvious, I'll just briefly mention it, is the policy.
You know, the policy needs to be in place such that, when entrepreneurs build these new products that do represent the clean energy products that will reinvent the economy on a low carbon economy, we need that policy to build a bridge to those. Because you need to be able to have a product that can be sold in the market.
Funding is huge. Like I said, in 2001, there was not funding for anyone to do solar. And now, there's sufficient funding at MIT. This is very exciting. I think it was five years ago it was last time I sat up here next to Susan Hockfield when she announced her Energy Initiative. And now, the Energy Initiative has raised $250 million that they'll be spending over the next five years on energy innovation at MIT.
And that's happening across the board, so there's a ton going on. But we do need more funding. We definitely need more funding. We are by no means anywhere close to being idea limited or human resources limited. Many more people have ideas and want to get involved in energy than there's funding to support right now.
You know, the young generation of energy innovators, there's a big difference I've seen. There's a real focus on multidisciplinary study and collaboration. In many of my interactions with older folks in the energy sphere, they tend to be somewhat focused on silos-- you know, let's say science and technology on the business side or on the policy side.
And what I'm seeing with the young energy innovators is that there's a seamless transition between that triad of policy cannot exist in a vacuum outside of technology and business and all of the other three interactions. So multidisciplinarity is, I think, a big trend that is new.
One area where we do need some more work is in this idea of thinking big. You know, a lot of the biggest companies that have come out of MIT have been kind of driven by what I would call alpha PhDs-- PhD folks, strong technical folks who are just those alpha dogs who really are willing to think massive-- billion dollar companies.
We still have a reasonable number of those alpha folks. My own colleagues are my contemporaries. Between them, they've raised probably to within 10 people around $100 million of venture capital and are pursuing huge ideas in drilling technology, in solar, in energy storage, and other areas. If any of those pop, it could make a huge impact.
And so I do think that one thing that we need to do, as both more experienced and younger technical leaders, is to inspire and help people understand that, if you want to make a dent in this energy problem, there better be a $1 billion company coming out of it.
MIT culture gets that. But when I go speak to universities in the Midwest sometimes, I get a lot of eye rolls. How can I ever build a $1 billion company? But I think that that kind of big thinking needs to get inculcated into young energy leaders.
And the other, I think-- I heard some comments earlier today-- is this idea of risk. I have found in interacting with a lot of strong, young, technical energy innovators, there is still a little bit of risk aversion. It has to be okay to fail.
You know, this is built into ARPA-E's mission. For example, you've got to be able to fail. This is built into venture capital. It's okay to fail. You've just got to get up and take another swing at it. So if we're going to invent some really important transformational new technologies, we need to make sure that it's clearly communicated to folks that it's okay to fail.
And I think with that, I'll leave that for you to think about and then look forward to any questions you may have. And I'll look forward to moderating this panel in 2049 when we're well on our way to starting to transform our energy infrastructure.
WAITZ: Thank you, Dave. Alan, you worked on Apollo as a boy, as it were, as you sometimes say. Now you're chief technology officer of-- including for environment for Pratt. What do you see as the parallels, the differences, the lessons?
EPSTEIN: Well, Pratt is the country's largest manufacturer of airplane engines and rocket engines. So there's the yin and the yang. And I was very encouraged by Dr. Holdren's speech. And I agree totally with it, especially if I can cherry pick parts of it, which I'll do now.
My job didn't exist two years ago. Big companies had VPs for technology. They had VPs for environment. But environment in a large American company meant basically compliance, to make sure that you were conforming to the rules and regulations of the EPA and the local state authorities. Now, we have large corporations realizing that their future is tied up to the environment and that, if you don't embrace the environment as defining the products of the future and therefore the technologies you need for the future, frankly, you're going to end up like General Motors and Chrysler.
So I have a fairly simple business, right? I provide push. It really is a business based upon Newtonian mechanics and 19th century engineering. I push things.
One way of thinking about it-- it's a boys way of making money out of sophomore thermodynamics. But in a large sense, the business comes into it as well. So I have to push an airplane. I love Boeing. I love all of God's children who make airplanes. I have to push an airplane at most the speed of sound, or faster, if it's military airplane. What I care about is how much energy it takes to do it.
The law of thermodynamics is not negotiable. It may not apply inside the Beltway, but applies to the rest of the universe.
Right? We now have engines that are thermodynamically 55% efficient. That tells me how much better I can get.
I need energy. Historically, energy has been mined from the ground in the form of liquid petroleum, slightly processed, and I move it on airplanes. As Mike Bair said, pending an invention of new chemistry, that's by far the highest energy-dense source that I can put on an airplane. So I'm going to stay with a liquid hydrocarbon, but the liquid hydrocarbon doesn't have to come from the ground. So long as the carbon doesn't add to the planet's carbon burden, basically as long as it comes from the atmosphere, then what I've done is separate the carbon and the energy, the fuel from where the energy comes from.
Above my desk, I have a picture of the Pratt Whitney hydrogen airplane engine, which is about 5 feet in diameter, built in 1957, '58, for the Air Force-- a super secret project, which is a great story, but I'm not going to get into it here-- Project Sundance.
And why do I keep it there? Well, one is it shows that you want to go to hydrogen, we're ready to go to hydrogen. We'll blow the dust off the blueprints and build the engine. but it's not a very good airplane, because hydrogen has very low density.
So the question is, if I'm going to manufacture the fuel from a renewable or other clean energy source-- and I would say nuclear is a clean energy source-- then it could be hydrogen, or it can be a hydrocarbon. If I'm using solar, I can use solar the good old fashioned way, which is grow plants-- biofuel. Or I could use some other chemical synthesis technique, like some of the breakthroughs at MIT. But it's going to look like hydrocarbon kerosene jet fuel going in the airplane.
I need 20 billion gallons a year for the US and 70 billion gallons a year for the world. That sounds like an industrial sized process. I have another challenge. I was going to say problem, but in the industry-- I had problems in academia. I now know in industry, we only have challenges.
The challenge is, how do I convince biofuel producers that they should produce biofuel for my industry-- and Mike explained why it's so important to the nation and the world-- rather than putting it in automobiles, for example? And there are two answers. One is, it is more valuable to me because I don't know how to build an electric airplane, unless I go maybe to carbon nanotube extension cords. And then they get tangled after a few thousand miles. So I need the hydrocarbon fuel.
I think, as there's more scholarship that's come out recently where you look at not just the greenhouse gases from a particular mode of transportation or industry, but the total footprint of that industry. So the total footprint of transportation, you see that indeed not only is aviation relatively green, but a much larger fraction of its total footprint, including the infrastructure that supports it, is the fuel burned in the vehicle versus the thousands of kilometers of railroad track, and road bed, and highway that we do for other modes.
And so therefore, there's a bigger gain to the environment by investing biofuels into aviation for the same number of gallons of biofuel than you get from putting it into ground transportation. So that's sort of the physics of it. Now, it has to come out to make monetary sense.
What does monetary sense mean? Do I have to pay more for the fuel? Probably. Is $0.30 gallon a lot for fuel? Well, in the year 2000, fuel was $0.90 a gallon. $0.30 would have destroyed the industry. Fuel is now $2.50 a gallon. $0.30 is moaning groaning. A year ago, at $4.20 a gallon spot price, $0.30 wasn't so scary a number. What this implies to me is inside the Beltway, there has to be an immense amount of thought on policy, and policy as applied to aviation. And one color policy for all of industry or all of transportation probably is not the wisest course.
But I think that biofuels are the solution. We've improved airplanes since the 707 commercial airplanes by 2 and 1/2% a year, on average. We're about halfway to the theoretical maximum. I think we can continue to do 2 and 1/2 % a year. But if aviation grows at 4% to 5% a year, there's a gap. And that gap has to come from low carbon biofuels. And to get 20 billion gallons a year, it takes large industry and large investment.
So I need two things. I need from the financial community substantial capital to do this. And if you say how much was standard refinery for 70 billion gallons a year, it's about $500 billion of capital. A couple of years ago, I thought that was a lot of money. Now in Washington, 1/2 a trillion doesn't seem like all that much. But capital's hard to raise.
So what else do I need? I need the kinds of ingenuity and invention we've come to expect from places like MIT that gives us better biofuels, better conversion processes, where both the capital requirements and the energy overhead of doing it goes down. And I think that both of those are perfectly feasible and that we will see biofuels as the fuel of choice for aviation slowly coming in over the next 10 years and then increasing to a larger and larger fraction of the total fuel load, so that aviation becomes almost carbon-free.
Now, my job is not carbon environment, it's in environment. Aviation has been at the head of environmental concerns since the invention of the airplane. There's a newspaper, a weekly newspaper in 1911 called The Arrow, published in Britain-- now defunct. Defunct since 1913. And they had an editorial decrying the racket that airplanes made. And they said, this prejudices the public against them.
Well, it was true in 1911. 1959 was the first commercial jet flight in the United States-- Pratt-Whitney powered Boeing 707, American Airlines, Los Angeles to New York. And what happened when those jet planes went in? People complained about noise.
What's a big topic in Washington now? The F.A.A wanting to move the noise contours around New York. So we have to bring noise down. We have to bring local air quality down. We don't get a buy on any of those as we bring our carbon footprint down.
And so what you're going to see is the sorts of ingenuity that American universities, American businesses have brought to bear to reduce all of the environment, while delivering the value to the airline customers that let them, hopefully, someday make a profit and keep things low. So I'm very optimistic about what goes on. And I welcome Dr. Holdren's challenge. I say, yes.
The only thing that concerns me-- my last word would be that a lot of the aerospace technology that we now enjoy in our new products came out of joint industry, government partnership through NACA, and then NASA. And the atrophy of NASA Aeronautics has meant that we've just about pumped that well dry. And so we have to re-examine how we as a nation can work together to meet some of these goals.
And the last thing let me say is, when I came here as a freshman, my first lecture was in this room. And over 40 years, I've slept through some really good lectures here.
And I'm glad to see many of you have stayed awake. Thanks.
WAITZ: Lourdes, many of the programs that were in Dr. Holdren's slides are programs that you not only provide the technical leadership for, but you initiated them and get them up and through the government system to make them a reality. So you've had some success not only on exploring the environmental challenges for aviation, but also getting some real changes for research within the government. So I welcome you to tell us about your thoughts about what still needs to be done and what we can do better.
MAURICE: Well, thanks, Ian. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. Certainly, as I look ahead in what one could do as we move forward, I sort of want to think beyond this hallowed institution of MIT. Because in some ways, I think that everything that we, as a community, can do we probably learned when we were in kindergarten. I really like that book that, everything you ever needed to know you learned in kindergarten.
So if I look ahead as what we need to do, number one is tell the truth. I think that we have some very hard and difficult challenges to deal with. Dr. Holdren pointed out the look at interdependencies, which you and I kind of started launching that together. And I think we have a lot of answers already. And getting the technical part done was the easy part. Now, communicating the messages that, yes, there's trade-offs between noise, emissions, energy, et cetera-- and we do want everything, but there's some physical realities-- is the hard part.
And we do need to convey the message. And we need to convey the message to the average citizen on the one hand. And on the other hand, much like Dr. Holdren talked about, the real audience of who's here today is the students and what difference you can make.
When I took my job about seven years ago, I thought the Beltway was a horrible place. And they did terrible things and made dumb decisions. And how could they be doing all of this things? And I said, well, you know, part of it is you, because you work in this hallowed area of research. And you're not providing input into the system. So tell the truth into the system, and influence what comes out.
The second part that I think we need to do is be inclusive. And if I could deviate from the subject-- it's kind of funny to me that, when I went in the back to get my top the first time, I was asked, what are you doing here? So I said, okay, I'm here to get my top. He said, okay, one time. The second time, well, what are you doing here? You're in the wrong place. So then the third time is like, where's Dr. Maurice?
So you know, obviously, I'm a little bit different than some of the panelists. I think in some ways, though, I'm probably more representative of what most of the world is like, very much a citizen of the world-- multicultural, multiracial. So I think it's important to consider that and bring everyone into the solutions.
But what I really want to get at is that the thought of, as we move forward in dealing with the energy and environment issues, it's not all about the US. Everyone's going to have some input. Everyone's going to be part of the decision making. And we all think a little bit differently.
If I look at my education. The most important part of it is the four years that I spent in the UK, not because of the grand things I learned about combustion chemistry, but the fact I was the only, quote unquote, American at a university with folks from everywhere. And I think that's what sparked my interest in public policy.
And as we move forward dealing with the environmental issues, yeah, you're half of a percent, or 5%, or this or that. And we all have got to contribute. And in some ways, this little bit of common but differentiated of who contributes to what is kind of a barrier on how we move forward, but one that I think perhaps we're starting to have put a chink in.
Because very quietly, the group on International Aviation and Climate Change that met here very recently came out with what some folks thought was a modest achievement, but it was the very first time that a sector came out with an aspirational goal that applied equally to everyone. And I think that if as we move forwards we say, okay, this is a challenge. This is a problem. We're all on the same ship, we need to deal with together. And it's not like you've been polluting 40 years, or I'm a little bit, or you're this, or your that, and you move forwards and do that, that will make a difference.
And then the last thing that I think we need to do is kind of think about, what is it that we want to do? What are the barriers? And again, I go back to the theme of kindergartners. I think if I ask folks in the room, how many of you can speak Chinese? How many people would raise their hands? Not very many.
If I asked that very same question of a bunch of four or five-year-olds, all the hands would go up. And why? Because everyone can speak Chinese. You may not be able to today, but you have got the capability to do that. So just figure out what it is that you want to do.
And my responsibility is not the whole carbon economy. It's not every sector, but I do play a role within the aviation sector. And I think we have set up some very challenging goals for us that are not fully adopted yet, but we've laid out there-- carbon neutral growth in the relatively near future. And then it dropped down. And is it possible?
Well, when setting goals-- and a lot of the goals that are in the national policy that Dr. Holdren talked about, I've worked on those-- and do I know how any of them are going to be achieved today? Absolutely not. Or you should fire me if I ever set a goal that I know how to solve today. It has got to be something that I have to reach for. So I think we need to agree on, this is why we're going to do. And it's got to be hard. And it's going to take a lot of work, but we need to work on it.
And I think that the last thing to deal with this problem of energy and environment is maybe a little bit less glossy brochures from the science programs and a little bit more work into informing decisions. A lot of the decisions that are going to be made-- in particular, I'm very cognizant of climate, as we've been working very hard on that-- but the very important meeting in Copenhagen coming up, the discussion of what we're going to do post-Kyoto needs to be informed by science.
And yes, any scientific endeavor is going to lead to a hundred more questions. But I'd like to look at my job is my job is to put myself out of a job. If I'm working on a problem, my goal to not be working on that problem tomorrow, the next day, et cetera-- to get beyond that. And I'm sure that with the fine education that institutions, like MIT, provide folks, if you solve the problem you're working on, I guarantee you that there will be a host of other problems for you to work on. But don't make your research and your work about perpetuating your research, but about truly solving the problem.
WAITZ: Thank you. Thank you, Lourdes. We'll take just five minutes of questions. And people can approach the mic for those questions. And then we'll break for a coffee break. So questions? Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE: This is a question for John. We're old friends. John, a few years ago, you wrote a beautiful article on the urgency of the climate problem for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Now, as you pointed out in this article, we have deadlines. But when you look at these solution that your administration now is beginning to speak about on the energy problem, I don't see a match between the urgency of the climate problem and the energy solution, taking into account what we know that are being proposed.
As you know very well, the Department of Energy came out of the AEC. And Jerry Wiesner, when this was done, he approached me. He asked me, Bruno, what do you think about it? Well, I told him I was worried.
Well, he said, look. It's like putting good wine into bad wine. Nothing good will come out of it. It was a bit harsh, but something very dramatic has to be done with the Department of Energy. For example, in the context of official research, we have a nuclear deficit in this country. In future, you know very well it is being conducted in a way that it is ridiculous. If we go this way, we'll never do it. And so, where are the departure point that you are able to offer to us in terms of meeting these challenges that the climate problem is posing? Somewhat, we have to develop some dramatic way of dealing with it.
HOLDREN: Well, first of all, I want to assure everybody that, in this administration, the laws of thermodynamics do apply inside the Beltway, again.
AUDIENCE: Yes, of course.
HOLDREN: And they apply at the Department of Energy where we have a Nobel Laureate in physics now in charge. Steve Chu has observed that he has discovered a new law of motion since joining the Department of Energy. And that is that a program in motion tends to stop.
But I think, when you say that something dramatic has to be done to the Department of Energy, you're right. But I think Steve Chu is going to do it. He's a very bright guy. He's got his eye on the ball. He is learning very rapidly what the intricacies of that department are and what his problems are. And I think we're going to see a leaner, meaner Department of Energy in terms of its energy technology research development demonstration programs.
I think we're going to see a lot happen out of ARPA-E. I think we're going to see a lot happen out of the centers of excellence that are propagating across the country. And I do remain optimistic that it's going to add up to a new pace of innovation that is going to enable the United States to do what it needs to do both to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and to turn around our greenhouse gas emissions.
The way I read the climate science, the United States needs to be declining in absolute emissions by 2015. The president's target calls for doing that, to be back to 1990 by 2020 and to be declining rapidly after that. That's compatible with the family of trajectories that's consistent with the global stabilization curve that we need to be on to have a decent chance of avoiding climate catastrophe.
And I think we're going to get there. It's going to take a big portfolio of efforts. We do have to get nuclear energy back on track. We need to get the fusion research program, I agree with you, better focused. And but I think, under this leadership, we might actually get it done.
WAITZ: Thank you. Last question.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. If the reductions in fossil fuels used by ground transportation take place as planned, how would that affect the-- would that be able to keep pace with the increased demand in fossil fuels by the aviation industry? And if so, how would that affect the timeline for the significant introduction of biofuels?
EPSTEIN: Let me say that aviation isn't dependent upon fossil fuels in the future, it's dependent upon hydrocarbon fuels in the future. And the industry is banned together to accelerate the production and certification of biofuels. We've flown demo flights in a bunch of Boeing airplanes this year. We've been working with all kinds of fuel producers to try to move their fuel forward.
So I'd say, I don't want to use fossil fuels. I want to get biofuels, and I want to make sure the biofuel capability of the nation and the world is harnessed where it can make the most good. And I think that's aviation.
BAIR: So just one thing to add to that. You know, I think one of the things that, aside from climate change, that's driving the interest in biofuels or alternative energy in the aviation community is to control their own destiny. I mean, if you look back over the last year, it wasn't the price of oil that killed the airlines.
And all you have to do is look at the US airlines. They were unhedged on the ride up. They hedged at the peak, so they lost the same amount of money on the ride down because they were hedged too high. So they need a dependable stable sort of fuel.
And I think a great example is Air New Zealand, who is moving very quickly to put together a biofuels program to support all of their domestic flying. Now admittedly, not a huge market, but there's an airline who wants to control their future. And they see biofuels as a way of doing that.
MAURICE: Yeah. Could I add one thing? We pretty much-- I mean, the argument has been made that, well, let all the fossil fuel go to aviation. But again, we don't want to be the smokestack industry. In fact, we want to be ahead.
And in answering Alan's question of, why you? Why should I make my biofuel for you? What we often say is, we have 35 filling stations. And what that means, that 80% of the fuel that we use the US is delivered our 35 top airports. So our big hurdle is the certification, which I think we're going to make a big leap on this month. All planets look aligned for the first generic certification, although, knock on wood, something can always go wrong. But I think that our industry not only is committed, but it presents an excellent example in building the infrastructure.
WAITZ: Thank you. I'm going to have to end the session, because we have another very interesting session.