Energy Secretary Chu Promotes New Detroit-based R&D Partnership With Military

7/18/11Follow @xconomy

Nothing like a semi-serious Steven Chu joke to start your morning.

Speaking at an energy conference in Detroit today, the U.S. Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize winner recalled as a boy in the 1950s the Soviet Union launching Sputnik into space.

“It was very disconcerting. The German rocket scientists living in the Soviet Union were better than German rocket scientists living in the United States,” Chu said, as the crowd snickered.

Chu was referring to how German scientists, not American or Soviet, were responsible for the best rocket technology at the time.

Ironic that Chu referenced the space race between the Cold War foes, as the United States, who one-upped Sputnik by sending men to the moon, recently retired its space shuttle program. In its place, the United States is engaged in a great “energy race” with other countries like China to develop next generation energy such as solar and biofuels, Chu said.

“Despite the fact that times are tough, we have to think about the future,” he said. “If we don’t get moving, we will be importing these technologies instead of exporting them.” The Energy Secretary was also in Michigan to tour lithium battery maker A123 Systems’ new facility in Romulus, MI, made possible with federal stimulus money.

To that effect, Chu announced a new Detroit-based alliance between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S Department of Defense (DOD) to boost development of cleantech technologies for the military, including lightweight composite materials for vehicles, alternative fuels, and advanced combustion engines.

Detroit makes sense to anchor the partnership for a number of reasons. The city’s Big Three Automakers-Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors-frequently collaborate with the DOE. The U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) is also based in Warren, MI.

The military needs Detroit’s help, DOD officials say. Last year, the armed forces spent $13 billion on energy, … Next Page »

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