Congressman Lipinski's Speech at NanoBusiness Alliance Conference09/27/2010
As some of you may know, I represent an urban and suburban middle class district in Chicago, and many of my constituents don't necessarily know or think too much about nanotechnology. But I firmly believe that nanotech will be important to my constituents, not just in everyday life with life-saving technologies and conveniences created by nanotech, but also because they may be working in an industry created by nano.
Companies, like many of those here at this conference, are spinning out of universities and labs in Chicago and around the country. For a Congressman like me, representing a district with a proud manufacturing tradition, nanotech offers a way to create jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, and to show how investments in basic research and development can improve the lives of all Americans.
Part of the great promise of nanotech is it not only can lead to entirely new innovations, but it can improve existing products. Because of nanotech we're seeing new batteries, cheaper materials, and more durable parts. Incorporating these advances into existing products can give U.S. manufacturers a competitive edge, helping to boost a sector that is still the foundation of the American middle class.
I'm not just talking about traditional manufacturing, but also about "atomically precise manufacturing," creating new products and materials by controlling individual atoms and molecules. This kind of nanotechnology is key to the next generation of manufacturing jobs, and it is especially important if we want to be a leader in renewable energy.
As we've all seen over the past week, China is trying to turn its rare-earth metals monopoly into a manufacturing monopoly. They no longer want to sell Japan or the U.S. the metals we need to make magnets for turbines or hybrid cars -- they want to sell us the turbine or car. And it's not just China. If we want to manufacture solar panels, LED lights, or even flat screen TV's without depending on other countries for metals like indium, we need to develop alternatives such as carbon nanotubes.
I think that this is part of why we've seen such a large number of ARPA-E grants going to nanotechnology research. Not only can nanotech improve the performance of solar panels, batteries, or carbon capture systems, but it can free us from dependence on expensive foreign materials. Especially with its focus on commercialization, I think ARPA-E is doing great things for energy and nanotech research at the same time.
But despite all this promise, I think we are at a critical juncture for nanotech in this country. While we're still the leader in nanotech education and R&D, more than 60 other countries have also established nanotechnology initiatives, many based on the U.S. model. Many promising nanotech companies are still immature, struggling to turn ideas into financial success, and hurt by the recession. The legislation that would reauthorize both the National Nanotechnology Initiative and the SBIR and STTR small business programs are stuck in the Senate. And the President's most recent budget --- despite excellent support for science does not do enough for nanotechnology, especially at the NSF.
Among these concerns, I think the most pressing one is funding. There is a push right now – I hear it at town hall meetings and we see it being promoted by some candidates getting a lot of attention - to cut government spending anywhere and everywhere, without regard to its merits. There are also a few Senators who will accept federal spending on basic research, but think it is a travesty for us to spend a dime on commercializing its results.
This unthinking approach to cuts, especially with respect to nanotechnology, and especially during this recession, is a terrible idea. Of course the federal government has waste and inefficiencies that must be addressed. But the $12 billion we have put into nanotechnology over the past decade has yielded tremendous dividends, in terms of both knowledge and products. Now is not the time to throw away this investment or this tremendous progress. I will continue to fight for the funding nanotech needs to succeed, including an increased budget for EHS research at the EPA and NIH and continued strong funding for the basic research agencies, including the NSF.
While this will not be easy in the face of an enormous federal budget deficit, I think we can ultimately be successful.
I will also continue to fight for increased federal investments in technology transfer and commercialization. I know I don't need to tell you how tough the venture capital market is right now, and I'd like to be able offer you good news about the SBIR / STTR reauthorization bill. But unfortunately the prospects for passage this year are not good. The House and Senate are far apart on this and many other bills, including the relatively simple legislation that would reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The House has passed that bill twice in this Congress alone, yet it continues to languish in the Senate. And with the retirement of Chairman Bart Gordon, we are losing a great champion of these initiatives.
But I do not want to lose our edge in nanotech, not now, on the verge of breakthrough economic success. We need to take this opportunity to break the cycle in which successful American research turns into products built in Japan or China. So I will fight to reauthorize the SBIR and STTR programs, the NNI, for nanotech funding, and for all the tools we need for success. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to meet these challenges, and to ensuring that nanotechnology fulfills its promise as an engine for future economic growth.