Millennial Trains Project

MS-Pittsburgh

Part 4: Pittsburgh, From Rust Belt Loser to Clean Energy Leader

This is the fourth and final article of a four part series chronicling highlights from my seven-city tour, Energy Innovation Across America. The first stop was a tour of Salt Lake City’s energy innovation ecosystem, which can be found here. Highlights from my tours of five Department of Energy National Labs can be found here. And my policy discussions with leaders of the Midwest energy innovation ecosystem can be found here. My goal was to meet energy innovators from across the country and bring their stories and perspectives back to Washington. For a brief introduction to the series, visithere, and for information on the Millennial Trains Project, see here.

Ask the average American about what they feel Pittsburgh, PA represents and you’ll likely hear some typical responses: Steelers football, blue-collar middle class workers, steel mills, and coal plants. If anything, Pittsburgh is considered the quintessential rust belt city – historically focused on manufacturing and industry, but one that has fallen on hard times since the 1980’s when strong foreign competition shuttered plants and stopped offering job opportunities. That’s certainly some of the images I … Read the rest

MS-Chicago

Part 3: Midwest Building World Class Tools to Spur Energy Innovation

This is the third of a four part series chronicling highlights from my seven-city tour, Energy Innovation Across America. The first stop was a tour of Salt Lake City’s energy innovation ecosystem, which can be found here. And highlights from my tours of five Department of Energy National Labs can be foundhere. My goal was to meet energy innovators from across the country and bring their stories and perspectives back to Washington. For a brief introduction to the series, visit here, and for information on the Millennial Trains Project, see here.

Pulling into Chicago’s Union Station in a 1940’s era California Zephyr is a historical juxtaposition. When the Zephyrs were in service in the mid-20th century, Chicago was a city in transition. Its biggest industries, such as meat-packing, were in significant decline, representing America’s decades-long shift from a manufacturing economy to one based on services. When the Zephyr returned to Chicago in August 2013 as part of the Millennial Trains Project, we found Chicago at the center of another economic shift, from fossil fuels to clean energy.

As the United States clean energy … Read the rest

MS-3

Part 2: The Mad Scientists at the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories

This is the second of a four part series chronicling highlights from my seven-city tour, Energy Innovation Across America. The first, on my tour of Salt Lake City’s energy innovation ecosystem, can be found here. My goal was to meet energy innovators from across the country and bring their stories and perspectives back to Washington. For a brief introduction to the series, visit here, and for information on the Millennial Trains Project, see here.

The National Laboratories have a storied, yet largely hidden, history and presence in the energy innovation space. Created to build the atomic bomb in the 1940’s, the Labs — now totaling 17 institutions — have evolved over time to conduct “big science” to address leading national missions, solve complex societal problems, and keep the United States at the leading edge of innovation. The Labs’ work in clean energy is no different.

Unfortunately, public awareness about the Labs — even in Washington — is relatively low. Harkening back to the secrecy of their atomic energy research roots, the Labs quietly work on government-funded research that often cannot be found anywhere else in the United … Read the rest

Yes, the train is real. Time to start Part 2 of Energy Innovation Across America!

A Train Ride Tour of Energy Innovation Across America

In August, I took part in the Millennial Trains Project, a cross-country train tour of seven cities in ten days. The brain child of Georgetown grad Patrick Dowd, the trip brought together 24 millennial age (18-34) thinkers to facilitate their own unique, entrepreneurial projects via 1950’s era trains. My project, Energy Innovation Across America, aimed to bring the stories and perspectives of energy innovators from across the country back to Washington. With energy policy gridlock at an all-time high, I wanted to break out of the D.C. bubble and interact with those that are actually developing next-generation energy technologies.

If there is one immediate takeaway from trip: America is hard at work on clean energy innovations, big, small, and across a full range of low-carbon technologies. The level of creativity and idealism in the scientists and engineers working on new technologies was astounding to witness. Even so, it was clear how important public policy is to these innovators and their projects potential progress. Research budgets, commercialization financing gaps, regulations, and policy reform were common areas of discussion in every city I visited. I could take the energy innovation analyst … Read the rest