Federal Government Activities
A significant proportion of the approximately $70 billion
devoted annually by the federal government to the support of
R&D directly involves the development of critical
technologies. Two other categories of R&D activities
account for the remainder of the federal R&D budget.
The first encompasses the approximately $14 billion spent annually by the federal government on the conduct of "basic research." This portion of the federal R&D budget is not considered directly relevant to critical technologies because these monies involve the pursuit of greater knowledge or understanding without a specific technological application in mind. As a result, all activities falling within DOD's Budget Category 6.1 (Basic Research) are excluded, as is the "basic research" of all other federal agencies. The only notable exceptions involve the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation, both of which are agencies with the preponderance of their R&D activities officially constituting "basic research," but which also are centrally involved in key areas on the Critical Technologies list (i.e., Biotechnology and most areas of Information and Communication, respectively).
Also excluded from R&D directly relevant to critical technologies are the activities of DOD that involve the demonstration and validation of integrated military technologies (6.4), engineering and manufacturing development for military use (6.5), miltary R&D management support (6.6), and military operational systems development (6.7). While activities within these categories (i.e., 6.4 and 6.5) clearly involve the advanced development and application of critical technologies, it is impossible to separate these from the overall missions of programs, and as a result, the approximately $26 billion spent annually within these four DOD Budget Activity categories is not generally included among the resource totals relevant to critical technologies.
Consequently, the "core" of federal R&D budget--the "applied research" and "development" as these terms are generally defined for all federal agencies-- also forms the foundation for the nation's critical technology R&D. In the case of the Department of Defense, this includes those activities which fall within DOD's Budget Activities 6.2 (Exploratory Development) and 6.3 (Advanced Development). Similarly, for other agencies, it includes those activities that do not generally constitute "basic research" (note exception described above). Below are brief descriptions of the critical technology areas in which R&D activities of the major agencies are concentrated.
While the EPA is the recipient of record for the R&D funding associated with Superfund activities, a large portion of the money actually ends up at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the National Institutes of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. The primary focus of this program is remediation and restoration.
That portion of R&D conducted by NIST that does not concentrate on metrics and calibration is central to the advancement of critical technologies in Manufacturing, Materials, and Information and Communication, albeit the effort is modest when compared in scale to the resources devoted to these activities by larger agencies. A notable portion of NIST's critical technology work is accounted for by the activities of its Advanced Technology Program.
The stall-controlled turbine is one of two competing conceptual designs being developed in the U.S. under funding from the Department of Energy. Variable-speed wind turbines utilize power-handling electronics to enable the rotor to rotate at variable speeds. This increases annual energy output, improves power supply quality to the grid, and reduces structural loads. Power -handling electronics serve to suppress harmonic currents and reduce transmission losses by controlling the power factor when current and voltage are not in phase. Controls can also be introduced to reduce structural dynamic load (reducing the stress on structural interaction, as that between the rotor and the tower, when rotor angular velocity is variable).
DOE programs, which fund more than 40 percent of the work in this area, include remediation of high-level waste tanks; contaminant plume containment and remediation; contaminated solids and buried waste; mixed waste characterization, treatment, and disposal; and facility transition, decommissioning, and final disposal. DOE, along with DOD, have a particular interest in remediation and restoration technologies because of their sizable tasks involved in cleaning up toxic contamination at their facilities. The USDA also has a substantial program that includes technologies to improve degraded lands and develop biological means to generate wood pulp and degrade wood preservatives. At EPA, resources are used for research in areas such as bioremediation technologies for clean up toxic wastes. The EPA also administers the SITE (Superfund Innovative Technology Evaluation) program, which provides an opportunity for technology developers to demonstrate capabilities to successfully remediate Superfund waste. SITE programs have looked at techniques as varied as photocatalytic oxidation, in-situ vapor extraction, and biological degradation in immobilized cell bioreactors.
In 1991, the Western Governors Association, the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency signed a memorandum of understanding to create a state-federal partnership to test ways to expedite testing of innovative clean-up technologies. In 1992, the Western Governors and the four federal agencies established the Federal Advisory Committee to Develop On-Site Innovative Technologies (DOIT) to oversee the development of new approaches to remediation technology development, deployment and commercialization. The DOIT committee activities are ongoing.
State governments are also starting to become players in the environmental technology arena, often out of fear that technologies to remediate wastes in their states will not be available when needed. For example, the new Center for Evaluation of New Environmental Technologies is a joint effort of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the University of California Davis. This joint state government-academic center has picked five commercially developed technologies for evaluation and demonstration, starting in 1994.
The U.S. government has begun coordinating research and development work in environmental technologies through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) joint- subcommittee on environmental technologies (JSET), which is derived from the committees on Civilian Industrial Technology and Environmental and Natural Resources. In addition, the National Science and Technology Council and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are developing a strategy for promoting environmental technologies to achieve sustainable development.
In the FY94 Technology Reinvestment Program (TRP) awards, there were several in the sensors area that are relevant to environmental monitoring, site characterization, or other detection of hazardous agents. These include:
A major element of the initiative is a focused R&D competition for next generation display technologies limited to firms that demonstrate commitment to produce current generation displays to meet defense needs. The R&D program will be conducted on a cost-shared basis to ensure that the participating firms have commitment to bring the technology developments into application. The DOD is planning to have four such competitions over the next five years. International companies are eligible to participate based on criteria of the Technology Reinvestment Project. Each of these competitions is designed to be neutral regarding any specific display technology and judged on the quality of the proposed research and development, the soundness of the technical plan, the adequacy and appropriateness of the proposed cost sharing, and demonstration of commitment to production of current generation displays.
The DOD' flat panel display initiative is the largest government initiative for advanced displays systems. Other smaller efforts include support for the development of generic technologies through ARPA and NIST. The Clinton administration has also established a link between the National Information Infrastructure and advanced displays. The administration favors letting private industry build the NII but is willing to fund high-risk R&D for overcoming technological obstacles. Advanced displays have been designated as one of the primary obstacles to the success of NII.
One focus of rapid software development is the use of object technology to create libraries of reusable code modules based on object oriented software. The U.S. FY94 Technology Reinvestment Program (TRP) awarded three contracts in this area:
The NIST Advanced Technology Program is also investing in software development. One of its major thrusts, a 5-year $150 million Component Based Software Program, is an effort to help industry create fine-grained software components and specialized high-performance tools. The aim is to enable semantic-based software creation in which systematically reusable software components can be automatically assembled into a broad array of application specific systems.
A major component of the Human Genome Project is the development of automated sequencing technology that is faster, more sensitive, accurate and economical. The present gel-based equipment can sequence only 50,000 to 100,000 bases per year at a cost of $1 to $2 per base. The current goal is to develop technology capable of 100,000 or more bases per day at a cost of $.50 per base, with subsequent technologies offering a further factor of 10 reduction in processing costs. High voltage capillary and ultrathin electrophoresis to increase separation rate and the use of resonance ionization spectroscopy to detect stable isotope labels look promising. Third generation gel-less sequencing technologies include (1) enhanced fluoresce detection of individual labeled bases in flow cytometry, (2) direct reading of the base sequence on a DNA strand with the use of scanning tunneling or atomic force microscopies, (3) enhanced mass spectroscopic analysis of DNA sequences, and (4) sequencing by hybridization to short panels of nucleotides of known sequence.
Electronic data management and publishing systems are increasingly essential components of genome reearch as the on-going projects are generating volumes of information that cannot be readily incorporated by traditional publishing. Correlating mapping data from different laboratories has been a problem because of different methods of generating, isolating and mapping DNA fragments. In addition to laboratory methods, the emerging field of Genetic Informatics is making a significant contribution to the ability to constucting and searching the maps and sequences in order to find specific genes. Major databases are globally distributed (U.S., Germany, France, Italy, Australia, Japan, Israel, Switzerland) and accessible via the InterNet.
National Institute of Standards (NIST) has announced the Tools for DNA Diagnostics Program which focuses of the development of low-cost, integrated, miniaturized, high throughput, parallelizable, automated systems that can be used to obtain DNA sequence information efficiently and accurately. The largest award under the program, $31.5 million, went to a joint venture between Affymetrix Inc. and Molecular Dynamics Inc which are developing a device that will diagnose diseases by analyzing a patient's DNA on the surface of a silicon microchip that is read by a laser scanner. Another award, $14.7 million, went to the C. Everett Koop institute for a project to help the health care industry take advantage of the information superhighway.
The development of a vaccine for AIDS continues to be elusive. It is estimated that expenditures are about $160M worldwide, with industry spending about $25 million globally and the U.S. government spending about $111 million. The perception is that most of this work is done in the smaller biotechnology companies.
In addition to developing specific manufacturing technologies, the federal government is also involved in helping diffuse best manufacturing practices through the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership. MEP centers, located throughout the country, help small and medium-size businesses adopt modern equipment and manufacturing and management techniques in order to become more competitive in domestic and international markets.
Here is one specific example. The evolution of more sophisticated manufacturing techniques is critical to the realization of advanced coatings with enhanced hardness, corrosion-resistance, thermal, and wear characteristics. One of the most exciting candidates is the large-scale production of high quality diamond thin films.
Given the increasing dependence of the military on high technology products, it is apparent that continued investment in artificial structuring methods is essential for sustained security. For example, the Department of Defense is presently the largest customer of high definition displays, and the manufacture of these displays is dependent, among other things, on advanced thin film techniques. Also, the successful development of diamond coatings has applications ranging from aircraft windshield coatings to high speed electronic components.
Research funding for thin film manufacturing techniques is shared by federal and private sector sources. The DOD has significant investments through ARPA and other bureaus. In particular, it is estimated that $100 million annually is invested by private companies and the government on research into producing diamond films with the largest spender being DOD. Much of this funding has stemmed from the former Strategic Defense Initiative Office, now renamed Ballistic Missile Defense Office (BMDO). Additional funding of thin film deposition research originates in the Departments of Commerce, Energy and the National Science Foundation. DOE also sustains research efforts itself and has worked to establish joint ventures with industry in this field.
While the United States is not the industry leader in many of the applications reliant on artificial structuring manufacturing methods, it is competitively positioned in thin film deposition technologies. However, there are major challenges for the advancement of existing techniques as well as for the development of emerging manufacturing capabilities. The key technological challenge for new techniques is the transfer of laboratory successes into large scale production. The primary impediment is that growth rates are severely limited for many of these new technologies and materials. For example, molecular beam epitaxy has demonstrated the ability to fabricate unique structures but is primarily a research tool for this reason.
The development of these technologies is also capital intensive. Diamond thin films are a dramatic example of a major investment without any, as yet, marked returns. As a result, commercial activities often view ease of manufacture as the primary requirement for a technology. Consequently, research investment efforts often focus on manufacturability.
A coordinating mechanism for materials research has proved useful in the past, because of the spread of research on materials across agencies. The Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defense, the Interior, Transportation, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture all support important programs, as does the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. Avoiding duplication while assuring important leads are followed requires coordination.
The diversity of supporting agencies is driven by the ubiquitous effects of materials. Each agency has important applications or classes of materials that are uniquely theirs. Each agency also understands the demands of its applications very well, whether that is a low observable material for the Department of Defense or a new paving repair product for the Department of Transportation. Keeping the material development connected to this understanding is important in quickly tapping new opportunities. As materials develop, though, new applications become interesting, such as the use of wood fiber to reinforce cement. Making the other interested agencies aware of such developments is the other major function and benefit of high-level coordination.
The current coordination of materials development led by the NSTC has focused material developments on the priorities of the government. Among others, emphases have been created on the automotive sector, supporting the PNGV; the building and construction sector as well as the built infrastructure of roads and bridges; the electronics industry; and the aerospace industry. These areas have been supported, in part, through programs like the ATP.
Another important aspect of this coordination is the maintenance of the user facilities. The federal government is the provider of most important user facilities. These facilities are important to the development and characterization of many new materials. They are spread across a range of agencies, reflecting the range of interests in materials. There are many such facilities. A selection illustrating their variety follows:
Most user facilities have been developed to meet specific needs of researchers in materials across all sectors of our society. They differ in important details, such as the energy of the electrons in the synchrotrons, and thus in the wavelength of the emitted light. This allows each facility to probe a different aspect of a material, or a different property. The facilities also support non-materials work, including fundamental science, but the core of their work remains materials characterization. The need for many of these facilities has been validated by several studies from the National Research Council, and some of the facilities themselves are being duplicated in both Europe and Japan, where their importance is apparent.
Metal matrix composites have the potential to significantly affect future propulsion systems, as well as airframes. One metal matrix composite being investigated is fiber-reinforced titanium which is about three times stronger for a given weight than nickel superalloy at temperatures up to 1500 deg F. Compressor discs of SiC reinforced titanium have been manufactured by Textron. For the IHPTET (Integrated High Performance Turbine Engine Technology) program Allison Gas Turbines tested a compressor fabricated with metal matrix composites. It achieved an 80% reduction in weight over a conventional compressor stage.
The basic limitation for metal matrix composites is cost. SiC fiber costs $2500/lb, however this is due to the relatively low volume at which SiC is produced. It is estimated that cost could drop to $100-200/lb with production of 40,000 lbs a year. Textron Specialty Materials will demonstrate the production of SiC in a titanium metal matrix this year under a contract from the Air Force (NASP funding). The experiment will attempt to automate the production process and demonstrate the ability to produce the material at lower cost. New intermetallic compounds (titanium aluminide, nickel aluminide, iron aluminide), when used as a matrix material, will further improve the high-temperature properties of metal matrix composites. Incomplete information on property data and fabrication techniques are two limitations that exist at this time. These limitations are being addressed and are not nearly as much of a concern as cost.
Another type of composite is ceramic matrix composite. Ceramics offer increased turbine inlet temperatures while lowering overall weight. The problem with ceramics is their brittleness, cost, and difficulty of manufacture. The high brittleness makes the ceramic parts extremely prone to impact damage, usually resulting in catastrophic failure. Brittleness might be overcome by using ceramic matrix composites or by new superplastic ceramic technology. Monolithic ceramics will, most likely, see only limited application on advanced turbine engines. One of these applications is the use of ceramics in advanced engine bearings. Significant weight savings over metal bearings will allow engines to achieve higher shaft speeds. There are several companies involved in the research and development of advanced ceramic materials including, Eaton, GTE, Norton, and TRW. The Department of Energy is also sponsoring a research program called the Advanced Turbine Technology Applications Project (ATTAP) at Garrett Turbine Engine and Allison Gas Turbine Division.
Large-scale integration, or co-cured composite structures offer the potential of very large reductions in structural manufacturing costs. This technology, in development for many years, involves the lay-up and simultaneous cure ("cocure") of entire structural elements such as the wing box, rather than separately curing small parts then fastening them together. The elimination of conventional fasteners from the skin of an aircraft reduces drag and complexity, as well as weight and fuel leakage problems. Problems remain, however, with repairability (because the structure cannot be disassembled), quality control, inspection, and scrap costs.
Research in these areas is under way at numerous industry and government facilities. NASA's Advanced Composites Technology (ACT) program is developing technologies that will further the introduction of composites into the primary structures of future commercial transportation aircraft. Research is also being conducted at NASA Langley, as well as Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed, and 12 other companies.
A more-exotic structural concept is the "smart structure". A smart structure is one that is "aware" of its state, through embedded sensors and intelligent computer systems. On composite structures the sensors might be optical fibers embedded in the matrix, whereas conventional airframes would have strain gauges or optical fibers bonded to the airframe. If the structure also has the ability to make corrections and adjustments based on measurements from sensors embedded in the structure then it is considered to be an "adaptive smart structure". For example, the sensors in the structure would inform the pilot about the extent of damage incurred in a battle, or it might tailor the control surfaces for greater aerodynamic efficiency based on flight conditions, or it might suppress vibration during flight.
Smart structures have the potential to revolutionize operational cost. Typically, the required intervals for repairs or inspections are statistical evaluations of aircraft life, with much conservatism to ensure that the "worst" airframe is inspected and serviced often enough for safety. Using the smart structure concept, airframe fatigue and other life-related problems would be measured and calculated on-board the aircraft. With appropriate changes in civil regulations, this could permit a safe reduction in inspection and regular maintenance costs with substantial impact on the economics of commercial transports.
Research in this area is being conducted by the Air Force (primarily at Wright Laboratories), Navy, DARPA, and NASA, as well as on the contractor level. Boeing, United Technologies, and McDonnell Douglas have been conducting tests on flight articles. NASA is flight testing an F-15, as part of the HIDEC program, which eventually will sense control surface damage and then reconfigure the flight control system to land the aircraft safely.
An increasing number of programs, especially ones with
potential commercial applications, are being funded and
performed by partnerships between the government and the
private sector. Such partnerships are characterized by
substantial financial contributions from member-companies and
the government, as well as by arrangements for joint
decision-making with regard to the direction of R&D.
Partnerships allow the government to leverage its resources in the days of tight R&D budgets by funding technologies and applications which may be risky for industry but essential for the nation's future. At the same time, substantial financial contributions made by the private sector partners assure that these companies have a stake in the successful outcome and commercialization of the R&D. Several examples of industry-government partnerships are discussed below.
Extensive re-engineering of lead-acid battery technology has produced several systems which exceed the USABC medium-term goals for cycle life and cost, far exceed the power goal, and come within about 75% of the energy storage goal. Nickel-metal-hydride battery technologies have received approximately $20 million of USABC funding. Extensive re-engineering of lead-acid battery technology for commercial transportation applications has produced several systems which exceed the USABC medium-term goals for cycle life and cost, far exceed the power goal, and come within about 75% of the energy storage goal. For instance, a lead-acid battery produced by the Optima Corp is currently used in a commercially available, four-passenger electric car which a range of over 100 miles and high performance acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in 6 seconds. However, current lead-acid batteries are inadequate for military applications such as battlefield vehicles due to their low specific energy. The need for compactness and mobility makes advanced batteries with long-life and high specific energy density more important for military vehicles than commercial vehicles. A battery developed by the Ovonics Battery Company is projected to achieve all USABC requirements except for cost, though the power density of current designs still falls short. A sodium-nickel-chloride battery developed by AEG Corporation is projected to meet all USABC mid-term goals except cost. The technology is currently being tested in European vehicle demonstrations and is available for automobile manufacturers for testing. AEG is currently developing a pilot plant and is working to remedy problems of low power densities at low charge states for the battery.
The far-term USABC goals are most likely to be met by lithium polymer battery technology. The lithium-iron-disulfide battery offers high power and energy densities, and possibly low-cost manufacturing via thin films. Currently Westinghouse has developed a monopolar form of this battery for use in electric lawnmowers.
Because an automobile involves many different technologies, the success of the PNGV will involve improvements in many different technical areas, many of them on the National Critical Technologies List. Included are lightweight materials, advanced catalysts, aerodynamics, and energy storage technologies. A number of different administrative and program mechanisms will be used as well, ranging from TRP to take advantage of technologies being developed by the DOD, to NSF grants, to contracts under the ATP, to DOE CRADAs. In addition to the Big Three automakers, program participants will include suppliers, universities, and other consortia which can contribute relevant knowledge.
U.S. Display Consortium
The ARPA HDS program began in 1988 and focused on underlying technologies required for the production of advanced displays. It was established with a dual-use strategy. The Clinton Administration increased the funding allocated to the program. By February of 1993, 85 projects had been funded with a total cost of $70 million. Both universities and private firms have been supported. Research on AMLCD was combined with field emission displays, color electroluminescent, and color plasma, which are the four major competing technologies underlying advanced displays. Support is continuing through the DOD initiative and through NIST.
The ARPA program has now transformed into a program that involves a large consortium of companies. In July of 1993 the U.S. Display Consortium (USDC) was established by ARPA, AT&T, Xerox, Tektronix, and a number of smaller display manufacturers. The mission of USDC is to "develop the U.S. manufacturing infrastructure required to support a world- class U.S. based production capability for high definition flat-panel displays." The consortium is open to display manufacturers, the manufacturer equipment makers, and to companies that use displays in their products. By pooling the cost for R&D expenditures the overall economic barriers for high volume production of advanced displays should be significantly lowered. Since this is an ARPA led project the majority of the funds that have been spent on smaller research programs will now be invested in the USDC.
The goal of the NEMI is to promote joint industry/government development of the underlying technology and infrastructure required to enable and encourage manufacture in the United States of new, high technology electronics products, such as the hardware for accessing the Information Superhighway. NEMI aims at coordinating R&D in enabling technologies, improving the manufacturing infrastructure for specific electronics technologies, demonstrating projects in support of National priorities and to meet specific government agency missions, and to develop recommendations on improving the U.S. business environment for electronics manufacturing. The technologies that NEMI has targeted for specific attention are:
- human interface technology
- low-cost integrated packaging
- mass memory
- power management
- precision mechanical parts and assembly
- design and manufacture for mass-customization
- computer-based design and manufacturing
- information access technologies
- advanced materials
There is considerable federal investment in the optical computing area. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) is sponsoring a consortium in Optoelectronic Module Technology (OETC). The principle investigators in this project are Martin Marietta Electronics Laboratory, AT&T Bell Laboratories, Honeywell Technology Center, and IBM T. J. Watson Research Center. The purpose of OETC is to expedite the development of high bandwidth and high density optical interconnect components and to facilitate the implementation and proliferation of the developed products. This project's ultimate goal is to position the U.S. as the world leader in optical interconnect technology. Four out of seven technology areas chosen for the ARPA Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP) for fiscal year 1994 will involve photonics or optoelectronics. These include: high density data storage systems, high definition systems manufacturing, uncooled infrared sensors, and environmental sensors. There are also several other government initiatives for continued research in photonics and optoelectronics manufacturing research through the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
$11 million of TRP money has been also been invested in a university-industrial consortium to develop a rewritable optical storage system, exploiting blue/green lasers, that will store up to 10 Gigabytes in a single 5.25" optical disc. This effort is expected to result in a factor of 5-10 increase in storage capacity of the state-of-the-art commercial systems today.
In addition to their participation in various consortia and
government programs, companies, universities, and non-profit
organizations have programs of their own which are relevant
to technologies on the National Critical Technologies list.
Several of these initiatives are expressed as development
roadmaps which specify technical goals to be achieved by
specific dates, and strategies for achieving these goals.
Many of the roadmaps include a description of roles expected
by all participants in the industry: companies, government,
universities. They also bring together in a holistic way
various technologies necessary for the achievement of
advances in an industry.
At the present time, U.S. companies dominate the magnetic disk market, and are usually the first to produce larger capacity products. In particular, U.S.-developed improvements in recording head technology will shortly lead to another round of capacity enhancements. Competition is very severe, however, with disk prices falling by half every year at the present time. The major U.S. players, including Conner Peripherals, Maxtor, Seagate Technology and Western Digital, spend of the order of 10% of their revenues on research and development, essentially all in-house, to keep up with the competition. The goals are obvious: to increase capacity per unit volume, decrease cost per megabyte, and increase reliability. $20 million of TRP funds have also been awarded to a consortium of seven other companies to develop high density magnetic disk storage for portable information systems.
Until recently, the Japanese led in the RAM market. However, at the present time, the playing field is more equally balanced between Japanese, Korean, European and U.S. producers, although the Japanese still have the leading market share. More importantly, the costs of building a leading-edge RAM manufacturing facility have risen to the billion dollar level, forcing individual companies to form global partnerships in this area in order to share the cost. Such partnerships include IBM, Siemens and Toshiba, Hitachi and Goldstar (South Korea), and Hitachi and Texas Instruments. As a result, there is a global sharing of information on the production of such components. This trend will continue unless cheaper fabrication methods are developed.
The value of the RAM market to U.S. companies is of the order of $30 to $40 billion annually. Essentially all research is done by the companies themselves, with limited cooperation from university research centers.