By Morgan Disbrow-Monz and Connor Dacey
After months of negotiations, President Biden signed H.R.3684 The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday 15 November, 2021. The House passed a revised version of the bill late on Friday 5 November, 2021 by a 228-to-206 vote nearly three months after the Senate passed their compromise version by a 69-to-30 vote on 10 August, 2021. Part of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda, this bill provides funds for investing in the Nation’s infrastructure in order to “grow the economy, enhance our competitiveness, create good jobs, and make our economy more sustainable, resilient, and just.”
The original proposal for this bill consisted of $2.6 trillion in spending to: (1) invest in the domestic supply chain, (2) expand access to reliable, affordable, clean energy, and (3) build technologies through clean energy research and demonstrations (R&D). Through bipartisan negotiations, however, the bill was ultimately cut down to $1.2 trillion in spending. This allotment of money emphasizes the original goals and includes $550 billion in new spending that will broadly be allocated to transportation, water and power infrastructure, pollution cleanup and utilities. The Infrastructure bill is aligned with many of the thematic areas of the Energy Act of 2020 that was signed into law last December and authorizes funding for specific provisions within the act. Interested GSA members are encouraged to view the GSA Speaking of Geoscience blog post that summarizes the Energy Act of 2020 for more information.
Although significant attention has been given to the physical infrastructure investments provided through this bill, this blog post highlights the investments in scientific R&D programs and agencies that may be of particular interest to GSA members. Within the larger bill, tens of billions of dollars will be dedicated to R&D technology demonstration projects and targeted budget increases for specific R&D programs through scientific agencies, with a focus on commercial demonstration projects funded by the Department of Energy (DOE). The influx of funding is a significant expansion of DOE supported large-scale technology projects, and the majority of the money, $21.5 billion, will be managed by the DOE’s new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations. The programs within this bill that will be supported by the DOE can be broken down into 7 broad categories: carbon management, clean hydrogen, energy storage, renewable energy, grid resilience, nuclear energy, and advanced manufacturing.
There is a heavy focus on capturing and sequestering carbon. Approximately $3.5 billion will be provided for FY22 through FY26 to create four regional carbon capture hubs focused on direct CO2 removal from the atmosphere. These projects will be prioritized based on scalability, and two of the hubs must be situated in lower income communities that are in close proximity to coal, oil, or natural gas-producing resources. Approximately $3.5 billion will also go towards carbon capture R&D and technology programs, and as specified by the Energy Act of 2020, these programs include two coal power plant projects, two natural gas power plant projects, and two industrial facilities projects. Additionally, $500 million will be allotted for R&D projects that target the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources, and $2 billion will be used to establish a loan program that will help build infrastructure to transport CO2.
The majority of the appropriations for clean hydrogen, or $8 billion of the $9.5 billion, will be devoted to establishing four regional clean hydrogen hubs over the same time frame as the carbon capture hubs. Out of the four hubs, two must be located in close proximity to natural gas-producing areas, and at least one will use renewable energy, one will use fossil fuels coupled with carbon capture technology, and one will use nuclear energy. The bill also includes money for a clean hydrogen electrolysis demonstration program as well as a hydrogen manufacturing and recycling program.
The majority of the funds for energy storage, $6 billion out of the $6.6 billion, will be allocated in the form of grants through the Battery Material Processing Grant Program through the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy to enhance both battery material processing as well as battery manufacturing and recycling. Funds will also be provided for energy storage demonstration projects, including through a joint program between the DOE and the Department of Defense focused on long-term storage.
The $420 million for FY22 through FY26 for renewable energy R&D in this bill will fund a number of provisions in the Energy Act of 2020 and will be divided among water, wind, geothermal, and solar projects. At least two projects must center on solar energy.
Funding will be provided for numerous purposes, including for technologies that enhance grid flexibility and basic R&D. Specifically, $5 billion will be allocated for FY22 through FY26 to establish a new program Upgrading Our Electric Grid and Ensuring Reliability and Resiliency to provide funding to states to demonstrate approaches to enhance regional grid resiliency, transmission, and storage. Specific attention will be focused on improving energy distribution in rural or remote areas.
There is $6 billion allotted for FY22 though FY26 for the establishment of a civil nuclear credit program to “evaluate nuclear reactors that are projected to cease operations due to economic factors”. An additional $2.5 billion will be used to support two reactor demonstrations, TerraPower’s sodium cooled reactor in Wyoming and X-Energy’s reactor in Washington, as part of the advanced reactor demonstration program.
Along with these categories of funding, the bill also provides $1.6 billion, directed through the DOE as well as the United States Geological Survey (USGS), for critical minerals. This funding supports an effort to boost the domestic supply chain, thereby decreasing the dependence on foreign nations. The majority, $802 million, would go towards mineral security projects through the DOE, but funding also includes $167 million for the USGS to establish an energy and minerals research facility, as well as $320 million to expand the agency’s Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, which currently only has an annual budget of just over a $10 million.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) will gain the second most funding of any scientific agency through this bill. The approximately $3 billion would be allocated over 5 years, and would go towards programs focused on environmental protection and restoration activities, with smaller funds for improving scientific observation and modelling systems.
With the passage of this bill, the funding is set for the next five years. Therefore, unlike with the annual appropriations process, the funds allocated through FY26 will remain unchanged, which provides a certain sense of stability that is not typical for federal R&D programs. Further Congressional action on FY22 appropriations and the reconciliation package would provide additional funds for scientific agencies for the next fiscal year. As these are important for GSA members, GSA will be sure to monitor the progression of these packages throughout the legislative process.