Headway and hurdles for "supercar"
Is the aim of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) too ambitious? That's what a panel on Capitol Hill is wondering. At a hearing on the question, Administration officials gave a progress report to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. A White House witness acknowledged that the PNGV goal is "a tall order." The government-industry project aims to develop in the next decade an affordable family vehicle that will be up to three times more fuel efficient than today's cars. Thomas J. Gross, Deputy assistant secretary of energy for transportation technologies, described several achievements since the program began in 1993. This summer, for example, a team from Thompson Aluminum Casting and Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced a breakthrough in compression-forming of cast aluminum. The new technology produces cast-aluminum parts with the properties of forged aluminum, but at a fraction of the cost. General Motors plans to use 400,000 of the new, lightweight parts to replace heavier cast-iron components in its 1998 vehicles. Among inventions still needed by PNGV: room-temperature superconductors, risk-free flywheels, and efficient hydrogen storage devices.
Patent Office gives priority
to anti-terrorism inventions
Patent applications for anti-terrorism innovations now receive "special" status at the U.S. Patent Office. Such applications will advance to the top of an examiner's docket, and the whole patent-granting process is speeded up for them. Agency officials said technologies falling in the anti-terrorist category could include explosion-resistant containers and systems for detecting explosives. The government has used the priority tactic in the past. Innovations related to treatments for cancer and HIV/AIDS have had the "special status."
Want to keep up with research
by Uncle Sam on materials?
The materials R&D programs of nine federal departments and agencies are described in a new report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The report is a guide to the people, programs, and resources involved in a $2- billion-a-year materials R&D effort--especially R&D directly linked to industrial applications--with emphasis on national-priority areas. That includes aeronautics, automotive technology, electronics, environmental technology, and infrastructure. You can access the entire document through the Internet at http://www.msel.nist.gov under the section "Technology Policy and Assessment Reports." Or you can get the report on CD-ROM by phoning NIST's Samuel J. Schneider at (301) 975-5656, FAX (301) 926-8349.
Concern over foreigners in R&D unfounded, NAE study concludes
Foreign participation in privately and publicly funded U.S. R&D is on the rise. Between 1982 and 1993, spending by foreign-owned firms in the United States jumped from 9.3% to 15.5% of all privately funded U.S. R&D. In 1991, 37% of all doctoral students and more than 50% of all post-doctoral candidates enrolled in American engineering and science programs were not U.S. citizens. Should Americans worry? No, according to a report by a committee of the National Academy of Engineering. "U.S. companies, universities, and federal laboratories should exploit the potential benefits of the trend rather than fight it," says committee chairman Alan Schries-heim, director and CEO of Argonne National Laboratory. The report finds that U.S. affiliates of foreign-owned firms bring "significantly more" patented technology into the country than they ship overseas--and provide jobs in the United States. "It is better to have R&D performed within one's borders than beyond them," the report states. The committee recommends that the government avoid restricting foreign access to the nation's R&D efforts except when such participation poses a clear threat to national security.
Machine-tool makers support reform of export controls
The federal government's system for controlling exports is "oriented to the Cold War" and is hurting American makers of machine tools. So contends the Association for Manufacturing Technol-ogy (AMT), based in McLean, VA. The group claims that unilateral controls on exports by the Commerce Department are "almost always ineffective." U.S. firms lose sales and profits, it adds, while foreign customers are still able to obtain the denied products from other sources. AMT backs a bill, H.R. 361, which the House passed and sent to the Senate in mid-July. The bill calls for yearly reviews of unilateral controls. It requires tough standards for weighing effectiveness of the controls against the cost to American companies in lost markets and jobs. The bill also encourages the Commerce Department to update its Control List regularly as an industry's technology improves. The Senate Banking Committee is working on revisions to H.R. 361.