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Senate Bill for Science Labs Could Boost NM Colleges

The U.S. Senate recently passed a technology and science bill that would benefit research into clean energy, energy efficiency, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, artificial intelligence and quantum sciences.

research and development funding
(TNS) — An enormous pot of federal money is expected be made available to national laboratories for research and development, recruitment and infrastructure improvements as part of a technology and science bill the U.S. Senate passed Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., worked to include a provision that would inject $17.6 billion into the Department of Energy's science and innovation efforts — money that would benefit Los Alamos National Laboratory and its sister labs.

About $16.5 billion of it would be used to strengthen research and development.

Overall, the funding will cover research other than nuclear weapons, including clean energy, energy efficiency, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, artificial intelligence and quantum sciences.

Luján said he and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., had drafted a similar amendment for earlier legislation, but it was removed.

This time it stuck, he said.

"I am encouraged by the significant investment that will come to New Mexico," Luján said in an interview Wednesday.

The research money going to the labs would have a positive ripple effect, with some of the dollars flowing to New Mexico colleges and other schools to establish study programs in particular science fields, he said.

The bill also allocates $14.7 billion to national labs for modernization and infrastructure upgrades.

Of that, a total of $800 million would go to Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore labs for site improvements, deferred maintenance projects, retrofitting and installing major scientific equipment, Luján spokeswoman Katherine Schneider wrote in an email.

This funding provision was based on an amendment Luján added to a 2020 House spending bill that would've earmarked $6 billion for restoring and modernizing national labs' infrastructure, partly by clearing up the massive backlog of maintenance work.

But the proposed amendment didn't survive. Now there will be more than double the money to improve the labs' infrastructure.

The nanoscience research center the Los Alamos and Sandia labs jointly operate will be eligible to tap into a $50 million program aimed at upgrading systems in this field, Schneider wrote.

And both labs are further eligible for infrastructure funding through other programs, such as one to improve research equipment and certain instrumentation, Schneider added.

The bill also calls for spending $975 million on microelectronics, partly to keep pace with China's technology.

That funding is divided into two streams — $475 million for microelectronics research and $500 million to establish up to four microelectronics science research centers, Schneider wrote.

"Given LANL and Sandia's leadership in semiconductor and microelectronics work, they are an especially good candidate to host one of the $125 million research centers," she wrote.

Other provisions Luján had a hand in crafting:

  • $250 million for a national lab consortium to prepare for and address emerging biological threats, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

  • $125 million to help national laboratories foster future technology leaders. This would support a lab-based pilot program in New Mexico in which scientists and engineers conduct early-stage research and development for energy or manufacturing businesses.

  • $125 million to provide vouchers for small businesses to gain access to lab facilities to spur innovation and stimulate public-private collaboration.

  • $250 million to enhance public-private partnerships to develop and commercialize diverse clean energy technologies.

  • $40.5 million to create a nonprofit foundation to handle private investments in the Energy Department's mission and to speed up the commercialization of new energy technologies, such as next-generation batteries, low-carbon fuels and advanced materials.

"Because of our work, and the ability to cross the aisle — bring colleagues together — we were able to defend these important investments that will benefit New Mexicans and come to our state," Luján said.

©2022 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.