S&T Cognitive Dissonance
FedInvent Reports for June 21 and June 23, 2022
Hello From FedInvent,
Here are the links to this week's FedInvent Reports. The patent count was low. The patent app count was high. USPTO granted 5,875 new patents. One hundred and six (106) had taxpayer funding. There are 9,845 new PGPubs. Two hundred twenty-three (223) cite taxpayer funding. Taxpayer-funded patents and applications account for about 2% of all patent documents published by the USPTO.
Science and Technology Policy Cognitive Dissonance
The federal innovation ecosphere and the policy that swirls around it cause cognitive dissonance on a regular basis. Understanding the government's science and technology R&D priorities and how this translates into inventions is complex. U.S. policy on fossil fuels and climate change is a good example. The events of the last couple of weeks have left us grumpy. So get ready for some intellectual whiplash as we recap some of the recent highlights.
Gas prices are in your face whenever you drive past a gas station. This week gas prices in Northern Virginia hit a tenth of a cent below $6.00 — $5.99 and 9/10. Gas Buddy informed us that the best gas price in Lincoln, NE, the other FedInvent outpost, is around $4.44 if you pay cash at the Gulf Station. (Who pays cash?)
The political class is throwing out ideas to try to relieve some of the impact of gas prices on the American public. Among the options being tossed around is a 90-day federal gas tax holiday. That will save Americans $0.18 per gallon if the total amount of the tax relief makes its way through the gas supply chain all the way to the sign outside the local gas station—the chances of that making it through Congress in the next 90 days slim.
Another option to relieve the pain at the pump is to send everyone a gas rebate card. This one comes with a triple whammy. First, you need plastic to make millions of rebate cards. Over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are unpopular with the current administration. Second, you need chips in the rebate cards. There's a chip shortage. Congress hasn't been able to get the CHIPS Act passed. The CHIPS Act also called United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), has tons of funding for building new fab facilities and more R&D money for state-of-the-art technology. The Congressional prognosticators believe that it won't get done if this bill doesn't make it to President Biden's desk soon. It's time for the mid-terms and Congress to figure out how to keep the government open. Finally, as soon as everyone gets their rebate card, they'll run out and fill up the tank before the gas price goes up again. (It will.) Like the COVID toilet paper run, this will strain the gas supply chain, driving prices up. Third, the plastic rebate cards would wind up in landfills after they've been emptied and tossed out. The cards aren't recyclable unless you remove the chip. (Maybe they could Venmo?) Landfills release methane which is a greenhouse gas that pollutes like fossil fuels.
While we're at it, Los Angeles, famous for its car culture, could be the largest city to ban the construction of new gas stations. DOE projects that 45% of the vehicles on the road by 2050 will still use fossil fuel. The low riders may have to stick with the old-school refueling spots in L.A. In the meantime, Tesla and other manufacturers of electric vehicles are raising their prices to deal with higher commodity prices for materials needed for those snazzy batteries.
On June 22, 2022, oil and gas company executives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, Valero, Phillips 66, and Marathon Petroleum visited the White House. They were there to talk to Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) Jennifer Granholm about options to increase gas supply and deal with a host of issues that impact the price of gas. Meanwhile, the President was somewhere else talking about offshore wind turbines.
The oil and gas execs pointed out that it's hurricane season. Hurricanes could further crimp the gas supply chain. Refineries and offshore oil rigs shut down ahead of the storms to protect the infrastructure (and get the people working there out of there.) On the wind turbine front, according to the DOE, wind turbines, whether they are land-based or offshore, have built-in mechanisms to lock and feather the blades (reducing the surface area that's pointing into the wind) when wind speeds exceed 55 miles per hour. The wind turbine is essentially in "survival mode," waiting for the storm to subside, so it can safely return to producing energy. Storms aren't considered hurricanes unless they have wind speeds above 74 miles per hour.
DOE is funding R&D to figure out how to make offshore wind turbines more resilient. They are considering a twisted jacket foundation, a foundation of this type used by the oil and gas industry withstood a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina (category 5) in 2005 and emerged unscathed. Category 5 hurricanes have wind speeds above 157 miles per hour. (Time to stock up on batteries, toilet paper, and Pop-Tarts.)
The week before the oil executives came to town, the New York Times Science section featured an interview with Dr. Jennifer Wilcox, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, discussing her role at DOE. The interview highlighted the shift in both the name and the mission of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM). The office used to be just the Office of Fossil Energy. The Office of Fossil Energy's previous mission was to increase the production of fossil fuels domestically. Now the Office is centered around investing in approaches and technologies that minimize the climate and environmental impacts of our continued dependence on fossil fuels. The Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management has a $10 billion budget for investments in carbon capture and storage.
The article features two plugs for Dr. Wilcox's textbook. The DOE website also plugs her book. Is the taxpayer getting affiliate marketing fees on the textbook sales?
The Secretary is looking for expanded oil and gas production from the oil and gas industry while the Office of Fossil energy is busy working on carbon capture. We looked at the FedInvent portfolio of patents and patent applications to see what the feds have funded in the carbon capture space. In the last two years, there were six patents. One of the more interesting and implementable inventions has an unusual provenance. The National Energy Technology Lab, part of DOE, funded R&D by TDA Research, Inc. for carbon capture technology. That work resulted in U.S. Patent 11198109, "Mixed metal sorbents for CO2/H2O displacement desorption." Their partner in this endeavor and the co-assignee on this patent is, wait for it, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company.
The scientific literature explains the use of sorbents for carbon capture. Sorbents for carbon capture are regenerated using temperature, pressure, or vacuum so that CO2 can be collected for sequestration or utilization, and the sorbent can be reused.
The most significant impediment to deploying carbon capture technology is the large amount of electricity required to run it.
If you want to geek out and read the details, here is a link to a TDA presentation on the project.
In the last two years, fossil fuel inventions funded by DOE covered improved methods of hydraulic fracturing, engine oil additives, and another patent for improved methods for processing heavy hydrocarbons using microwaves and radio frequency technology.
The electric bill arrived while the patent extractor was percolating as if the gas wasn't making us grumpy enough. The bill went up over $100. According to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration" s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), this summer's prices in wholesale electricity markets will significantly increase over last summer's prices. EIA forecasts that electricity prices in the Northeast regions will exceed $100 per megawatt hour (MWh) between June and August 2022, up from an average of about $50/MWh last summer. EIA says, "various factors determine wholesale electricity prices, but the fuel cost for fossil-fuel generators is an important driver."
The Energy Information Administration (EIA), part of DOE, is one of the premier members of the federal statistical system. Their reporting is extraordinary; we recommend a bookmark. EIA was created by The Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977 as the primary federal government authority on energy statistics and analysis, building upon systems and organizations first established in 1974 following the oil market disruption of 1973. That was during the Carter Administration when there were long gas lines and gas jumped to 39 cents a gallon.
The bottom line is that it will be a long, expensive summer. And we're grumpy.
Before We Go
Back in December, the Printing Buildings and Knuckles newsletter featured another DOE-funded patent, 11230032, "Cable-driven additive manufacturing system," was for "an improved large-scale, fieldable or easily transportable additive manufacturing system… Improved methods for on-site additive manufacturing of buildings and other constructions are also provided. It appears a patent infringement suit may be afoot.
TechDirt reports that the creators of an open-source platform called Hangprinter believe their invention has been infringed. (Hangprinter doesn't have a patent.) Aside from the usual, they stole my stuff rhetoric, TechDirt reports that the Hangprinter team believes that the inventors from Oak Ridge National Lab didn't provide adequate prior art. They've started a Go Fund Me to see if they can round up a patent attorney. (To invalidate the patent?)
Poor prior art quality on taxpayer-funded patents is another thing that makes us grumpy. So we took a look at the patent to see if we could complain and put forth conspiracy theories that the examiners at the Patent Office were in cahoots with their fellow feds at DOE. (They're not.) It turns out that the patent has a pretty solid list of non-patent literature prior art references. All of them focused on printing cement buildings. The prior art cites the Hangprinter platform. The reference includes an image that says that it shows the components of the Hangprinter platform.
One of our favorite patent attorneys would likely declare the image problematic for the plaintiff in the pending infringement suit. So is the construction language in the patent, and the examiner's two rounds of prior art searches also focused on cement construction. The examiner also classified the invention as B28B 1/001 — Shaping Clay or Other Ceramic Compositions; Shaping Slag; Shaping Mixtures Containing Cementitious Material, e.g., Plaster. On the other hand, Oak Ridge has lost a few patent infringement cases. This I.P. battle is a good one to watch, assuming it goes somewhere.
This week we have special guest appearances by agencies we don't usually see.
The Nuclear Regulatory's patent application 20220195297, "Perovskite Materials for Ionizing Radiation Detection and Related Methods'. was published on Thursday. Ionizing radiation detection plays an important role in many applications, including homeland security, national defense, medical imaging, sustainable energy, industrial monitoring, environmental survey, non-destructive inspection, and basic scientific research.
The National Reconnaissance Office, NRO, funded work by MIT devices and methods for space propulsion (20220195964). If you run the nation's spy satellite network, you better be able to move those things around up there.
Hewlett Packard Enterprises's application 20220200900, "Systems and Methods for Adaptive Routing in the Presence of Persistent Flows," was published. This work is part of the Exascale Higher Performance Computing R&D initiative. The National Security Agency partially funded HPE's work. Other funding came from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
Finally, there's a new biometric identification through intra-body communication invention brought to you by the researchers at the University of California Irvine and funded by the Department of Justice (20220197987). You can read the details here but imagine wearing two sensors that can operate through your body and send biometric details out to a validation server. We learned a new term researching this one, the Wireless Body Area Network. This invention can continuously or periodically authenticate individuals without the need to interfere with their activities. The system can authenticate and re-authenticate individuals while working, exercising, and conducting other activities." It's a bit too cyborg for us. As for using this invention, it's a solid NO.
After next week’s patent and patent application drop, we’ll take a look at the FedInvent year-to-date numbers. We’ll be updating all the charts too.
Thanks for reading FedInvent. As always, let us know if we can be of assistance. Tomorrow is Tuesday, so it's Patent Day. So we get to do this all over again.
The FedInvent Team
FedInvent tells the stories of inventors, investigators, and innovators. Wayfinder Digital's FedInvent Project follows the federal innovation ecosphere, taxpayer money, and the inventions it pays for. FedInvent is a work in progress. Please reach out if you have questions or suggestions. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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