Paul Dabbar, Under Secretary for Science, U.S. Department of Energy
The U.S. Department of Energy is a powerhouse for energy research and development, serving as the lead government agency for fundamental scientific research and the nation’s biggest supporter of basic research in physical sciences. And that’s not all. Since its founding in 1977, DOE has also contributed significantly to breakthroughs in energy technologies like solar power and the production of oil and natural gas from shale formations.
 
In this episode of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless talks to Paul Dabbar, the Under Secretary for Science at the Department of Energy. Paul is DOE’s principal adviser on fundamental energy research, energy technologies, and science, with oversight of programs that include nuclear and high-energy particle physics, basic energy, advanced computing, fusion, and biological and environmental management.
 
He also supervises most of DOE’s national laboratories, including technology commercialization activities at those crown jewels of innovation.
 
Bill and Paul sat down at the Columbia Global Energy Summit in New York to discuss the changing energy landscape and how the Trump administration prioritizes resources when it comes to energy research and science. They also talked about some of the technologies he finds most exciting now and how his previous experiences as an investment banker and a nuclear submarine officer influence his work at DOE.
 
Before his nomination by President Trump in 2017, Paul was managing director for mergers and acquisitions at J.P. Morgan, where he handled transactions involving power plants and utilities. All told, his experience at the bank involved more than $400 billion in investments across all energy sectors. 
 
Before that, he was a nuclear submarine officer, having graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and later earning an M.B.A. degree from Columbia University.
 
He’s had a hand at research, too, having done work at the North Pole while in the Navy and at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory after leaving the Navy. He’s also served on the DOE Energy Environmental Management Advisory Board and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

View Transcript

[00:00:01]

Bill Loveless: The U.S. Department of Energy is a powerhouse for energy research and development serving as the lead government agency for fundamental scientific research and the nation’s biggest supporter of basic research in physical sciences. And that’s not all. Since its founding in 1977 DOE has also contributed significantly to breakthroughs in energy technologies like solar power and the production of oil and natural gas from shale formations. Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange. A weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. From Washington, I’m Bill Loveless. Our guest today is Paul Dabbar, the Under Secretary for Science at the Department of Energy. Paul and I sat down outside the Center on Global Energy Policy’s recent summit in New York to discuss the changing energy landscape and how the Trump Administration prioritizes resources when it comes to energy research and science. We also talked about some of the technologies, he finds most exciting now and how his previous experience as an investment banker and a nuclear submarine officer influences work at DOE. Before his nomination by President Trump in 2017, Paul was managing director for mergers and acquisitions at J.P. Morgan where he handled transactions involving power plants and utilities. Although, his experience at the bank involved more than $400 billion in investments across all energy sectors. Before that, he was a nuclear submarine officer having graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and later earning an MBA degree from Columbia University. He’s had a hand at research too, having done work at the North Pole while in the Navy and at John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory after leaving the Navy. He’s also served under DOE Energy Environmental Management Advisory Board and he’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Here is our conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Paul Dabbar, welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.

[00:02:11]

Paul Dabbar: It’s great to be back at my alma mater.

[00:02:14]

Bill Loveless: That’s correct, Columbia University. It is great to have you here as well and as a speaker here at the Center on Global Energy Policy’s Energy Summit. You’ve had an interesting background as we mentioned in the introduction. You know, with your time at the bank as well as your time as a navy nuke. What brought you to DOE?

[00:02:39]

Paul Dabbar: Well, I think, over the course of years, at least with my personal background, I started off studying nuclear physics which is obviously a core area of the department of energy because of the still operations on the defense side is obviously very important as well as commercial nuclear. But I also worked at a lab when I was younger.

[00:03:01]

Bill Loveless: That’s right.

[00:03:02]

Paul Dabbar: Obviously, my time in the Navy as you mentioned and then I had an opportunity to work across energy and tech sector’s whether it’s in commodity trading or in the banking side and then about 12 years before I joined, rejoined the government. I was asked to join one of the advisory boards at DOE. So I spent over a decade dealing with issues, helping advise on various issues of the department, including visiting and going to many of the labs in the lab complex. So, I have a bit of history on various different aspects of the area.

[00:03:43]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, and I find it interesting too that you have a rather extensive background in JP. Morgan Chase. You know, something that not many top officials have brought to the department of energy but it truly gives you a perspective on the landscape for technology investment and the relevance of government policy to that.

[00:04:04]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, so you know, I think whether it’s in commodities trading and how electricity or gas needed to be delivered or what prices and how pipeline construction or different types of power plants and how technology changed over time or whether it’s on the banking side and you know, spending a lot of time with all sorts of resources, many, many nuclear power plants over the course of my finance time period as well as solar, wind and watching those technologies change and how do they make an impact in terms of demand, in terms of cost effectiveness, in terms of emissions. Those are kind of you know, every day things I dealt with for many years.

[00:04:50]

Bill Loveless: Right, so just given that perspective, talk about the mission of your office and how you view the changing energy landscape?

[00:05:01]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, so as I like to say the department of energy is probably much misnamed. You know, a better more descriptive name would be the department of energy science and defense programs. That actually defines really the three major areas of the department that’s too long of a name, so…

[00:05:22]

Bill Loveless: It’s been attempted in the past with no success.

[00:05:23]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah. So, it’s but if you stop and think about what the department is, the core of the department really came from an idea from Albert Einstein and Albert Einstein basically wrote a letter with some other physicists to Roosevelt and said that the German physicists that he knew were working on fission of Uranium. It could be made into a weapon. And that letter to Roosevelt and Roosevelt’s decision to start what became known as the Manhattan project was the real operations of the Manhattan project were to a large degree, three large labs which became the original three national labs of what became the department of energy. That would be Oakridge, Hanford and Los Alamos.

[00:06:21]

Bill Loveless: Interesting.

[00:06:21]

Paul Dabbar: And what happened after World War II, the head of the Manhattan project who was a gentlemen by the name of Vannevar Bush decided that since we have the top physicists, materials engineers, chemists in the world because basically, a lot of people fled Nazi Germany or Italy, fleeing Nazism and Fascism, they fled _____ [00:06:52], Einstein obviously, they came to the US and ended up basically supporting this national lab complex Vannevar Bush said, well we’ve got all these people together that are literally the biggest minds across science and innovation, why don’t we use them for non-defense purposes, for science and innovation and science in general as well as energy and that grew to the 60,000 people who now work at the 17 national labs. It’s the largest enterprise in the world.

[00:07:26]

Bill Loveless: Right.

[00:07:26]

Paul Dabbar: And the largest generator of Nobel Prize winners in the world.

[00:07:29]

Bill Loveless: Right.

[00:07:30]

Paul Dabbar: And so, these people, the 60,000 people, the 17 national labs at Stanford and Berkeley and Los Alamos and Brooke haven and so on, they’re out there generating wonderful ideas, at the very cutting-edge of many different areas.

[00:07:46]

Bill Loveless: Right. That’s interesting history. DOE, I’ve not quite thought about it that way that in fact, it had gone back that far and of course back during that era, when it first began, the concerns were primarily defense when the department of energy quote-unquote was created in the late 1970s during the Carter administration, the concern was then an energy crisis. I mean, is there any parallel to be drawn today? I mean, does DOE still have sort of a Manhattan project type obligation in the energy field?

[00:08:15]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, I mean, you know, I certainly think a lot about that time frame and I think, we all do at the department, you know, for those of you who may not, who are listening may not remember basically the 73 Herb Israeli war led to OPEC oil embargo, newer gas lines. At the time, I was growing up in Oklahoma and there were gas lines in Oklahoma and that’s a strange environment, no one today could contemplate. And but it continued into the late 70s with high energy prices and high degree of worries and President Carter decided to stand up DOE using the lab complex as the course, I mean, it still is the core in terms of certainly budget and numbers of people in the department and but you know, I think from our point of view, you know, we think about all of the above and investing in innovation. And I think, you know, president Carter who went to my undergrad university. We both did similar things when we were younger.

[00:09:16]

Bill Loveless: Both were navy nukes.

[00:09:18]

Paul Dabbar: Navy Nukes. Yeah. He was far more accomplished than I am. But you know, if you go back and look at those sweater speeches that he gave, you know, he basically said that we didn’t have enough energy for the country and we were not going to find it. You know, we needed to find at Alaska every nine months or Texas every year to fill our energy needs and that was not gonna happen. That was what he said. And so, he banned gas use, natural gas use for certain things and so on.

[00:09:48]

Bill Loveless: Electric power production.

[00:09:47]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, and so…

[00:09:50]

Bill Loveless: That’s kind the fuel use exactly congress passed.

[00:09:52]

Paul Dabbar: That’s right. And so, but that wasn’t the solution, right. The solution was innovation and I think what’s happened especially over the last decade plus. The amount of innovation coming out of the national lab complex which has dramatically changed the energy landscape in terms of cost effectiveness and availability of solar, of wind and batteries and natural gas production costs and so a long list of things. The white LED light and efficiency has been dramatic and so we are very excited. You know, we very much appreciate the last leadership team of the department, you know, we still work a lot with secretary Moniz and deputy secretary _____ [00:10:39] and all my predecessors with a history of innovation and how dollars were spent in terms of that capital allocation for these various technologies. And we are very excited about that trend that has occurred and what we see in front of us, we think is amazing.

[00:10:53]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. But I guess maybe a difference and obviously, you know, perceptions and policies change from one administration to another. Carter and I began covering energy at the very end of the Carter administration believed as you mentioned that the United States was gonna run short of energy and that it was inadequate supply and it was a national security risk that needed to be addressed aggressively. The moral equivalent of war, he called it for the Obama administration and secretary Moniz and all, it was climate change. I mean, that was really the motivating issue that drove them in terms of all their policies. But that’s not, climate change is not the motivating issue or leadership issue for the Trump administration. What is?

[00:11:39]

Paul Dabbar: So what we like to focus on is all the above and energy _____ [00:11:45]. And I think there has been a dramatic move really across the board on both of those topics. Let me talk to that. We believe in investing and as primarily the largest amount of DOE dollars is for innovation, right that is by far the largest amount of the focus of the department is basically a very large R&D business. So, it’s a little bit like the University of California system but instead of it being seven universities, we got 17.

[00:12:14]

Bill Loveless: Right. And a bulk of that money would be what? For the office of science.

[00:12:19]

Paul Dabbar: It will get spread out. So, it’s mix between some defense, some energy focus and some also science which has energy and non-energy things like you know, dark energy and dark matter and quantum which is I won’t get into here today.

[00:12:19]

Bill Loveless: We don’t have time for that.

[00:12:34]

Paul Dabbar: Yes. But for us to investment in basic research, on technologies at the private sector doesn’t invest in because there is not near enough to cash flow. So the GE and the Honeywells and so on, you know, it’s too far for a technology for them to put tremendous amounts of money in. That’s where we should. That’s where the American tax payer should, you know, we think should support and that’s what you know multi-decade purpose of the national lab complex has been. So, we invest in solar and so _____ [00:13:08] crystal which is beyond, you know PV. The next technology beyond photovoltaic’s or its battery systems that could have electric vehicles that are three times the range of what they are today under Lithium Ion. Or fusion or carbon capture materials that could really actually make a real difference and being cost effective. So, that’s really our focus is on all the above is for us to support innovation and for the private sector to hopefully, we accomplish the entrepreneurs and the researchers across the country, hopefully, they find things that are interesting what they have and how they drive there for it. Energy dominance is, I think goes to the other side of the Carter time frame. You know, there is a time period, not that long ago in which, we were a major importer of energy. We were linked around the world in part in terms of national security policy around the importance of energy in imports and some of the challenges that we made for, that were limited some of our strategic decision making because of that and obviously, the 73 oil embargo is a good example of that.

[00:14:27]

Bill Loveless: Or even in the early century, the energy policy acts of 2005 and 2007 passed during the bush administration, bipartisan majors and congress were driven largely out of concern over energy security, reliance on imports of oil and natural gas.

[00:14:43]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah. So, the world has changed in all kind of sense. And yet to remind people of what’s happened. So, instead of us importing tremendous amounts of energy, we are on the cusp, since the first time, since the 50s to be a net energy exporter. And so, I think there is a number of implications for that. First of all, from an economic point of view, using kind of traditional, kind of macro economic policy and velocity of money which is, if the dollar is produced, whether it’s a manufacturing plant or energy production which is industrial sort of business, if the dollar is produced here, they know, that dollar that part of gets produced here, it bounces around the town for services. Right now, you know, before now, if we spent a dollar to buy oil, it just immediately left shore and went to a foreign country. Now, those dollars are being spent for steel production, for transportation, for services in the local community in Ohio or West Virginia or Alaska or North Dakota. I mean, it is spread wide across the country. And so the economic impact of this country of us ensuring this industrial part of the country, of the economy has dramatic impact for us economically and that’s why you see energy as a big impact. So, that’s clearly a part of it. The second part of it is our flexibility for us to work with foreign countries who need energy. The reality of us being a net exporter, so we have things like LNG. You know, our ability to provide gas to countries in Europe or elsewhere rather than it being imported from countries who many times have different goals, different political goals about how they manage energy. We are a free market, you know, country. You can buy from us. Sanctity of contracts. You know, there is a great degree of freedom that we are giving to the rest of the world by giving them optionality from energy. And then finally in energy dominance as I talked about, you know, strategic decision making and the deputy secretary, you know, had a recent interview about this. You know, real flexibility on strategic decisions today around how we engage with the rest of the world as a result of not needing to worry about an oil embargo has definitely value to us as a country.

[00:17:16]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. How does climate change factor into this? I mean, we know the position of the president and the administration is on climate change but you’re the under secretary responsible for science programs at DOE. You’re scientist based on some of your past experience, you know, how do you view climate change and how is it a factor in how you go about doing your business?

[00:17:35]

Paul Dabbar: So, the country has a long history of evolving and reducing emissions and probably a bit of a age maybe beyond some people listening to this. But you know, there were time periods which some people may remember around knocks and socks and what became acid rain. Certainly, when I was younger, acid rain had tremendous impact on the acidity of lakes and forest dying not just in the U.S. but in Europe and elsewhere. And we developed technology to reduce emissions for that and we don’t talk about acid rain anymore.

[00:18:16]

Bill Loveless: But also with acid rain, there was legislation passed to set up a cap and trade program to address acid rain which is generally is considered to have been rather successful and some say could be a model for dealing with carbon emissions.

[00:18:27]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, but you know, what was important was less about, at least from my point of view and I think clearly you know, I approach things from a technology point of view. That’s my box that I work within. You know, the technology for actually taking that out of the emissions is what made that work. And so, that’s a great example of how DOE along with working with private industry ultimately, commercialized those sort of scrubbers and what not to reduce acid rain, had a tremendous impact. Then there is mercury. Then there is ash. So, this is series of things that have happened over time, that as energy production occurred and emissions went up as a result and by the way, we are seeing a lot of it in China for as much as we are reducing emissions in the world, the Chinese are increasing it by three times. So, we are kind of swimming upstream. U.S. is a leader in reduction in emissions. The Chinese are way overcoming us and these are just facts, these are just data. And so, when you think about other emissions and different sorts of greenhouse gases, you know, our purpose is to invest in technology that depending on what the public policy is decided, depending on what sort of regime but depending on the market. Obviously just tremendous market pull on interest in these topics. That we provide technology solutions depending on what people want to do.

[00:19:58]

Bill Loveless: Right.

[00:19:58]

Paul Dabbar: And I think the most important thing that and once again, I certainly approach this from someone who is a technologist is that public policy mandates tax policy or incentives swing back and forth over the course of time. Many times its swinging itself causes a great degree of disturbance in the market. But those things, many times are not enduring. But what is enduring is innovation and technology.

[00:20:32]

Bill Loveless: Right. But what may prompt to the technology was the policy or the regulation right. When you were a banker, you could see the investment opportunity and it was there to some extent because there were regulations saying, in the case of the acid rain that they had to be limited and that there was gonna be a program, government program to regulate that and therefore the investments stepped up. Some say the same thing would happen if we had a price on carbon today in terms of carbon emissions that it’s a government policy that triggers the investment opportunity or the investment interest.

[00:21:00]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, so once again, attacking this from a technology point of view, it’s really interesting if someone tries to mandate something but if a technology isn’t there, it’s almost silly.

[00:21:12]

Bill Loveless: Right, right.

[00:21:13]

Paul Dabbar: And sometimes people propose things that technologically are not achievable. And so, how we approach this is that we are the leaders in innovation for energy in the world, right in terms of dollars that we spend and the technologies that we’ve invented and helped push forward whether it’s in solar wind or batteries and so on. And you know, at the end of the day, we create technology options driving down costs, making them available and whether it’s applicable in Hawaii or California or ultimately, elsewhere in the world that we create those options.

[00:21:56]

Bill Loveless: Right. So, what excites you right now when you look across the beck of DOE these days in your responsibilities? What excites you? What do you say, golly gee that’s, this is amazing what we are doing here.

[00:21:56]

Paul Dabbar: So, a list that we can draw into them, all these things that you can probably guess, we can go into for quite a bit. Next generation solar beyond PV. So, _____ [00:22:20] crystals painted which is in fact like painted on solar is truly amazing. Artificial intelligence for efficiency management for buildings and the grid will make a dramatic impact on efficiency across the board. We haven’t even really started on that. Beyond Lithium Ion battery chemistries. We are working on a whole range of battery chemistries that are, that have lower cost materials, have better performance that on various different metrics whether it’s cost or performance metrics such as range for EV could actually hit three to five times current performance. And to stop and think about three to five times performance in an electric vehicle or personal electronics or utilities, that is dramatic. The world will be a very different place. Even, you know, basically having drones to carry people. So, to replace cars. There is actually companies that are working on that to do that and batteries are primary driver of whether we are gonna replace cars with drones to carry people. Fusion is a really interesting area. So, it’s been 30 years…

[00:23:46]

Bill Loveless: I was gonna stop you there and say that exact thing. Up and coming energy for a long time and it’s always 30 years out.

[00:23:46]

Paul Dabbar: There is a Tokamak reactor here in the basement just across the way here at Columbia University. Most people here at Columbia don’t realize there is a fusion reactor just across the way over here. But we actually have three private sector companies who are here in the United States and U.S. is the leader actually in the private sector in fusion who are looking to build their first power prototype and they are raising money and they are looking at designs and sighting in the next five years. So, not 30, it’s five. And then finally, carbon capture for materials. The one thing, that we were successful on and bag houses and socks and knocks and scrubbers and what not was in some large part about materials, right could you create a material to capture that sort of emission or particulate and to screen it out. And so, we have a whole research string on basically developing, basically films materials that look like plastic, that’s like a thin film of plastic that will screen out carbon dioxide just like that. And at price levels that could hit extremely close to what would be probably effective in the market. So, those are the summaries, the guide to drill in any of those that…

[00:25:17]

Bill Loveless: We could do a separate podcast on each and any one of them. I think, I would start with the fusion one but I’ll leave that one for another day. You know, agencies got about these things in different way. I’ll just bring up a couple of changes that DOE or the administration is proposing currently with you, they want us to eliminate again the advanced research project agency ARPA which has been around for a few years now and the other is to eliminate the low guarantee program which the department just recently used to save the local nuclear plant in Georgia. Can you talk a little bit about those decisions?

[00:25:51]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah. So _____ [00:25:53] made a proposal to the hill, ultimately congress makes all the preparation decision as their prerogative is lead part of the government for appropriations. So, within the construct of the overall government, and DOE is obviously a part of the overall government, right now the law of the land is sequester and budget that was proposed including the DOE budget for some of those, you know, line items that you just mentioned is supposed to fit within the bounds of the sequester. Now, for people who may not know what the sequester and the budget caps were lifted by congress after a long period of time and congress raised funding for both defense and non-defense purposes, the office of science budget was increased by 25% since the leadership team has been in office. So, there has been a and it’s not just DOE also science and national institute of health is up quite a bit. National science foundation is up quite a bit. There has been broad consensus from the hill and the president signs the budget lifting the last two years of budget caps and investing money including very heavily in the sciences including at DOE. So, the budget proposal included was given as a good kind of scientist, you have to say, they are givens. Given is that there is a budget cap. Should they decide and they are utterly debating this week in congress whether they should left the budget cap. Then and so if, both the house and the senate decide to do that and the president decides to sign it again like last year, then they’ll look at doing that. But that’s the basis of the budget proposals, based on the current one.

[00:27:41]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. The president proposes as they always say and the congress disposes is how it has always worked. But I mean in the case of _____ [00:27:49] and say congress decides to continue to fund that as I think is likely and in fact, you have a nominee waiting confirmation to head up that very agency. I mean, does having _____ [00:27:59] and anyway, disrupt and contradict, of course trouble for you in terms of these very innovation initiatives that you have been discussing.

[00:28:07]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, I mean, obviously all these different programs have different value and they do fit different part of the, what they call the innovation and the funding value chain. And obviously, RPE was to a large degree based on DARPA and DARPA has great history and continues to fund things such as micro electronics and semi conductors and they started the internet by funding that. And so, you know, each of these has potential value but you know, at the end of the day, this is about budget decisions based on limitations on the part of the whole federal government and based on you know where the budget caps are, that were requirements for budget proposal to be made and once again if congress decides to refund them like they did and the president signed it last year and the previous year to fund those and then our job is for us to go execute in the most every sent manner for those programs and everything else.

[00:28:07]

Bill Loveless: Let’s talk about something else that’s near and dear to your heart and that is nuclear energy as you know nuclear power well from your days in the Navy and in fact as we know, navy pioneered so much nuclear technology. What’s the outlook for nuclear power which is struggling so much to compete right now?

[00:29:34]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, so obviously, I have a soft spot in nuclear amongst all the different technologies. But I think the challenge, the challenge with nuclear is that, it just produces a commodity. It produces electricity. And you can produce electricity in many different ways. And the cost curve for the alternatives of producing electricity have been bending. So, solar cost have come down 90% and wind is a 100% more efficient than it was in terms of production capacity. Natural gas is way cheaper than it was, you know, $8, 9 dollars in MCF. And nuclear, the cost curve has not been bent. It’s flat to maybe up. Because of safety increases for Fukushima and so it’s in this competitive marketplace and but it certainly has certain characteristics that are important, right. It’s not emitting and it’s available 24/7 which some other technologies are not available 24/7. And so, you know, we think it’s really important that nuclear is part of the stack because of some of those characteristics as well as power density, right some of these character. Some of these power production types are, don’t have very high power density and certain matters for you know, bigger urban areas and how you produce that amount of power and get it to, you know, get it to a big urban center. And so, it goes back to innovation, you know, what do we do for a living. Right, we helped drive the cost curve down through innovation for solar and so on. And we need to do that for nuclear.

[00:31:05]

Bill Loveless: And what is the department doing?

[00:31:07]

Paul Dabbar: So, a lot of this has to do with how can you actually manufacture whether it’s fuel or the actual design of the full kind of reactor primary itself and do it cheaper. Nuclear has a problem that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Especially, when it comes to construction. A lot of it is simple engineering issues that have happened. Challenges around nuclear big and sometimes leads to cost overruns. And so, how do we actually get the construction costs of the different components down and so, I’ll give you an example, something that we are doing. So, we actually have a project in which we are looking at 3D printing reactor components. SpaceX does it. GE is beginning to do it with aircraft engines. You know, this is not plastics. This is metal. And so, how do you create an alloy and use a laser to actually basically build up the component and you can design it in ways that you never thought of before because forging one work with a certain design. You can come up with alloy mixes and how you do it across some particular component very differently and it potentially could be very cheap. I’ll give you one almost kind of not exactly power but this goes to show you really exciting example. This actually has to do with mars and going and about an $800 million project we are going over with NASA for nuclear propulsion for rockets going to mars and providing power, ultimately at the end on the moon or to Mars mission. So, right now, when a rocket is gonna go to Mars, there is a couple of major logistical challenges. One, it runs out of fuel when it gets there. So, if you want to bring people back, you have to figure out how to refuel it. There is ways to to it. You can build a refinery in Mars to crack water, you can send up rockets there. But you know, it’s a challenge. You can’t go there and come back with the same fuel load. The second thing is it takes a while to get there. So, anywhere from seven to nine months and in the alignment of the two planets, with that sort of travel time, relatively slow travel time, that people can’t get there and back in the same planetary alignment. So, if we send people to Mars, we got to send them for a year until the planet has come back in alignment. So, there is logistical challenges of you know, setting up, you know, sending people there and have them for a year. Both of those can be achieved but one of the things that we are working with is particular nuclear topic is basically printing a very small fast flux reactor. So, it could be in the scale of like three feet by three feet but very small and it would go part of a typical chemical powered rocket, typical rocket as a pre-heater that basically as the fuel comes down, it’s normally, you know, negative 200 or so degrees, it’s highly inefficient from a thermodynamic point of view. Just pre-heating the fuel increases the capacity by 400% and so with this nuclear reactor, right that we are gonna put at the bottom of a typical chemical reactor with two terms of that efficiency approvement, we can get there and back with the same fuel load and the other two loads is that because we are getting there, we can get there in twice the speed and we can potentially get there and back in the same alignment of the planets, so we don’t have to worry about having people on Mars for a full year. So, this is, I mean, this goes to show you an example innovation, you know, 3D printing, what can we develop an example and by the way the same we can use for power.

[00:34:59]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, yeah and you can use it. I hear a lot of talk of small modular reactors and a lot of work has been done at DOE and in fact, as a company with a certification process underway at the nuclear regulatory commission on this very sort of technology. Do you think that building nuclear plants to scale, smaller build them up as you need them is the way that nuclear would be likely to go if it’s to have a future in this country?

[00:35:21]

Paul Dabbar: Yeah, I think the answer is clearly yes and if you look at what the challenges have been for nuclear in terms of construction and construction has been really the major problem. About 80% of the cost overrun has been civil engineering. It’s actually not been the nuclear technology. It’s been steel or rebar and concrete and running into problems of building something very large and so, actually doing something to smaller to scale and more modular will reduce the amount of risk for steel and, you know, rebar and cement. And so, just reducing that civil engineering risk is gonna have the biggest impact. MIT just did a very interesting engineering study where they went all around the world and they did interviews with places that had big nuclear cost overruns and they came up with a series of conclusions and the vast majority of it had nothing to do with nuclear technology.

[00:35:21]

Bill Loveless: Yeah. That speaks well of technology and its potential not only in nuclear but in these many other areas that you have discussed as well. Perhaps, some time, again, we can talk and drill down on some of those other topics that you have brought up earlier. Paul Dabbar, thank you very much for taking the time and joining us on the Columbia Energy Exchange.

[00:36:23]

Paul Dabbar: Thank you.

[00:36:43]

Bill Loveless: Well, that’s our conversation. I hope, you enjoyed it. For more information on Columbia Energy Exchange and the Center on Global Energy Policy, go to our webpage at energypolicy.columbia.edu. And follow us on social media at ColumbiaUEnergy. Give us a rating too. It helps us grow even more. For Columbia Energy Exchange, I’m Bill Loveless. We’ll be back again next week with another conversation.