"With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015," he said in his State of the Union address.
Obama isn't the only one on the international political A List looking for answers in green innovation. In fact, it proved to be a busy week for world leaders going all out for sustainability and global stewardship.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for sustainable economic growth that can protect the environment and raise living standards.
“We need revolutionary change, revolutionary action," Ban said in his address. "We need a free market revolution for global sustainability.”
Others at Davos joined the conversation.
Finland President Tarja Halonen called for "a modern trinity" that includes combining growth with social justice and environmental sustainability.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonosia said his government is committed to balancing growth and environmental protection. And Mexican President Felipe Calderón said producing more with less energy "will be good for the planet."
Adding a corporate spin was Mike Duke, Wal-Mart president and CEO, who said, "Business should not see a conflict between doing what is right for business and what is right for the world."
Pretty powerful words. So how do we get there?
Start with energy efficiency. Dubbed "the low-hanging fruit" of the green energy movement, the practice of swapping out less efficient lights, AC units, electrical motors and other products has a near immediate savings for the consumer, building owner or municipal government. Retrofits often pay for themselves in a matter of a few years.
A study led by Julian M. Allwood, University of Cambridge in London director of the Low Carbon Energy University Alliance with Tsinghua and MIT, found that savings of up to 73 percent in global energy use could be achieved by using best available energy efficiency techniques, according to a story by Helen Knight in NewScientist.com.
That's huge. But Allwood's team used Passive House and superinsulation techniques like triple-pane and glazed windows and 12-inch cavity filled walls. They eliminated hot-water tanks and reduced the set temperature of washing machines and dishwashers. And his calculations include limiting cars to 660 pounds.
Fat chance on the last measure. But revamped building codes and savings-minded businesses, entrepreneurs and consumers could transform the standard by which buyers measure homes and commercial buildings. Buildings that cost almost nothing to heat and cool could set a new market standard, forcing retrofits on conventional structures.
Obama didn't stop with energy efficiency, however. He wants a mix of measures to break the back of dependence on foreign-sourced energy. "We’re issuing a challenge," he said in his national address. "We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time."
Some of the coolest new research is in turning pond scum into energy. Time magazine recently listed algae biofuel and algae food as two of its top green tech ideas.
The fuel side of algae research has turned into a race as companies work to cut production costs to compete with fossil fuels. Texas company Photon8 Inc. received a $1 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to boost its ability to extract fuel from algae.
Photon8 believes its model could produce biodiesel at $1.25 per gallon.
The company uses a closed photobioreactor systems and is shooting for a production rate of 1.5 gallons per square meter annually. "They expect to produce 22,000 gal per 2.5 acre/yr then to best economic units of 5 acres," according to a report by Oilgae.com.
Technology in many arenas is coming along. Obama said it will take of mix of all of it to return the country to the driver's seat in the energy realm.
I'm intrigued. More could change in the next several years than just a million electric vehicles on the road.