ETDE - A Catalyst for Energy Technology Breakthroughs: Bringing the Researcher Closer to Research
ETDE - A Catalyst for Energy Technology Breakthroughs: Bringing the Researcher Closer to Research
5 July 2007
Brian A. Hitson
Chair, IEA Energy Technology Data Exchange
(U.S. DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information)
Advances in energy technology depend on the diffusion of knowledge
To be truly committed to the field of information and communication, we have to believe that information, or knowledge, or whatever form of communication we are promoting is valuable, meaningful, and has an impact on the future. Energy technology, indeed any field of science, is very much a cumulative field, where we use our own knowledge to build on the work of others to come up with even better ideas and innovation. This cumulative cycle of building on the information from someone else, over and over again, has delivered us to the state of technology and the standard of living we have today. This premise goes back to the beginning of time, and was perhaps most famously summed up by Sir Isaac Newton, when he said:
"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
Sequential diffusion may take months to years!
Historically, this process of knowledge diffusion has been sequential, where scientific group A communicates its results and findings to group B, and group B communicates its findings to group C and so on. These communications could take the form of colleague-to-colleague contact, conference papers, journal articles, and so on. Clearly, this kind of communication takes time, and each lag in communication means a potential delay in innovation.
A New Era of Innovation
Accelerating the sharing of knowledge means science progresses faster, compressing decades to years, years to months, and months to days.
If we accept the premise that sharing knowledge is the key to progress in energy technology and to scientific progress in general, then it should also hold that if we accelerate the sharing of knowledge, we can accelerate technology innovations and advances in science. This timeline suggests where we are today – that with the passage of time, more scientists are exposed to a new idea and use it in their own research. Accelerating the sharing of knowledge even more than we do today suggests that we could move the rate of adoption and use of new ideas to take place even faster.
In our world of energy technology, this is an exciting prospect. Through our work, we can play a role in accelerating breakthroughs in alternative fuels and renewable energy, in clean coal technology – just to mention a few of our current energy issues.
These points are admittedly theoretical in nature. The following slides take this theoretical argument and demonstrate its validity in the practical world.
ETDEWEB Easy Search
Slides 5 through 13 depict actual searches of the ETDEWEB database on a number of highly relevant, current energy topics and the breadth and depth of ETDWEB's rich content responsive to queries in these topics. The conclusion follows that access to and use of ETDEWEB can accelerate breakthroughs in energy research, technology, and development.
This screen shows a search of biofuels or biodiesel using the Easy Search option.
ETDEWEB Search Results
The search results screen displays the number received (over 5000), document titles, and dates. Document links and PDF icons are displayed on the left.
ETDEWEB Advanced Search
A more specific search may be conducted using options available on the Advanced Search screen. The search criteria in this example are switchgrass or wood in the title; other options available for searching are by author, subject, research organization, dates, etc.
ETDEWEB Search Results
This slide shows results from that search.
Select one of the search results records to retrieve a full bibliographic record. The citation example in this slide is for "Fuel handbook – Wood and other renewable fuels" from Sweden.
Note the abstract in English and the subject indexing, among other features.
By selecting a PDF icon, you can retrieve the full text; in most cases, you can search it as well as view, save, or print it.
Switching subject areas, a search for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells retrieves almost 10,000 matches.
A search on the phrase "solar water heating" shows the relevance of ETDE content not just to ETDE member countries but to a broader global audience.
This example shows a document about a mobile solar water heater – written by an author from South Africa. Many of the journals have input from researchers globally, not just from our member countries. Thus, there are likely to be examples from countries with similar conditions as South Africa.
Pre-ETDE "A Bilateral World"
Before the establishment of ETDE and similar information exchange agreements, the sharing of information between countries was mostly a bilateral arrangement with each country having separate relationships with other countries to gain access to research and technology results. Needless to say, managing multiple arrangements such as this would properly be characterized as inefficient, duplicative, and costly.
ETDE Model – Multilateral Cooperation:
Original "One Stop" Concept
The ETDE model, launched 20 years ago, was a single replacement for numerous bilateral exchanges and allowed many countries to submit their energy research and technology information into a common database and then gain access to all other member countries' information. One stream of input, one set of input standards, one output product. Compared to the previous model, this arrangement would properly be characterized as efficient, comprehensive, and an original “one-stop” searching concept.
Technical Evolution of the ETDE Model
ETDE's technical evolution, as you would expect, is a reflection of changes in technology over the last 20 years. This timeline gives a picture of technology enhancements. When ETDE was founded in 1987, there really was no public internet, and our database was only available through commercial information vendors.
And, back in those days before significant broadband technology, our information mainly consisted of bibliographic records which told a customer where they could obtain full-text documents in paper.
Shortly after the web became widely available, ETDE debuted its own web-accessible database, ETDEWEB. And, then, as bandwidth increased and with increasing adoption of PDF technology, we have seen a corresponding increase in the amount of electronic full text, and a very high percentage of our current non-copyrighted documents are available in full text within ETDEWEB.
But with nearly 4 million records in our database, a very large number do have copyright protection. When we can not make full text available within the database itself, we have done the next best thing, which is to add digital object identifiers (or DOIs) to current literature and, through a relationship with CrossRef, we have added several hundred thousand DOIs retrospectively to historic journal records. The intent here is that where we can't deliver the full-text directly ourselves, we would like to bring our users as close to the full-text as possible wherever it resides.
Continuing on with this theme of simplifying our users' lives, we realize that that there are only 24 hours in one day, and an individual only has a limited amount of time to find information. ETDEWEB has a lot of information, but it doesn't have everything. On the other hand, we can't expect our users to know about every single source in this broad field of energy nor to have the time to go from one system to another. So, in 2005, we introduced distributed or federated access to non-ETDE sources, where a user can simultaneously search ETDEWEB along with a number of other energy-related and broad scientific databases, and I would point out that these are sources in the deep web, which are generally not accessible through commercial search engines.
Then, in early 2006, we introduced alerts as a feature, which allows us to move from a passive to an active knowledge broker – where our users don't have to come to us to find out what's new in their particular area of interest. They simply set up a profile in our system, and they're periodically notified of new developments in their field.
ETDE's Strategic Evolution – A History of Partnering/Collaboration
Support to G8 Developing Country Goals
IEA NEET Initiative – "Plus 5" Countries
European Commission Support
Other IEA Cooperation
- Clean Coal Centre
- IEA publications
- Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme
Clearly, we have evolved in a technical sense, but ETDE has also evolved strategically and programmatically. Throughout our 20-year history, we have benefited from partnerships and hope that we have benefited our users and our partners.
A major partner for us is our counterpart at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna – the International Nuclear Information System, or INIS. Almost from our inception, we have shared standards and a common thesaurus with INIS, which itself actually dates back to 1969.
On a global scale, ETDE has been a major contributor to G8 ministerial goals to push energy technologies to the developing world, and in 2004, ETDE embarked on a process to offer free ETDEWEB access to many developing countries so that they can take advantage of the research and technology contained in our database. Currently, we are up to 60 developing countries with access to ETDEWEB, where there is none of the normal membership obligations expected of these countries.
Continuing on the subject of the G8, following the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, there was a particular emphasis placed on engaging the "plus 5" countries of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa in more of the working party and implementing agreement activities of the IEA. These countries play a critical role in both global energy supply and consumption, and their expertise as well as their challenges point to the possibilities of mutually beneficial outcomes from their expanded involvement in IEA networks. Responding to this need, the IEA established an initiative called Networks of Expertise in Energy Technology, or NEET, which has set out to conduct workshops in the plus 5 countries and bring together IEA's working party and implementing agreement technical experts with each country's energy officials, and identify possibilities for membership and greater collaboration. The first workshop was held in South Africa in February of this year, and the next is scheduled for China in October. Where there is good potential for mutual benefit, ETDE is playing an active role in the NEET initiative, and we are on a very positive path toward South Africa becoming our newest ETDE member as a result of the workshop in Johannesburg. I would also point out that we are ahead of many of our fellow implementing agreements, in that we already proudly claim two of the - plus 5 - countries – Brazil and Mexico – as ETDE members.
In 2005, the European Commission issued a report on energy research, technology and development information systems in the European Research Area, which acknowledged ETDE's prominent role in this field and recommended EU partnering with knowledge management organizations such as ETDE in the pursuit of a European Gateway to energy RTD information. After the report was issued, ETDE extended its hand in partnership and was invited to participate on an Expert Group advising the European Commission on steps that should be taken. As part of our role on this group, ETDE developed and demonstrated a distributed search prototype as a possible candidate for a European gateway to energy RTD information. The prototype was very well received, and we remain optimistic that there could be a long-term opportunity to partner with the EU to provide this specialized capability within Europe.
Finally, on this subject of programmatic evolution and partnership, we also have longstanding partnerships with other IEA implementing agreements as a way to round out our coverage of energy and environmental literature. In particular, we exchange in-scope information with the IEA Clean Coal Centre and cover and contribute to other IEA publications.
Current and Future Information Landscape – Challenges and Solutions
The "Google" Perception – Everything is "there"
We've come a long way in 20 years, and we hope to be around for another 20 years and longer, which requires us to look at the challenges that lie ahead for programs such as ETDE. Certainly one of those challenges is what I call the perception that all meaningful information can be found through the major commercial search engines, such as Google, Yahoo!, and MSN.
Reality of surface web versus deep web
The fact, however, is that the deep web, where significant databases such as ETDEWEB are found, is perhaps hundreds of times larger than the surface web, and it is widely accepted that the deep web has much more reliable and authoritative scientific information. Because of the dynamic content within these deep web databases, their content isn't accessible to most search engines' crawling.
"Members Only" Access
Besides the deep web issue, almost anyone in the world can use Google or a similar search engine without any access restrictions or registration requirements. Many deep web databases have access restrictions of some kind, and users opt for the path of least resistance, which further inhibits wide usage. ETDE relies on its member countries for information inputs, and their reward for providing that input is that they gain access to other member countries' information. For this model to work, we have to retain this benefit, but a registration requirement inherently limits a system's usage. This is yet another challenge that databases such as ETDEWEB must overcome.
Economics of producing bibliographic records
Another challenge is the simple economics of producing bibliographic records for a system such as ETDEWEB. It is a costly proposition for each member country to create bibliographic records for all the energy R&D literature within its borders, and this could certainly be short-circuited if all of ETDEWEB's contents had full text, where the full text could simply be automatically indexed, but that is not the case since much of ETDEWEB's contents are about copyrighted full text which doesn't reside within our database.
Proliferation of distributed portals – maintaining an identity
Another challenge is the proliferation of distributed portals where many sources are searched simultaneously. In such a federated approach, the user may not know or have an appreciation for which sources are being searched, and, thus, sources face the risk of losing their identities and branding, which are important, again, to ensure that both users and funders of these systems retain the sense that a certain system is important and should be sustained.
Multiplicity of languages – The rise of non-English literature
And, finally, nations are building on their research output continually, and much of this is published in each country's native language. For a system, such as ETDEWEB, which has at least the metadata in English, this is a challenge to adequately cover this literature, and with several non-English speaking countries, such as China and Russia, not belonging to ETDE, we are missing some of the world's meaningful research output.
Current and Future Information Landscape – Challenges and Solutions Continued
Balance strategic partnerships and strategic individualism
So, for every challenge, we need a solution, and these thoughts for solutions apply not just to ETDE but to any similar source of information. These first several thoughts relate to maintaining an identity amidst the clutter and competition of other information sources. And one of these particular thoughts is to balance strategic partnerships against strategic individualism. In the ETDE case, for example, which has an international focus, we could benefit from partnerships with organizations having a regional focus. Here, I would suggest that we could benefit by working with the European Union on a gateway to European Energy information. Likewise, we could benefit from a partnership with a similar regional body in the Asian Pacific region and in Latin America. Those regional bodies would benefit from our capabilities and our content, and we could increase the usage and entrench the ETDE brand in these regions.
Maintain a niche – specialty But, at the same time that we seek out strategic partnerships, we should maintain a strategic individualism, where we occupy a specialized niche in the marketplace. And, for ETDE, that is in being the world's most comprehensive source of energy-related research, technology, and development information.
Search and be searched – but require attribution Regarding the challenge of proliferating distributed portals, my motto here is to “search and be searched – but require attribution.” In ETDEWEB, for example, we try to make our users' experience as far-reaching as possible by offering distributed searching to other sources we think they would find useful. On the other hand, if a different distributed portal could search ETDEWEB, we should encourage that, but we should require that ETDE be credited, or get attribution, as the source of any ETDE record produced through a search of that portal. This is essential to maintaining a brand identity and a loyal user and sponsor community.
Current and Future Information Landscape – Challenges and Solutions Continued
Adopt technology to overcome usage limitations
Automated user authentication tools
Of course, one limitation on portals being able to search ETDEWEB is our current access restrictions which require user log-in or IP authentication. We have these restrictions simply to ensure that only member country residents gain access to ETDEWEB, and there are other technologies that would enable user authentication without the user having to enter any username or password. The adoption of such technology would certainly increase the usage, and is a solution for several of the challenges I mentioned earlier.
Sophisticated "on-the-fly" translations tools
And, with respect to the point about multiplicity of languages, on-the-fly translations tools are constantly improving and are clearly part of a strategy to overcome limited use of these kinds of information.
Continually strive to bring researchers closer to research
Now, going beyond maintaining an identity and increasing usage, we can go even further to bring researchers closer to research. Clearly, the more full text we can add, taking advantage of open access trends, the better we will serve our user community. But, we can go even further than this looking down the road at emerging needs and capabilities.
Integrate numeric data access into full text
For example, much research is based on numeric data from simulation, observations, statistical sampling, and the like. Users can benefit, not just from the textual description of these numeric data, but from the data themselves, and we can find ways to integrate access to numeric data from links within the full text itself.
Accommodate video and audio
Text and numeric data are good, but the popularity of television and devices such as iPODS tells us that video and audio are here to stay and are perhaps the most meaningful learning media available. Traditional textual databases such as ETDEWEB need to accommodate video and audio content, and, of course, the sender and receiver of such content will have to make certain that their broadband capacity is adequate to handle the bandwidth needed for these data types.
Integrate resources into "collaboratories"
And, finally, we recognize, that scientists and technologists work collegially, whether through sophisticated tools such as collaboratories or by informal means such as e-mail. Here again, we can increase our relevance by integrating our content into such forms of collaboration, either through things like blogs within ETDEWEB or searching facilities within collaboratories.
Conclusion ETDE Contributes to Breakthroughs in Energy Technology
At any rate, the goal that we all strive for is to bring the researcher closer to research, the technologist closer to technology and to exploit the content of our information collection. In doing this, we contribute to breakthroughs in energy technology and to the betterment of our environmental and energy futures. Thank you again for attending this conference, and thank you to Portugal for your hospitality and generosity with this conference.
Brian Hitson, Chair
Energy Technology Data Exchange (ETDE)