CAMBRIDGE, Mass. ( TheStreet) -- President Barack Obama, speaking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said innovation in alternative energy would ensure that the U.S. continues to lead the global economy.

"All of you are heirs to a legacy of innovation," he told the audience, which largely comprised a select group of students and faculty, a fifth of whom are involved in energy research such as quantum dot light bulbs, thin-film batteries and super-efficient windows. "The world is now engaged in a peaceful competition. The nation that wins that competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation."

Renewable-energy research has been a focus of the new administration. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed into law in February, puts $16.8 billion toward energy efficiency and renewable energy. Some $5 billion of that amount was dedicated to local weatherization-assistance programs, with smaller sums going to cutting-edge renewable-energy investments. (A list of available funding opportunities can be found on the Department of Energy's Web site.)

Since then, the Department of Energy has been busy announcing investments that fit the bill. Awards passed the $1 billion mark last month.

In his speech at MIT in Cambridge, Obama said Boston's Charlestown neighborhood will break ground on a center to test giant wind-turbine blades, the result of a $25 million federal grant. He added that continued investment in renewable energy could lead to a carbon-trading market worth $2 trillion, a sentiment that has been echoed by Bart Chilton, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's Energy and Environmental Markets Advisory Committee.

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