Biden DOE Collaborated With Scientist From Iranian University Sanctioned for Illicit Nuclear Work

Republican lawmaker concerned US taxpayer dollars made their way to sanctioned entities

April 22, 2024

A Biden administration-funded research project into renewable energy included contributions from an Iranian scientist who works at a Tehran-based university that is sanctioned for bolstering Iran’s illicit nuclear program.

The research, which was conducted under a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, was published in late February and lists among its seven authors, Mohammed Hasan Ravanji, a professor at the Sharif University of Technology. The school, as well as several of its research departments and staff, are sanctioned by the United States and other Western nations for aiding Iran’s military and helping it produce ballistic missile technology, including weapons of mass destruction.

The Biden DOE’s relationship with the Iranian school is under the congressional microscope, with Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) pressing top administration officials to explain if any American taxpayer cash made its way to sanctioned entities. Ernst’s concerns about this work surfaced publicly last week, when she questioned Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm about the grant but did not receive definitive answers.

"I’m not familiar with this grant," Granholm said under questioning, adding that U.S. taxpayer funds generally should not be making their way to sanctioned countries or entities. Granholm promised to follow up on the matter but has yet to do so, sources told the Washington Free Beacon. The DOE did not respond to a request for comment on how much the grant was for or how it was distributed.

The issue was first brought to the DOE’s attention in late March, when United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), a watchdog group that tracks sanctioned entities, informed U.S. officials that a researcher in its National Renewable Energy Laboratory published a paper alongside Sharif University’s Ravanji.

"The research was grant-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office," UANI wrote in the letter, according to a copy obtained by the Free Beacon.

The watchdog group noted that Sharif University and its affiliates "are variously sanctioned by the United States, Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom for supporting entities involved in Iran's military and in production and procurement for Iran’s ballistic missile program proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

The organization, at the time, asked the DOE to suspend all ties to Sharif University and explain the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's "apparent cooperation" with the institution, warning that the school "works in highly sensitive regime-controlled sectors, is complicit in the development of WMD," and "is subject to multiple sanctions designations from a range of authorities."

Ernst said that she is probing the research grant and is concerned about potential oversight lapses in the billions the DOE distributes each year. The research conducted with Sharif University’s Ravanji is just one example of concerning funding initiatives, the senator said.

"Americans deserve to know if Biden’s Department of Energy allowed taxpayer funds to fall into the hands of an Iranian researcher employed by a university sanctioned for its connections to Iran’s nuclear program," Ernst told the Free Beacon. "I’m demanding answers from Secretary Granholm to verify her Department is not funneling money—either directly or indirectly—to sanctioned Iranian research, and what steps she will take to ensure the integrity of taxpayer dollars are not called into question again."

As part of her efforts to crack down on these types of research projects, Ernst is pushing legislation that would force every government agency to publicly disclose every penny that gets sent to adversarial regimes, including Iran, China, Russia, and others.

Around $1.3 billion in taxpayer funds have made their way to these countries since 2017, according to research by Ernst’s office.