They decided a "grand challenge" must
- be scientifically deep and demanding
- be clear and well defined
- be relevant to the broad portfolio of basic energy sciences,
- promise real dividends in devices or methods that can significantly improve
- the quality of life and help provide a secure energy future for the US.
Here are their five grand challenges:
2. Design and perfect atom- and energy-efficient syntheses of new forms of matter with tailored properties.
3. Understand and control the remarkable properties of matter that emerge from complex correlations of atomic and electronic constituents.
4. Master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things
5. Characterize and control matter away—especially far away—from equilibrium.
A good introduction to the full report is the 2008 Physics Today article, co-authored by Graham Fleming and Mark Ratner, co-chairs of the DoE committee.
It is six years after the report was written, but the challenges remains the same.
To me these 5 challenges are actually broader than "basic energy sciences" that the DoE should fund. In fact, they define what should be the research agenda for the chemistry and physics of condensed phases of matter in any country.