U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told delegates at the National Press Club the United States needs to move quickly in the green energy sector to stay ahead of its rivals.
"When it comes to innovation, Americans don't take a back seat to anyone -- and we certainly won't start now," Chu said in his statement. "From wind power to nuclear reactors to high-speed rail, China and other countries are moving aggressively to capture the lead."
The U.S. Department of Energy said it was focusing on batteries for electric cars and converting sunlight into fuel as ways to spur a green economy.
Chu said China was leading the way in high-speed rail, alternative energy vehicles and renewable energy in general.
The Energy Department said the booming Chinese economy and its ability to deploy new technology on a large scale suggests there is an opportunity for the two major markets to cooperate.
"It also means that America cannot afford to take our scientific leadership for granted," the department said.