PNNL positioned to meet nation's energy challenges
Innovative science and technological advances will play
a key role in solving the energy challenges facing the United
States, and PNNL stands ready to help.
"I don't think there's a more important problem in the
world right now, both near- and long-term, than energy,"
said Jud Virden, director of Energy Programs Business
Development. Virden leads the charge to align the Laboratory's
science and technology contributions with the nation's energy
mission and to execute related business opportunities.
PNNL is addressing the energy challenge with research
across the entire energy spectrum—from cleaner and more
efficient uses of fossil fuels to next-generation nuclear
technologies, to a more reliable electricity grid to energy
efficient demand-side technologies.
A major focus of PNNL's energy research is exploring "airand
water-neutral" conversion of domestic hydrocarbons such
as coal to liquid transportation fuels, specifically finding ways
to design plants that capture and safely store emissions and use
as little water as possible (see related story, page 11).
PNNL's catalysis expertise, as well as biofungal capability,
also will be applied in advanced research to convert biomass,
another hydrocarbon, to transportation fuel and chemicals at the
Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL) being
built in Richland, Washington. BSEL is a multi-user facility
established jointly by PNNL and Washington State University.
Power Grid Reliability
The Laboratory is heavily involved in research activities
to enable enhanced grid reliability and productivity, including
building capabilities for wide-area monitoring and real-time
analysis of grid operations.
In 2006, PNNL established the Electricity Infrastructure
Operations Center, a user-based facility dedicated to energy
and hydropower research and operations training. One focus
of the facility is to use advanced software to process data in
real time to enable a better handle on the current status of the
grid as well as predict how the grid will behave in the near
future (see related stories, pages 12 and 13).
Expansion of Nuclear Power
The interest in nuclear power is on the rise as energy
demands continue to grow. PNNL, which has world-class expertise in the nuclear licensing arena, will be substantially
involved in shepherding the construction and operating
licenses of as many as 16 or more new plants through the
regulatory process for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
in the coming years. Activities will range from performing
environmental reviews to evaluating fuel designs.
PNNL also anticipates contributing to the Global Nuclear
Energy Partnership, a comprehensive strategy to increase
U.S. and global energy security, encourage clean development
around the world, reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation and
improve the environment (see related story, page 15).
Traditionally, most of PNNL's energy business has
focused on energy-efficient technologies and includes areas
such as energy-efficient building and vehicle technologies. The
Laboratory continues to lead development of solid oxide fuel
cells (see related story below) and plays a major role in solidstate
lighting. It also has an active role in the development
of codes and standards for building efficiency and ongoing work on advanced diesel engines to reduce emissions in
auto engines, and is working on advanced forming and
fabricating technologies to produce lightweight materials for
transportation. PNNL will strengthen this demand-side area
with further development of innovative and novel approaches
to energy efficiency in buildings (see related story, page 14),
transportation, lighting and fuel cells.
Opportunities for Growth
According to Virden, PNNL's energy business has grown
steadily the last several years. He estimates that energy sales will
total around $93 million in 2006, up from $65 million just
two years before. "I attribute this growth to our staff staying
focused on the most important problems and contributing the
right solutions to solving our clients' critical challenges."
PNNL also teams extensively with industry to develop
solutions. "Our industry partners are savvy as to what works
in the real world," Virden said. "Working with them gives us a
better perspective of industry needs and strengthens our ability
to turn our science into real-world solutions."
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.