Stimulus plan to fund complex research at PNNL

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writerApril 12, 2009 

— Pacific Northwest National Laboratory should receive some of the first stimulus money spent in the nation, $124 million, much of it to buy equipment for complex research projects.

But that's expected to be just the first of the good news for the Department of Energy's national lab in Richland.

PNNL appears to be ideal for research projects important to the Obama administration -- particularly those associated with clean energy and climate science.

With most of the announcements on research initiatives in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act yet to be made, PNNL can only make rough estimates of how much additional stimulus funding it may receive for other research.

"However, we are confident the laboratory will receive additional ... funding when these agencies make their announcements over the next several weeks," said Greg Koller, PNNL spokesman. "Very preliminary speculation puts the number within the range of $75 million to $215 million over the next 18 months."

Some areas with potential for stimulus funding include research into climate science measurement and carbon sequestration, the predominant gas implicated in climate change.

PNNL also could receive money to research energy efficiency technologies for buildings and to improve the nation's aging and inefficient electric power grid. The lab is developing technology that enables homeowners to monitor, and in part control, their demand for electricity.

Battelle, which operates PNNL for DOE, also will be watching to see if plans to develop the first coal-fueled, near-zero emissions power plant -- a project called FutureGen -- are revived. If it is, it could bring work to Richland under Battelle's use permit, which allows it to use lab resources for commercial business.

The lab has been submitting proposals for stimulus money to DOE program offices and other federal agencies that PNNL does research for.

"Because we don't know exactly how much funding we ultimately may receive or the nature of this work, it's hard to estimate how many new jobs will result from this influx of money," said PNNL director Mike Kluse in a message to employees.

The $124 million that DOE's Office of Science already has announced will go to PNNL is among $830 million that will be spent at DOE national labs.

The new equipment that will be purchased for the lab will help cement PNNL's reputation in certain fields and bring research work to the Tri-Cities that otherwise would go elsewhere, Koller said.

It also will create some near-term jobs as $4 million is spent on making three buildings used by the lab more energy efficient and some additional money is spent preparing the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, or EMSL, for new equipment.

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