Nation, PNNL remain focused on energy, security

BY MIKE KLUSE DIRECTOR, PACIFIC NORTHWEST NATIONAL LABORATORY March 28, 2010 

We're living in a time when science and technology is the foundation for improving our quality of life, while others are trying to take it away. There's irony in this reality. But regardless of the differences in the issues, the nation is using a common denominator -- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory -- to help tackle its biggest challenges in energy and security.

In the energy realm, the world is faced with an imminent carbon management crisis because of emissions from fossil fuels, particularly coal. The environmental impacts of releasing carbon to our atmosphere, however, cannot be withstood for much longer.

We need to develop new, lower-cost materials and processes that effectively capture and store carbon dioxide deep underground. And the Department of Energy's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory is making this possible. Because we are leaders in chemistry, we have developed new materials that capture and release carbon dioxide more efficiently than current industry standard materials. We're also using our knowledge of how contaminants move and interact in soil to evaluate the possibility of storing carbon dioxide underground.

Also related to energy, our laboratory is helping the nation develop a smarter electric grid. The current grid is one of the most complex man-made machines, but it needs to get smarter to meet new challenges. It needs tools that will help it manage power demands, integrate renewables and create a picture for grid operators of what's happening across the country so we can avoid major blackouts.

Another focus of the nation, and PNNL, is security of people, information and infrastructure. The country saw evidence as recently as December that the threat of terrorism is alive and well. PNNL's scientists, engineers and security experts have developed technologies such as the millimeter wave scanning technology that is being used in major airports.

Also on the security front, we're leading a program to evaluate new ways to detect improvised explosive devices carried by people or in vehicles. The goal is to identify, integrate and test technologies that can detect explosive devices at safe distances so they can be intercepted before they cause any harm. And we continue to support the U.S. in its efforts to secure legacy nuclear material worldwide.

Recent expansion of PNNL's campus represents a strong statement about the government's investment in the Tri-Cities. Late last year, we opened two new buildings and, with the help of three federal agencies that support our research, we expect to open five more this year. But we're not stopping there. We're already planning for the next phase of science and technology infrastructure needs.

We're also increasing the work force. Last year we hired 400 employees -- an impressive mix of scientists, engineers, technicians, post-education students and administrative support -- bringing our staff total to more than 4,700. I believe it's a combination of the exciting and impactful science and technology we're conducting and the draw of this great, growing community that's bringing outstanding employees to this area.

Equally important to attracting newcomers is the opportunity to cultivate the bright minds that already live here. We're proud to be a partner in the community's first science, technology, engineering and mathematics high school, Delta. The 400-student school is well into its first year of operation and both students and faculty are pleased with its unique educational environment.

I'm optimistic about the future of this community and PNNL. The laboratory is committed to applying its scientific and technological prowess to overcome major national challenges, and we share our success with our home, the Tri-Cities. Together, we can reduce environmental effects of energy production, generate energy more efficiently and effectively, and improve the security of our friends, family and neighbors.

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