Advancing scientific understanding and developing solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges can be like solving a puzzle. You need the right pieces at the right time, the tenacity and commitment to remain focused on the problem, and a vision of how it should all come together.
With a 50-year history and an enduring partnership between the Department of Energy and Battelle, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has what it takes to deliver transformational science and technology that will make the world a better place.
PNNL is DOE’s premier chemistry, environmental sciences and data analytics national laboratory. Over the years, we have built upon these capabilities — demonstrating our leadership in nuclear non-proliferation, environmental remediation, the electrical grid and climate science. Looking to the future, we will leverage these strengths to meet our nation’s changing needs and continue making an impact in areas of critical importance.
As a national laboratory, we do more than try to solve individual challenges in isolation, which is like trying to solve a puzzle by studying only one piece. Instead, we take a bigger-picture approach. We look at how the challenge fits within a broader system, and we study the challenge on multiple levels.
Our vision focuses on imminent and long-standing challenges. Protecting our nation and thwarting terrorists remain a primary concern. The need to meet the growing demand for electricity while minimizing the impact on the environment and ensuring reliability is ongoing. Cleaning up contaminated nuclear waste sites, like Hanford, requires significant attention and effort. And the ability to better predict and understand climate change is critical to preparing for and minimizing its effects.
We are making exciting progress in all of these areas. For example, several years ago, Uzbek border guards who participated in an International Border Security Training Program at PNNL stopped an Iranian-registered truck smuggling radioactive material from Kazakhstan. But every day the world seems more dangerous. We will continue to deliver novel approaches to detect and deter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as apply our expertise in information analysis and cybersecurity to help stop terrorism.
In energy, we are looking at how renewable energy and electric vehicles affect the reliability of the electricity grid and increase the need for energy storage. We’re not only solving challenges related to materials for large-scale batteries, we’re analyzing the technological and economic issues associated with storing renewable energy. We remain dedicated to research focused on enhancing the reliability and security of the nation’s electric grid as needs for energy grow and change.
A recent success in environmental cleanup could save taxpayers approximately $500 million in Hanford cleanup expenses. PNNL researchers, in collaboration with Washington River Protection Solutions, used simulants to evaluate existing theories on the retention of hydrogen gas in deep sludge layers in waste stored in double-shelled tanks. Their research — ranging from lab-scale tests to large-scale pilot testing in a 45-foot tall column — indicated that gas retention and release does not pose a flammable gas safety issue and provides the safety basis for continued sludge retrieval and transfer. PNNL’s decades of experience in chemical processing and nuclear materials separations will provide scientifically defensible solutions for legacy nuclear waste in the decades to come.
We study climate models and simulations to understand things like how the climate may affect water availability. For example, after identifying a trajectory of drier weather in the spring in the Southwest, researchers used regional and global simulations to determine that the trend could pose future challenges for water resource managers and agricultural production in the region. As leaders in this area, our researchers will continue to develop and analyze complex climate models to understand how different aspects of climate interact and affect one another.
Of course, we couldn’t make these contributions without the 4,300 Battelle employees at PNNL. By bringing together some of the nation’s best and brightest researchers — along with talented management and dedicated operations staff who support and enable the research — we can deliver some of the nation’s most important science and technology.
As I approach retirement, I know that PNNL will continue to deliver outstanding results that inspire and enable the people in our community, the nation and the world to live safely, securely and prosperously. I can’t wait to follow along as the pieces keep coming together.