Energy Secretary visits, praises ORNL research
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm toured Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s facilities on Monday and praised its research.
“The solutions that are being worked on here at the lab are the ones that we have to deploy,” she said, adding that the lab’s technologies will help the United States achieve 100% green energy.
“This lab is thinking into the future,” Granholm said.
As explained on the official White House website, the Biden administration aims for net zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050. The administration wishes to achieve a 50% to 52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution in 2030.
Granholm toured the Grid Research Integration and Deployment Center (GRID-C) in the Hardin Valley area just outside of Oak Ridge and spoke about the lab’s electric car, as well as the battery and electric infrastructure research. She was joined by U.S. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, R-Third District, and Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch. GRID-C projects she toured included technologies to charge electric vehicles more quickly, recycle batteries more easily, construct new batteries in different ways and protect electric grids from disasters.
“This critical grid research will deploy clean energy generation for decades to come,” Granholm Tweeted from her official Twitter account.
“I welcome Secretary Granholm to the greatest lab of 17,” Fleischmann told reporters at the event, referring to the 16 other national labs that are part of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Fleischmann said Granholm had also met earlier Monday with ORNL and National Nuclear Security Administration officials and spoke, not just about the lab, but about other projects, including the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 site. Granholm shared on Twitter that she toured ORNL facilities that included the Frontier Supercomputer, the Spallation Neutron Source, a facility for biofuel research for airplanes, and the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.
In response to questions from reporters, Granholm said the Build Back Better Act will include additional funding for the national labs, and she thanked Fleischmann for supporting ORNL. While neither mentioned it at the event, Fleischmann voted against the Build Back Better bill that recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives and has said it will add to the national deficit. Both Fleischmann and Granholm praised the lab’s work.
She also spoke positively of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill which President Joe Biden recently signed, saying it would increase access to broadband internet across Tennessee.
GRID-C includes research on electric cars, including faster charging, taking the process of charging down to 10 to 15 minutes
Their researchers are even working on a method of charging vehicles without stopping by using embedded chargers in the road over which electric vehicles can drive. Magnetic fields would let the vehicles charge, even if they pass over the chargers at interstate speeds.
“I think this is critical for long haul trucks and fleets,” Veda Galigekere, who leads ORNL’s Electric Drives Research Group, explained at the event. He explained that the technology allows for these trucks’ battery packs to be smaller, reducing the weight these electric semi-trucks would need. ORNL recently licensed this technology to a private company.
Granholm praised this research, describing it as “changing the way we think” about electric vehicles. She also said measures in the Build Back Better Act would offer incentives to bring down the prices of electric cars for consumers.
“Bringing down that price is really important,” she said.
Short-term fossil fuels, long-term green energy
U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, was not present for the meeting, although he welcomed Granholm in a news release that also criticized the Biden administration’s policies and higher fuel costs.
“I regret that my schedule would not allow me to be at Oak Ridge National Lab today, but I do extend greetings to the Secretary of Energy and welcome her to Tennessee. While the Secretary knows my frustrations with the Biden Administration’s energy policies, which are being felt every time Americans put fuel in their vehicles, I trust that what she will see today is a corridor of our state that is on the cutting edge of research and development projects — not only for today but for decades to come. Tennesseans are proud of the critical work being done at Oak Ridge, as well as the Y-12 National Security Complex, and the Secretary will see that our highly skilled workforce is leading the way to protect our national security. Maintaining the longstanding commitments and investments from the Department of Energy at Oak Ridge are not only a priority for me, but also Secretary Granholm, and I am confident that her visit today will solidify her belief in that,” he stated in the release.
Reporters at the event asked about rising gasoline costs. Granholm attributed them to people traveling more as the country comes out of the pandemic.
“The president is all over this,” she said, describing President Joe Biden as in support of increasing both domestic and international oil production.
“This is a transition. It’s not an on-off switch,” she said, adding that fossil fuel increases are necessary in the short term.
However, in the long term she emphasized she wants “a clean energy future controlled by us,” rather than by other countries. She said the market for green technology would reach $23 trillion by the end of the decade, and she wants that market to bring jobs to Americans.
“We want that supply chain here,” she said. “We want to stamp them ‘made in America.'”
In keeping with this “Made in America” focus, ORNL’s Ilias Belharouak said he was looking at many different alternatives to lithium ion batteries. These alternatives would not rely as much on imported materials like cobalt.
One of these methods, which Belharouk described as the “seawater” battery, involved using salt water, while another involved “solid state” technology, developed in the lab in the 1990s. Another involved using aluminum and iron instead of cobalt.
Belharouk also talked about using robots to get at battery foil to recycle it without exposing workers to hazardous materials.
Grid emergencies, other research
Other researchers shared about various GRID-C projects with reporters and Granholm.
Rick Raines, director of the Electrification and Energy Infrastructures Division, spoke about research to better handle disasters, such as cyberattacks or weather-related disasters on a grid level.
Granholm said she was impressed by this research, praising research toward “a transmission grid that’s strong against cyberattacks.”
Raines said, “How can we predict that something is going to fail? The hope is certainly if we can mitigate something before it happens, all the better.”
Mahdu Chinthavali, group leader for Power Electronics Systems Integration, talked about converters, which he said would help connect solar energy to grids. He spoke about making these converters smaller, more self-maintaining, and cheaper than existing converters.
Ben Pounds is a staff reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317, Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.