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Oak Ridge National Laboratory Home to Two New Multi-Million-Dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers

Published on April 28, 2009 at 8:38 PM

Oak Ridge National Laboratory will be home to two of 46 new multi-million-dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) announced today by the White House in conjunction with a speech delivered by President Barack Obama at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.

The EFRCs, which will pursue advanced scientific research on energy, are being established by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the nation.

ORNL and Argonne National Laboratory each received two of the 12 awards for national laboratories. ORNL was a partner on approximately 10 other successful proposals.

"As global energy demand grows over this century, there is an urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions," said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. "Meeting this challenge will require significant scientific advances. These Centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation's scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels."

The 46 EFRCs, to be funded at $2-5 million per year each for a planned initial five-year period, were selected from a pool of some 260 applications received in response to a solicitation issued by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in 2008. Selection was based on a rigorous merit review process utilizing outside panels composed of scientific experts.

The two ORNL Energy Frontier Center projects are the Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) Center and the Energy Frontier Center for Defect Physics in Structural Materials.

"Energy storage and material properties are key pieces to the nation's energy puzzle," said Michelle Buchanan, ORNL associate laboratory director for Physical Sciences. "ORNL has a unique blend of scientific expertise, facilities and leadership needed to address these challenges. We are honored to receive these awards and eager to go to work."

The $25 million FIRST Center will bring together a multi-disciplinary research team of labs and universities to provide unprecedented knowledge of how fluids and solid materials interface at a subatomic level.

Understanding these interactions is the basis for improved batteries, solar panels, and fuel cells and also can impact other energy-related research applications such as carbon dioxide sequestration and corrosion-resistant materials.

One of the center's goals is to achieve the ability to predict or even control these interactions of electrons, atoms, ions and molecules to benefit the design of new processes and materials with unique properties to address our future energy needs. David Wesolowski, ORNL Chemical Sciences Division, is the center director. ORNL's main center partners are Vanderbilt University, Argonne National Laboratory and five universities.

ORNL's second funded project, the $19 million Energy Frontiers Research Center for Defect Physics in Structural Materials, will bring together researchers from ORNL, six universities, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to address the most pressing basic research challenges in structural materials for energy.

The center's goal is to provide atom-by-atom control and manipulation of defects that currently limit material performance and lifetime. Center scientists also will seek new ways to develop materials with unprecedented strength, toughness, radiation damage tolerance, and self-recovery.

The center will deploy first-of-a-kind measurements of defect dynamics and conduct fundamental calculations of the structure and dynamics of extended defects based on new and advanced approaches.

Malcolm Stocks, ORNL Materials Science and Technology Division, is the center director.

EFRC researchers will take advantage of new capabilities in nanotechnology, high-intensity light sources, neutron scattering sources, supercomputing, and other advanced instrumentation, much of it developed with DOE Office of Science support over the past decade, in an effort to lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, biofuels, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear energy.

Of the 46 EFRCs selected, 31 are led by universities, 12 by DOE National Laboratories, two by nonprofit organizations, and one by a corporate research laboratory. The criterion for providing an EFRC with Recovery Act funding was job creation.

The EFRCs chosen for funding under the Recovery Act provide the most employment for postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduates, and technical staff, in keeping with the Recovery Act's objective to preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery.

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