PNNL positioned to lead U.S. toward clean energy

Research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has contributed for decades to the region’s leading role in clean energy technology development and deployment. The laboratory, based in Richland, has made advancements in energy storage, energy efficiency, clean energy and chemical production and electricity grid innovation. 

Today, our region has the potential to continue demonstrating leadership as private and public investments in clean, sustainable energy technologies reaches an all-time high.

At the same time, we must ensure that the energy system of the future continues to power the Northwest’s diverse economy in a way that is reliable, affordable and resilient. 

This was the subject of an Energy Solutions Summit held in the Tri-Cities on Nov. 8-9, where members of Congress, energy producers and industry experts spoke about the future of energy production and distribution in the region.

PNNL, one of 17 U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories, is strategically positioned to help the nation meet its clean energy goals by applying multi-disciplinary research that spans from advancing scientific discovery to driving innovations that enable sustainable energy.

With nearly 6,000 employees, we work with collaborating researchers, stakeholders and industry from across the region and around the world to help develop these solutions and look for opportunities to demonstrate and deploy them in the region.

PNNL researchers are making breakthroughs in energy science such as developing new catalysts and chemical processes that can create more efficient processes for turning agricultural waste and carbon dioxide into fuels and other products, creating new energy storage materials, developing new ways to make clean hydrogen and breaking down and reusing plastics.

These are all aspects of supporting the nation’s climate and clean energy agenda.

Campus adds new facilities

That research will unfold at two recent campus additions: the Energy Sciences Center and the Grid Storage Launchpad. These two facilities, adjacent to each other on the PNNL campus, provide experimental capabilities and instruments unavailable anywhere else in the country.

The Energy Sciences Center, dedicated last fall, is supporting regional research collaborations and expands the nation’s capability and visibility in energy sciences to benefit the state, nation and world. The $90 million Energy Sciences Center was funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and leveraged an $8-million investment from Washington State’s Clean Energy Fund to purchase specialized equipment.

Battelle and PNNL also contributed.

Research at the 140,000-square-foot ESC is advancing fundamental chemistry and materials research using advanced computing. The scientific discovery that takes place here will inform PNNL’s energy storage technology development.

The Grid Storage Launchpad, with construction already underway, will serve as a collaborative national center for validating and accelerating new energy storage technologies. This builds on PNNL’s expertise in exploring the scientific foundations of energy storage, advancing multiple types of energy storage technologies, integrating energy storage with the power grid and providing policy analysis and valuation expertise.

The Grid Storage Launchpad, or GSL, supports DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge, an effort to create and sustain global leadership in energy storage utilization and exports, with a secure domestic manufacturing supply chain that does not depend on foreign sources of critical materials. Also, the GSL supports the Long Duration Storage Shot, DOE’s goal to drastically reduce the cost of grid-scale energy storage.

The $75 million facility, funded by DOE’s Office of Electricity, will host a battery characterization center housing $8.3 million in state-funded, advanced imaging equipment.

Putting the principles to work at home

PNNL’s commitment to a clean energy future extends to our campus operations.

PNNL is one of four national laboratories in the DOE’s Net Zero Labs Pilot Initiative, launched in May in support of President Joe Biden’s goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050. 

As part of the initiative, PNNL will demonstrate how new technologies, innovative approaches and partnering with industry and communities can lead to net-zero emissions and decarbonization of operations.

Even before the DOE announcement, PNNL had its own Net-Zero Emissions and Resilient Operations initiative, which seeks to fully transition to a net-zero campus by 2030, while enhancing resilience to protect against power disruptions.

To achieve its emissions goals, PNNL is moving away from using energy provided by carbon-intensive sources, such as natural gas, and transitioning to electrifying its buildings, vehicles and equipment in partnership with local electric utilities, which also are committed to clean energy sources.

The laboratory also will reduce energy use and emissions through efficiency upgrades and operational changes. For example, PNNL is using waste heat captured from supercomputers to heat other buildings and is taking steps to address potential emissions of gases when research equipment is serviced.

PNNL will update building design standards to reduce emissions and maximize efficiency in construction projects. We also will model campus building to inform and test new operating approaches to optimize performance in a way that reduces emissions and protects against disruptions in electric utility service.

Dedicated to setting the course

Building upon our chemistry, materials science and engineering expertise, PNNL will advance energy efficiency, renewable integration with the power grid, energy storage and other research areas to develop, demonstrate and deploy innovative technologies toward net-zero carbon emissions.

Clean energy is more than a hot topic or current buzzword, it’s a necessity for addressing climate change. But we need a wide array of solutions for decarbonizing our energy system – maximizing energy efficiency across all energy sectors, eliminating green-house gas emissions from power generation, electrifying end-uses, leveraging the benefits of nuclear energy and developing net-zero carbon fuels and chemicals.

As you can see, PNNL is committed to research that provides a pathway for a more sustainable energy future and takes steps with our own campus to make that happen. A clean-energy future relies on the science of energy – society’s ability to achieve essential energy transformations and harness the power of chemistry.

Lou Terminello is associate laboratory director of the Physical and Computational Sciences Directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Jud Virden is associate laboratory director of the Energy and Environment Directorate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

  • Done Reading?

    Take me back to the top

Posted in

Latest News


Sign-up for our e-newsletter filled with featured stories and latest news.


Shred Day

April 14 @ 8:00 am - 12:00 pm

Spring Career and Internship Fair in Pasco

April 25 @ 10:00 am - 2:00 pm

Head & Neck 5K/2-Mile Walk in Richland

April 15 @ 9:00 am