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Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: Skating to where the puck will be

Published in the Tri-City Herald March 23, 2017, authored by Lab Director Steven Ashby

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory: Skating to where the puck will be

March 23, 2017
Source: Tri-City Herald, reposted with permission from Tri-City Herald

  • Xiaochuan Lu

    PNNL materials scientist Xiaochuan Lu assembles a sodium-beta battery in a glove box. Researchers at PNNL are advancing energy storage technologies that could be used in consumer electronics, for transportation and to store energy, including that generated by renewable resources, so that it can be used when and where it is needed on the grid.

  • Eric Andersen

    Eric Andersen, Jeff Banning and Tamica Dickenson are among the engineers and coordinators who manage the Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center at PNNL. Researchers at this facility, often in partnership with industry and academia, are exploring how changes in the way the nation's electrical grid is operated can improve its reliability and resiliency while lowering energy costs and providing the flexibility to incorporate more clean energy options.

  • Molly O'Hagan

    Molly O'Hagan, a chemist at PNNL, explores different catalysts inspired by nature. One of PNNL's Laboratory Objectives focuses on chemical conversion breakthroughs, including improved catalysts, to make more sustainable fuels.


    Michele Conroy, a post-doctorate research associate at PNNL, uses high-resolution electron microscopes to study the properties and behavior of nuclear materials. The knowledge gained through PNNL's fundamental research in this area may prove useful to Hanford cleanup, nuclear power production and nuclear nonproliferation.


The "Great One" of hockey fame, Wayne Gretzky, said the secret to his success was skating to where the puck would be, not where it has been. Great organizations are similar: they anticipate their customers' needs and then meet those needs before— and better —than anyone else.

At the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, we have a 51-year history of doing just this for our many sponsors. We work together closely to understand their needs, envision the future and then exceed their expectations in making that future a reality. As a result, our 4,400 talented and diverse employees have earned PNNL an outstanding reputation for performance, positioning us well for the future.

DOE's most recent evaluation of Battelle's management of PNNL supports this assertion. We were among the top-ranked Office of Science laboratories with respect to the quality and impact of our science and technology. DOE's decision to extend Battelle's contract to operate the laboratory through 2022 validates our consistent performance with regards to research, as well as our ability to operate safely, securely and efficiently.

Looking to the future, we are focused on the enduring needs of our nation and planet. We are focused on advancing scientific frontiers and delivering solutions to some of the most challenging problems in energy, sustainability and security. Guided by Albert Einstein's words, "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better," we seek to understand, predict and control the behavior of complex adaptive systems—especially the energy, earth and security systems that are vital to our society.

For example, partnering with DOE, industry and others, we will realize the robust, resilient and secure electric grid of the 21st century. We are leveraging our work over the past decade, including tools to better understand real-time grid performance. We will demonstrate the potential of "transactive" energy, which uses two-way communication between the grid and the various loads on it to shift when and how energy is used for increased efficiency, reduced costs and additional flexibility. And drawing upon our cybersecurity expertise, we will make the grid even more secure.

We will focus our chemistry and materials capabilities to develop more sustainable fuels. For example, we are seeking more efficient catalysts that work at lower temperatures, thereby reducing the cost of possibly turning waste carbon into commercially viable energy sources. And we are advancing battery technology, from the kind you might find in cell phones to those used in electric cars or for storing energy for the electric grid.

In the area of sustainability, we will apply our expertise in earth systems to improve understanding of terrestrial-aquatic ecosystems— where land and water meet —to explore how we might mitigate impacts of extreme weather events such as drought and superstorms. These important ecosystems are environmentally sensitive and where much of the population lives.

In a last example, we aim to better understand the behavior of irradiated materials. This fundamental research is applicable to Hanford cleanup, nuclear power production and nuclear non-proliferation. The endeavor builds on our unmatched expertise in radiochemistry and unique experimental facilities.

It takes collaboration to deliver on these promises and meet national needs. Even the "Great One" relied on teammates that shared his passion and dedication. We will therefore strengthen our partnerships with other labs, industry and academia. In particular, we look forward to establishing joint research programs with Washington State University and the University of Washington.

At the heart of PNNL's success are our employees. Their passion, dedication, creativity and innovation are truly inspiring. I am grateful for everything that they and their supportive families have done for PNNL, the amazing things they do every day and the impact they will make well into the future.

Steven Ashby, director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, writes this column monthly. His other columns and opinion pieces are available here.

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