At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, we like to think our mission is "solving the big problems." Increasing numbers of Americans believe that finding lasting solutions to the nation's "energy problem" may be the Laboratory's most daunting and important scientific challenge of the next decade. One can say without hyperbole that the stakes— economic growth, environmental sustainability, even national security—are profound.
In scientific terms, the broad category of "energy" encompasses a variety of disparate activities that involve our daily lives, including the cars we drive and the homes and buildings in which we live and work. The need to develop a comprehensive suite of energy-efficient technologies makes impractical the notion of a solitary dramatic breakthrough or "silver bullet" solution that will generate adequate energy savings. In the same way that obesity cannot be solved by a single pill without diet or exercise, America's appetite for energy cannot be quelled with a single technology that ignores current habits of energy consumption. We use energy in lots of ways, and it will require lots of new ideas to fashion a collective solution for government, business and individuals.
Combining a host of cutting-edge technologies with "out-of-the-box" thinking, ORNL researchers are seeking creative ways to generate these sustainable energy solutions. In this quest, they are guided by a fundamental principle—that the solutions must be applicable to the lives of average Americans. The research required to build a zero-energy house is a wasted investment if the house requires a million dollars worth of gadgets to lower energy costs. Similarly, building a car in the laboratory that gets 90 miles per gallon is pointless if the car's lightweight materials make it unaffordable to the general public. In other words, new energy solutions must be designed for the real world, practical to manufacture and affordable to the majority of American consumers.
This issue of the Review is dedicated to energy solutions designed at ORNL for the real world. The theme is captured in the issue's cover image of "zero-energy" homes built for Habitat for Humanity through a partnership of ORNL and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Constructed for about $100,000, the homes use an innovative combination of insulation, solar panels, energyefficient appliances and innovative heating and air conditioning systems to produce a daily energy cost of only 40 cents. The goal, quite literally, is an affordable home by 2020 that could generate more energy than it consumes.
From cars made of new lightweight carbon fibers instead of steel to modern buildings illuminated by hybrid solar lighting, the Department of Energy has joined with ORNL researchers in a commitment to transfer the discoveries of the Laboratory to commercial products that can both save energy and provide Americans, regardless of income, a chance to sustain their quality of life. In the Buildings Technology Center, the High Temperature Materials Laboratory and the National Transportation Research Center, the challenge to discover new energy solutions at ORNL is undertaken without moral prejudice or an attempt to assign blame. Rather, the researchers are guided by the knowledge that their efforts will be part of what may prove to be the new century's most critical scientific undertaking.
They are, indeed, solving America's "big problems."
Web site provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Communications and External Relations