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Economic development honor among ORNL’s 5 federal laboratory awards

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development were recognized by the Federal Laboratory Consortium for their impactful partnership that resulted in a record $2.3 billion investment by Ultium Cells. A joint venture of General Motors and LG Energy Solution, Ultium Cells plans to build a battery cell manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, that will employ 1,300 people.

The honor is ORNL’s first-ever FLC award for State and Local Economic Development. In addition to the economic development award, four technologies developed by ORNL researchers have won Excellence in Technology Transfer Awards. The annual FLC Awards recognize significant accomplishments in transferring federal laboratory technologies to the marketplace. The FLC national meeting and awards reception will be held April 6 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Since the consortium’s founding in 1986, ORNL has won a total of 73 awards.

“At ORNL, every stage of the research process is a priority, including the commercialization of our technology. It is an honor to be recognized for our efforts in this area as we ensure our scientific breakthroughs have a positive impact on the nation,” said ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia.

Tennessee accounts for nearly 40% of the nation’s electric vehicle, or EV, manufacturing jobs. The state's automotive industry employs more than 141,000 workers at 930 sites, including Volkswagen, Nissan and General Motors assembly plants. Manufacturers are shifting production to electric cars and trucks and the industry needs better batteries with longer ranges and faster recharge speeds, as well as cleaner, more sustainable battery materials.

Recognizing the unique expertise of their organizations, ORNL, Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, or TNECD, have been working together for several years to bring startups developing battery technologies for EVs and established automotive firms to Tennessee. The team’s pitch to potential investors outlined Tennessee’s well-established automotive footprint, ORNL’s deep research expertise and world-class facilities — such as the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and Battery Manufacturing Facility — and smart energy-use strategies enabled by TVA.

The partnership team includes Jesse Smith and Jeffrey Cornett, ORNL Industrial Partnerships and Economic Development Office; Chris Berryman, TVA economic development target market specialist; and Victoria Hirschberg, TNECD business development director.

“ORNL has called Tennessee home for nearly 80 years, and it is essential that we work alongside our partners to expand and invigorate the regional ecosystem,” Zacharia said. “Between our world-leading scientific expertise and capabilities, Tennessee’s automotive industry and our unique partners across the state, we are seeing Tennessee continue to grow as an EV and battery innovation hub.”

The team’s success in positioning Tennessee as a leader in electric transportation is supported by RevV!, an ORNL voucher program funded by the state. RevV! simplifies the process of connecting companies to ORNL scientists who are conducting innovative manufacturing research relevant to their businesses. Since the program began in 2015, the state has given $1.8 million in RevV! vouchers to seven EV battery and storage and automotive firms.

The economic development collaboration across ORNL, TVA and TNECD has resulted in an estimated $8.2 billion invested in the region for EV companies, their suppliers and battery manufacturing since 2017 and more than 4,000 new EV-related jobs.

FLC Award winners from ORNL in the Excellence in Technology Transfer category include:

SCIEX Licenses ORNL’s CellSight Innovation and Markets Echo MS

ORNL’s CellSight technology, an R&D 100 award winner, addresses a critical need for better understanding of variations in individual cell composition. CellSight analyzes tissue samples with single-cell resolution at high speeds — one cell per second — to detect, identify and quantify the chemical species in a sample with unmatched sensitivity and specificity.

This advancement has the significant potential to inform the development and discovery of precisely targeted drugs and therapeutics that may improve lives and extend life expectancies. Knowledge of the chemical constituents in single cells is also valuable for applications such as fundamental biology research, clinical disease research and diagnostics that leverage cell signaling and rapid cell function analyses.

In 2020, SCIEX, a global leader in life science analytical technologies, licensed CellSight to explore integrations with SCIEX systems and the open port interface, or OPI. Built off the licensed technology of ORNL’s open port sampling interface, OPI launched as part of the Echo MS system. Echo MS is an acoustic ejection mass spectrometry system that delivers speed, scale and data quality to high-throughput screening laboratories working with complex biology. SCIEX’s goal is to leverage OPI with single cell sample introduction to enable rapid, native, single cell mass spectrometry.

ORNL’s John Cahill, Vilmos Kertesz and Gary Van Berkel, now retired, led the research and development work. ORNL’s Jennifer Caldwell led the commercialization effort. Team members from SCIEX include Jamie Wighton, Phil Kilby and Tom Covey.

Funding for the project came from the DOE Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and ORNL’s Technology Innovation Program.

3D-Printed SiC Technology Brings Zero-Carbon Energy Production to U.S.

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, or USNC, licensed an ORNL-developed method to 3D print components for nuclear reactors using silicon carbide, or SiC. The technology uses a sophisticated additive manufacturing technique to print refractory materials, which are highly resistant to extreme heat and degradation, into components with complex shapes needed for advanced nuclear reactor designs.

USNC will incorporate this method to boost their mission to develop and deploy nuclear-based, zero carbon energy-generating equipment that is safe, commercially competitive and simple to use.

The company also plans to expand its operations into East Tennessee to take advantage of proximity to ORNL’s expertise while scaling up production of specialty components for nuclear and industrial applications. USNC’s new Pilot Fuel Manufacturing facility will be located at the East Tennessee Technology Park in Oak Ridge. USNC has deployed SiC 3D-printing technology in its Advanced Ceramics Manufacturing facility in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Inventors of this technology include USNC's Kurt Terrani, Brian Jolly and Michael Trammel. ORNL’s Eugene Cochran, Dan Vacar and Marc Filigenzi collaborated on the effort to patent, license and commercialize the technology. USNC CEO Francesco Venneri also contributed to the team’s work.

The initial research was supported by DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy and made possible by the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL. The MDF is supported by the Advanced Manufacturing Office within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Licensing Artificial Intelligence Software for Real-Time Monitoring of Additive Manufacturing

Peregrine, ORNL’s artificial intelligence, or AI, software for powder-bed 3D printers, assesses the quality of parts produced in real time. The software supports an advanced manufacturing digital platform in development at ORNL that analyzes data throughout the manufacturing process. Peregrine monitoring helps ensure that 3D-printed parts are ready to install in essential applications.

The software has the potential to transform the American manufacturing industry by making additive manufacturing, or AM, more accessible. More efficient, less costly 3D printing would reduce labor costs, improve design capabilities and produce innovative materials.

The software and its underlying AI technology are available to industry via a unique licensing campaign and agreements that allow companies to quickly adapt Peregrine with ongoing support. ORNL leveraged the high level of engagement with industry at the lab’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, or MDF, which provided the foundation for Peregrine’s development and enables prospective licensees to see the software in action.

Peregrine licensees currently include Blue Origin, a commercial aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company; Cummins Inc., which manufactures engines, filtration and power generation products; GE Additive, the dedicated AM division of General Electric; the aerospace and defense company Raytheon Technologies; and Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation, a nuclear power technology company.

Peregrine was invented by ORNL’s Luke Scime and Vincent Paquit. ORNL’s efforts for copyrighting, patenting and commercializing Peregrine were led by Eugene Cochran and Dan Vacar.

The capabilities of the MDF, which is funded by the Advanced Manufacturing Office at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, were used to develop Peregrine.

ORNL Partners with Ateios Systems through License for Paper-Thin, Customizable Batteries

Ateios Systems, a startup focused on innovative batteries, has licensed an ORNL technology for solvent-free battery component production using radiation curing. The new method shortens processing from minutes to seconds, significantly lowers capital and operating costs, and reduces emissions.

Ateios Systems’ near-term focus is leveraging the technology to manufacture ultra-thin batteries for wearable devices and the Internet of Things, or physical objects embedded with sensors or processing systems. The company has developed a unique manufacturing process and advanced materials to produce a product called Enercalm, surface-mountable batteries designed for high-power wireless communication devices. ORNL’s solvent-free process is compatible with the company’s manufacturing process, enabling quick scale-up by decreasing production time, significantly lowering energy requirements and equipment costs, and limiting the amount of space needed.

The adaptable technology holds promise to enable the widespread use of lightweight, flexible batteries for products like continuous glucose monitors, sleep trackers and other devices that allow people to monitor conditions and make proactive decisions. In the long term, Ateios Systems seeks to expand into electric vehicles and power grid applications.

ORNL’s Jennifer Caldwell and Susan Ochs led the commercialization efforts. ORNL’s Zhijia Du, Christopher Janke, Jianlin Li and David Wood — currently on entrepreneurial leave — are co-inventors on the technology. The team also includes Ateios Systems’ Carlos Munoz and Rajan Kumar.

The project was sponsored by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.