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ORNL awarded two Energy Frontier Research Centers


OAK RIDGE, Tenn., June 20, 2014—Oak Ridge National Laboratory will be home to two Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) announced this week by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The Department of Energy awarded a total of $100 million to 32 EFRC projects to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build the 21st-century energy economy.

“Today, we are mobilizing some of our most talented scientists to join forces and pursue the discoveries and breakthroughs that will lay the foundation for our nation’s energy future,” Secretary Moniz said. “The funding we’re announcing today will help fuel scientific and technological innovation.”

The two ORNL EFRCs are a renewal of the Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport (FIRST) Center, which is led by David Wesolowski, and a new award to the Energy Dissipation to Defect Evolution (EDDE) Center, led by Yanwen Zhang.

ORNL scientists also partnered on successful proposals to lay the groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, electrical energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration, materials and chemistry by design, biosciences and extreme environments. Those proposals include three new projects (led by the Georgia Institute of Technology, the State University of New York–Stony Brook, and Pennsylvania State University) and three renewals (led by Washington University in St. Louis, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

“We are extremely proud of our researchers,” said ORNL Director Thom Mason. “Our funded initiatives, selected from more than 200 proposals, focus Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s talent and resources on meeting a global need for sustainable energy.”

The FIRST center is expected to receive $15.2 million over four years. It convenes researchers from ORNL, Argonne National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University, Drexel University, the University of Delaware, the University of Virginia, Pennsylvania State University, the University of California–Davis and the University of California–Riverside to develop fundamental understanding of the nanoscale environment at fluid-solid interfaces. Understanding these interactions is the basis for improved batteries, capacitors, solar panels, fuel cells and catalysts, and is relevant to carbon dioxide conversion to fuels. One of the center’s goals is to predict and ultimately control the interactions of electrons, atoms, ions and molecules for the development of processes and materials for new energy technologies.

The EDDE center is expected to receive $14.8 million over four years. It brings together a multidisciplinary team of researchers from ORNL, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of California–Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the University of Michigan and the University of Tennessee to develop a fundamental understanding of energy dissipation mechanisms in materials under irradiation. The work ultimately aims to control the evolution of defects in structural alloys used in high-radiation environments, such as in nuclear reactors.

“ORNL brings great strengths in scientific expertise, facilities and leadership to addressing energy challenges,” said Associate Laboratory Director for Physical Sciences Michelle Buchanan. “We are honored to receive these awards and eager to bring our best efforts to this urgent endeavor.”

Twenty-three of the projects receiving funding are headed by universities, eight are led by the Energy Department’s National Laboratories and one is run by a nonprofit organization.  

Since their establishment by the Department’s Office of Science, the EFRCs have produced 5,400 peer-reviewed scientific publications and hundreds of inventions at various stages of the patent process. EFRC research has also benefited a number of large and small firms, including start-up companies.

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.