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ORNL, TVA partner to drive decarbonization, explore carbon-free technologies

High-voltage power lines carry electricity generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority to ORNL. Credit: Dobie Gillispie/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority, or TVA, are joining forces to advance decarbonization technologies from discovery through deployment through a new memorandum of understanding, or MOU.

Eliminating carbon dioxide emissions in the production of U.S. electricity is essential to achieving the federal government’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions. TVA — which provides electricity for 153 local power companies serving 10 million people in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states — is actively implementing a variety of new technologies in pursuit of this goal.

As DOE’s largest science and energy laboratory, ORNL offers unique research and development capabilities and expertise that can further accelerate the transition to a carbon-free electricity sector.

“ORNL applies a broad range of scientific capabilities to the development of clean energy solutions,” ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia said, “and TVA is an invaluable partner for deploying these technologies for the benefit of East Tennessee and the nation.”

Partnerships between TVA and ORNL date to the earliest days of the lab, with recent collaborations including the first full-scale computer simulation of a working nuclear reactor and installation of 3D-printed reactor components, all aimed at accelerating cost-effective deployment of carbon-free nuclear power.

“TVA is proud to partner with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to identify and scale innovative nuclear and other technologies that will create a cleaner, carbon-free future,” Jeff Lyash, TVA president and CEO, said. “This is right in TVA’s wheelhouse, and our partnership will redefine what’s possible for the national and global energy industry.”

The institutions will work together to promote, pursue, evaluate and demonstrate the feasibility, operability and affordability of utility-scale decarbonization technologies. These technologies will focus on electricity, but the partners may also explore related developments such as hydrogen generation and grid modernization and security.

Under the new MOU, the partners intend to explore:

  • Direct air carbon capture from power-generating plant exhaust and from dilute sources such as the atmosphere;
  • Converting carbon dioxide into valuable products;
  • Hydrogen generation and utilization;
  • Static and dynamic electric vehicle, or EV, charging and applications that pair EVs and the electrical grid;
  • Light water small modular reactors and fourth-generation advanced nuclear reactors, building on the partners’ 2020 advanced reactor technology MOU;
  • Long-duration energy storage;
  • Electrification of parts of the economy currently fueled by fossil energy, as well as solutions related to geothermal heating and cooling along with process heating; and
  • Modernization of the grid to enhance reliability and resiliency, improve cybersecurity and prevent outages due to extreme weather.

Throughout the partnership, ORNL’s campus will serve as a living laboratory to accelerate the development, demonstration and deployment of these emerging technologies.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the U.S. 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