CleanTech Alliance Member Spotlight: Idaho National Laboratory


J. Thomas Ranken
President & CEO

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) joined the CleanTech Alliance as a Platinum Member, expanding the Alliance’s presence and also picking up a regional leader in nuclear and clean energy research and technology.

Like Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) – a vital CleanTech Alliance Platinum Member — INL is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) national laboratory system. INL started in 1949 as the Atomic Energy Commission’s National Reactor Testing Station and was where the U.S. Navy built prototype training reactors for its submarines and surface vessels. While it remains DOE’s lead nuclear energy research laboratory, its charter includes homeland security and clean energy research such as infrastructure security, energy storage, biofuels, micro-grid integration, and plug-in electric vehicles. INL also conducts critical materials research, recovering rare earth elements from electronics to reduce dependence on foreign sources and to provide a solution to growing – and very serious — waste disposal problem.

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for DOE. When the contract was signed in 2005, one of the conditions was the establishment of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies. CAES is a consortium that makes the lab’s expertise and resources available to Idaho’s three public research universities – Idaho State University, Boise State University, University of Idaho and University of Wyoming, which joined in 2014. This distinctive effort has expanded the lab’s scope and made it a regional leader on energy and water issues.

After INL became a Platinum Member in late October, I visited Idaho Falls to learn more about the lab, its mission and capabilities. I was a guest speaker on Nov. 17, giving a talk about “Making CleanTech Connections that Make a Difference” and met with Michael Hagood (INL’s Acting Director for Energy and Environment Science and Technology, also Acting Director of CAES), Tammie Borders (CAES Industry Manager) and Rita Baranwal (Initiative Director of GAIN — Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear). The following day, I was treated to a tour of INL’s Energy Systems Laboratory and met with economic development partners and INL researchers.

INL’s participation in CleanTech Alliance is aimed at broadening the lab’s brand recognition across the region, Hagood said. The lab has achieved some notable milestones in 2016. Here is a brief rundown of INL’s nuclear and clean energy accomplishments.

GAIN Initiative

When DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy established the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) it made INL the organization’s headquarters. GAIN was established to provide the nuclear community with a single point of access to the broad range of capabilities — people, facilities, materials, infrastructure and data — across the DOE complex. GAIN expands upon DOE’s work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to assist technology developers through the regulatory process. GAIN integrates and facilitates efforts by private industry, universities and government research institutions to test, develop and demonstrate advanced nuclear technologies to accelerate the licensing and commercialization of these systems.

NuScale/UAMPS Partnership

DOE’s Idaho Site has been identified as the preferred location for the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP), which calls for small modular reactors to be built by NuScale Power, a Corvallis, Ore., company owned by Fluor. Initial licensing and investigative activities are underway, with the combined construction and operating license application expected to be completed in 2018. In February 2016, DOE issued a Site Use Permit to UAMPS, granting it access to the INL site for the purposes of identifying potential locations for the NuScale Power Plant and, if suitable, the long term use of a preferred site. UAMPS is anticipating commercial operation in 2024, with the full 12-module plant in operation by 2025.

Grid Modernization Projects

INL was designated the lead laboratory on four projects identified as part of the $220 million Grid Modernization Initiative announced in January by the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, INL will collaborate with other national laboratories on 11 other projects. At the time of the announcement, the work was expected to amount to roughly $10 million for INL through September 2018.

Battery500 Initiative

INL earned a spot on a multi-disciplinary consortium working to produce a smaller, lighter and less expensive vehicle battery by boosting the “specific energy” in today’s electric vehicles (EVs). Compared to the 170 to 200 watt-hours per kilogram in today’s typical EV battery, reaching 500 Wh/kg while achieving 1,000 electric vehicle cycles would result in a significantly smaller, lighter weight, less expensive battery pack and more affordable EVs.

Extracting Minerals From Cell Phones

Drs. Tedd Lister and Luis Diaz-Aldana of INL were selected for a 2016 TechConnect National Innovation Award and as recipients of a Federal Laboratory Consortium Far West Region award for their process Electrochemical Recycling Electronic Constituents of Value (E-RECOV). In November, it was named an Idaho Innovation Award winner for Early-Stage Innovation of the Year. A Small Business Voucher (SBV) pilot from DOE is allowing INL to collaborate with e-Materials Recovery, LLC, based in Austintown, Ohio, which has a technology for turning circuit boards into “char” from which minerals can be extracted.

Forward Osmosis

INL’s research into Switchable Polarity Solvent Forward Osmosis (SPS FO) received a lot of recognition in 2016, most notably as an exhibit at the White House Water Summit in March. The technology rewrites the established relationship between water purification and cost, offering the potential of greatly reducing the cost of water treatment by focusing on thermal-driven processes, which are far less expensive than conventional electricity-driven processes. By combining two relatively new technologies, INL’s patented technique can purify water from solutions containing salts, organics, inorganics, biologics and other materials. The technology has been proposed as a way to purify water contaminated in oil and gas extraction, also a solution for desalination on a wide scale.

Laboratory for Entrepreneurship

With a longstanding reputation for engineering ideas into reality, INL made a distinguished showing in the DOE’s Lab-Corps program, aimed at guiding lab-originated concepts into the marketplace. During Fiscal Year 2016, INL had 11 teams of researchers selected to participate in Lab-Corps, which hosts teams from throughout the national laboratory system and charges them with bringing a clean energy technology to market by following guidelines based on customer interactions and market feedback. Lab-Corps is a competitive program, and the two INL teams in the Fall 2015 pilot cohort posted the highest scores and some of the highest numbers of customer interviews.

Leadership in Water-Energy

CAES hosted its first Industry Water-Energy Workshop, featuring speakers from INL, University of Wyoming, University of Idaho and trade groups like the Northwest Food Processors Association. Participants also included representatives from 26 companies including Intel Corp., J.R. Simplot Co., Inland Empire Paper Co. and PacifiCorp. Roughly 80 people attended, hailing from national labs, academia and seven industry sectors: bioenergy, chemicals, energy resource extraction, electricity conversion/production, food processing, pulp and paper, and semi-conductor/computing/high-tech.