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An Important Part of the Solution

 

Editorial by David J. Hill
ORNL Associate Laboratory Director
Energy and Engineering Sciences
 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the nation's leading energy research and development laboratory. This simple statement encompasses a wide range of activities and brings to mind images of coal-fired power plants, nuclear reactors, fusion devices, and overhead electricity transmission lines. But as we envision the nation's energy future here at ORNL, we focus on more than large-scale energy generation and transmission concerns for the Department of Energy. We also address the many issues that surround how energy is distributed and ultimately consumed, as well as how to encourage a more efficient use of energy.

The events of recent years have taught us the importance of energy to the stability of the world's economic and political systems. The worldwide recession caused by the first oil price shock of 1973 led to an explosion of new technologies and fostered new policies that encouraged more efficient energy use. Since that time, the United States has reduced the economy's energy intensity by 1 to 2% per year, thereby avoiding imports of billions of barrels of oil and the release of millions of metric tons of carbon and other health-threatening pollutants into the atmosphere. While today there is a lively debate on the causes and consequences of global climate change, the reality of climate change is increasingly accepted. This realization, combined with the recognition that the world needs ever-increasing supplies of energy to sustain the industrial economies of the developed world, as well as the rapidly growing economies of countries such as China and India, has led to increased attention not only to the problems of energy supply and demand but also to the need for more energy R&D worldwide.

Energy efficiency must be part of any solution to the world's energy challenge. At ORNL, our energy efficiency R&D draws upon a science base, with a focus on translating research results into technology solutions that enable energy resources to be used more productively. Our R&D is characterized by a close working relationship with industry, states, and the Tennessee Valley Authority because, ultimately, if the technologies are not economically viable, they will not be accepted in the marketplace. ORNL researchers have been exploring technologies that would significantly reduce the use of petroleum-based fuels. Examples of these technologies include lightweight materials for transportation vehicles, production and storage of hydrogen, and power electronics for hybrid engines. We also have generated an equally wide range of innovative products, such as hybrid solar lighting, highly efficient refrigerators, low-energy-use houses, and superconducting wire, in addition to micro-grid systems. Oak Ridge's work for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Electric Transmission and Distribution has led to no less than 46 of the R&D 100 awards given by R&D Magazine since 1963 to recognize each year's top 100 innovations. This issue of the ORNL Review provides a broad overview of ORNL's contribution to improving energy efficiency, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, and developing long-term solutions to the world's energy needs.

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