At its core, the Department of Energy is a science and technology enterprise focused on four principal national missions: clean energy innovation; scientific leadership and discovery; nuclear security; and environmental stewardship of the nuclear weapons complex. DOE’s capabilities are rooted in its system of national laboratories—17 world-class institutions that constitute the most comprehensive research and development network of its kind. The first annual report on the State of the DOE National Laboratories describes the lab system, its role in advancing the frontiers of science and technology, and efforts to ensure it continues as a national resource for the Department’s near- and long-term missions. Following is an excerpt from that report.
The DOE National Laboratories are the science and technology powerhouse that supports the department’s efforts in tackling the energy, science, national security, and environmental stewardship challenges that constitute the missions of the DOE. To ensure a secure, affordable, and clean energy future, advances are needed to make fossil-based energy sources cleaner at lower cost, to move from a reliance on fossil-derived fuels to renewable sources, to advance the state of the art in carbon-emissions-free nuclear power, to reduce overall energy usage by minimizing energy needs and losses, and to reduce the waste footprint of energy systems through carbon sequestration and other approaches. Further, continuing efforts to push the boundaries of our science and technology are essential to maintain the security posture for the Nation, ranging from our nuclear security to our efforts in ensuring the nonproliferation of nuclear technology, and continuing the cleanup of the legacy footprint from the Cold War.
At present, primary energy sources, namely nuclear energy, fossil energy (coal, oil, and natural gas), and renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal, and hydropower), are converted to electricity, which flows through power lines and other transmission infrastructure to homes and businesses. Keeping power flowing is critical for everyday life and economic vitality. Maintaining a resilient infrastructure and keeping the electric grid secure from cyber and physical attacks are foundational for our society. The energy industry is the third largest industry in the United States. The National Laboratories provide deep capabilities to this industry to ensure cutting-edge technologies are explored and evaluated.
Discovering new energy technologies on many fronts: The National Laboratories play a vital role in developing advanced technologies for the generation, distribution, storage, and use of energy in both stationary and mobile applications.
Example: Clean energy. Through the National Laboratories, energy independence and leadership in clean energy technologies are advanced to ensure the availability of clean, reliable, and affordable energy for our Nation. The National Laboratories perform cutting-edge research and deploy innovative clean energy technologies. For example, they have helped develop the current breed of high-efficiency wind generators and new, high-efficiency solar cells.
Example: Fracking. The National Laboratories had a major role in the development of hydro-fracking technology, which has led to the “shale gas revolution,” yielding significant increases in oil and gas production. In this regard, scientists at the National Laboratories helped develop 3D seismic imaging, directional drilling techniques, and diamond drill bits, and conducted computer simulation, pore level analysis and modeling, and monitoring and evaluation of fracking.
Example: Energy efficiency and conservation. The National Laboratories developed the solid-state ballast for fluorescent lighting, which has been one of the greatest gains in energy efficiency ever. The National Laboratories also have made important advances on construction and design of buildings, as well as the efficiency of the equipment inside of them.
Facilitating safe, clean, and efficient use of existing energy technologies: The National Laboratories have been instrumental in advances in traditional energy sources, such as high-efficiency, combined-cycle natural gas turbines, supercritical coal boilers, and nuclear generating plants. National Laboratoy R&D has also led the way in supporting ancillary waste-management activities essential to the continued use of traditional energy sources, including, for example, carbon capture and sequestration and the safe and secure management and permanent disposal of nuclear wastes.
Performing award-winning research: Scientific innovation is often recognized through R&D 100 awards given annually in recognition of exceptional new products or processes that were developed and introduced into the marketplace during the previous year. The awards are selected by an independent panel of judges based on the technical significance, uniqueness, and usefulness of projects and technologies from across industry, government, and academia. Since 1962, when the annual competition began, DOE’s National Laboratories have received over 800 R&D 100 awards. In 2015, they won 33 of 100 awards in the competition.
Strengthening U.S. competitiveness: The United States is home to a thriving energy industry, with globally competitive firms in all technology subsectors, and the National Laboratories have provided much of the foundational knowledge that helped grow this industry rapidly in the past.
The transition of scientific and technical outputs from the DOE’s National Laboratories to private sector partners has always been an important driver of national prosperity and an integral part of the National Laboratories’ mission. The DOE 2014–2018 Strategic Plan supports this work by leveraging the impact of Federal R&D investment in the Laboratories, accelerating the transfer of technology into the private and government sectors, and responding to opportunities and challenges.
The National Laboratories are innovation powerhouses, featuring world-class user facilities, cutting-edge instruments, and leading scientists and engineers. These outstanding technical and intellectual assets are available to entrepreneurs in the private sector through a variety of means, including access to the DOE user facilities, collaborative research with scientists, and the creation of strategic partnerships. Private sector companies have already formed thousands of active agreements with DOE National Laboratories, making discoveries, solving technical problems, and developing innovations.
Examples: New programs to move innovation to the marketplace. Working with DOE, the National Laboratories have taken important steps in recent years toward improving engagement and strategic partnerships that help reduce or shift risk with private sector engagements, such as the adoption of the Agreement for Commercializing Technology (ACT) contracting mechanism for industry-sponsored research and Fast Track Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). ACT and the Fast Track CRADAs represent concrete steps taken by the Department and its Laboratories to increase flexibility and reduce the agreement processing timeline.
The Lab-Corps Pilot is another avenue to empower researchers engaged in technology transitions to commercialize National Laboratory technologies. The National Laboratories continue to identify other opportunities for technology transitions training and professional development for researchers across the DOE National Laboratory Complex. Additionally, in FY 2016, a Small Business Vouchers Pilot was initiated to increase the utilization of Lab assets by small businesses.
The Energy Technology Commercialization Fund (ETCF), authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, established a path to provide matching funds with private partners to promote promising energy technologies for commercial purposes. In 2014, over $2.3 billion was made available for applied energy research, development, demonstration, and commercialization.
Basic science, including the tools needed to facilitate discovery, expands our understanding of the natural world and forms the foundation for future technologies. The DOE National Laboratories are at the forefront in the pursuit of discovery and innovation in basic science. They are unveiling secrets of the basic building blocks of matter, such as quarks, neutrinos, and the Higgs boson. They are also peering deep into space, seeking understanding of the dark matter and dark energy that seem to dominate the universe and yet remain mysterious. They are creating a new generation of materials (including biological and bio-inspired materials) that may underpin the imperative of advances in energy generation, storage, transmission, efficiency, and security. Creating such materials requires a level of understanding of the relationships between structure and function, and across many spatial scales, which is not yet supported by our understanding of the physical world.
Basic scientific research fills these knowledge gaps and enables discovery and innovation in everything from the creation of new materials with the characteristics needed for next-generation clean energy technologies to a greater understanding of the universe a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.
Science and Energy
Fundamental science can provide the underpinning knowledge required to formulate new concepts for future energy technologies. National Laboratories provide a rich environment where fundamental and applied science are closely coupled to encourage the development of new technologies that will ensure a secure, economically competitive, and environmentally responsible energy future for the Nation. The examples that follow illustrate the breadth and impact of the work of the National Laboratories as related to energy.
Revolutionizing and diversifying the nation’s energy supply: Transportation is a major consumer of energy in the United States. Production of transportation fuels from sunlight offers a plentiful supply of clean energy, including production of fuels from biomass, generation of hydrogen from water, and even conversion of carbon dioxide into fuels. The National Laboratories are utilizing a range of strategies to increase efficiency and diversify the Nation’s fuel supply: applying high performance computing to model combustion, engines, and aerodynamics; developing new materials for catalytic production of fuels; and improving fuels extraction. The National Laboratories have developed novel nanomaterials, ceramics, and even “bio-inspired” molecules that mimic nature’s enzymes, all of which can be designed and modeled using DOE’s high performance computational resources.
Advancing energy conversion for electricity and fuels production: The sun is the
ultimate source of free energy, and a new generation of materials is needed to efficiently
harness this energy by converting solar radiation into electricity or
fuels. This source of energy could be used across all four energy sectors: residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation.
The National Laboratories are designing a new generation of nanomaterials that will far exceed today’s silicon-based
technologies, both in increased efficiencies and in reduced costs.
Example: Solar-to-fuels generation. Through the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), National Laboratory researchers are investigating the design of highly efficient solar-to-fuel generators that utilize water and carbon dioxide to produce energy-dense fuels. The primary goals being pursued are discovery and understanding of highly selective catalytic mechanisms for carbon dioxide reduction and oxygen evolution under mild conditions of temperature and pressure; discovery of new electrocatalytic and photoelectrocatalytic materials and light-absorbing photoelectrodes; and demonstration in test-bed prototypes of artificial photosynthetic carbon dioxide reduction and oxygen evolution rivaling natural photosynthesis.
Developing storage and distribution for a modern grid: Electrical energy storage is critical to realizing the full potential of both electric-powered transportation and renewable electrical energy sources for the grid. Fundamental research is providing breakthroughs in new materials and chemical processes to produce higher capacity, safer, and less expensive batteries for the future and to develop the power electronics necessary to use them. Research at the National Laboratories, coupled with associated DOE user facilities (including x-ray light and neutron sources and nanoscience centers), is providing key information that will allow next-generation batteries and capacitors to be realized.
Example: Innovative battery technologies. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, is pursuing next-generation battery technologies that will transform both the transportation sector and the electric grid. Crosscutting approaches to computer simulation and discovery of battery electrodes and electrolytes are being developed. Team scientists are pursuing novel syntheses of battery materials and using advanced characterization tools, including multinuclear magnetic resonance, electron microscopy, x-ray scattering, and scanning probes.
Discovering tomorrow’s energy-efficient technologies: Next-generation materials have the potential to greatly enhance energy efficiency. National Laboratories are developing new thermoelectric materials that can convert waste heat to electricity for use in vehicles, homes, or industry; magneto-caloric materials to provide higher efficiency substitutes for traditional heating and cooling sources; and advanced materials for thermally efficient windows. Working closely with applied programs, materials scientists and engineers are translating these fundamental breakthroughs into new energy technologies that are being licensed by industries in the United States.
Reducing the waste footprint of energy through science: Waste resulting from energy production has enormous environmental impact not to mention added costs, and waste minimization presents an opportunity to increase total efficiency. Understanding the fate of pollutants, such as the biological methylation of mercury, can yield a means to mitigate their impact. Waste treatment technologies are being developed to enable the separation of radioisotopes from waste streams, thereby lowering costs and minimizing disposal requirements. Subsurface carbon storage in geological formations is also being actively pursued by the National Laboratories.
Science and the Universe
The universe around us retains the imprint of the fundamental processes governing its evolution from the Big Bang to the present. The fundamental particles and forces of nature can be examined in Laboratory experiments today by recreating the conditions of the early universe. They also govern the atomic-scale properties of atoms and materials, and eventually the macroscopic behavior of complex systems. Pursuing the science of the universe challenges the imaginations of new generations of scientists, and delivers the scientific discoveries that transform our understanding of nature.
Understanding the subatomic building blocks and forces of the universe: Subatomic physics explores the fundamental constituents of matter and energy. It reveals the profound connections underlying everything we see, including the smallest and the largest structures in the universe. The field has been highly successful. Investments have been rewarded recently with discoveries of the heaviest elementary particle (the top quark), the tiny masses of neutrinos, the accelerated expansion of the universe, and the Higgs boson. From the hot
dense soup of quarks and gluons in the first microseconds after the Big Bang, through the formation of protons and neutrons beginning the evolution of the chemical elements, to the awesome power of nuclear fission, the physics of nuclei is fundamental to our understanding of the universe and, at the same time, intertwined in
the fabric of our lives. Nuclear physicists and chemists are creating totally new elements in the Laboratory and producing isotopes of elements that, hitherto, have only existed in stellar explosions or in the mergers of
neutron stars. Current opportunities will exploit these and other discoveries to push the frontiers of science into new territory at the highest energies and earliest times imaginable.
Example: Discovery of the Higgs boson. The massive particle detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) were constructed to explore the frontiers of particle physics at high energies and to discover the Higgs boson, a key particle in understanding the origin of the universe. The LHC program is a model for successful international science projects, with the U.S. contingent consisting of some 1,200– 1,400 scientists, from approximately 90 universities and five DOE National Laboratories. With the identification of the Higgs boson, a new window for discovery has now been opened. What principles determine the effect of the Higgs on other particles? How does it interact with neutrinos or with dark matter? Is there one Higgs particle or many? Is the new particle really fundamental, or is it composed of others? The Higgs boson offers a unique portal into the laws of nature, and it connects several areas of particle physics. Any small deviation in its expected properties would be a major breakthrough. The full discovery potential of the Higgs will be unleashed by percent-level precision studies of the Higgs properties at the upgrade of the LHC planned for around 2020.
Revolutionizing our understanding of nature at the atomic scale: The 20th century witnessed revolutionary advances in the synthesis and properties of materials. There are high-temperature superconductors that conduct electricity with no energy loss, carbon nanotubes that have a strength-to-weight ratio more than two orders of magnitude greater than steel, and a host of other technological developments. These extraordinary properties arise from the particular arrangement of the atoms in the material, defects in the materials, the way individual domains or components in the material interact with one another, or the characteristics of interfaces between two dissimilar materials across different length scales. Expanding our scientific knowledge from the relative simplicity of perfectly ordered systems to the real-world heterogeneities, interfaces, and disorder should
enable us to realize enormous benefits in the materials and chemical sciences that will translate to the energy sciences—including solar and nuclear power, hydraulic fracturing, power conversion, airframes, and batteries.
In materials science, the organizing principles governing emergent phenomena at the mesoscale, where classical properties first begin to emerge out of the quantum world, are only now being revealed. As systems grow in size from the nanoscale to the mesoscale, defects, interfaces, and fluctuations emerge that could be manipulated to program the various desired functionalities of materials, including specific thermal, electronic, magnetic, and mechanical properties at the bulk level.
National Security Programs
The nuclear security programs span a broad range of missions in the national interest:
- maintaining and enhancing the safety, security, and effectiveness of the S. nuclear weapons stockpile;
- conducting energy security research to address key challenges facing the Nation and the world;
- informing and implementing comprehensive risk-based systems solutions to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction;
- developing and deploying new capabilities to our defense and national security communities;
- understanding and preparing the Nation for the national security implications of climate change;
- securing the Nation’s critical energy and communications infrastructures;
- lowering the risk posed by nuclear and biological proliferation, terrorism, and catastrophic incidents;
- combining cybersecurity expertise with cutting-edge technology to keep critical systems safe and foil attacks;
- conducting biosecurity detection, characterization, and mitigation; and
- responding to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and
The National Laboratories constitute a unique resource for addressing the national security missions of DOE. In addition to their central role in nuclear security, the National Laboratories bring cutting-edge science, technology, and engineering (ST&E) to bear on the challenge of physical and cybersecurity threats to the U.S. energy infrastructure. The National Laboratories also partner with other Federal departments and agencies to provide innovative solutions in the broader areas of defense, homeland security, cybersecurity, and intelligence. The role of the National Laboratories in national security is a unique responsibility stemming from the Nation’s decision for civilian management of nuclear weapons R&D.
The deep scientific expertise resident in the DOE National Laboratory System serves the U.S. enduring goals of security and prosperity. The national security strategy outlines many complex challenges to the security of the Nation, including natural and manmade hazards, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, threats to human health, impacts of climate change, and threats to the access of electronic and space domains. Energy security constitutes an important goal in ensuring future prosperity.
Example: Improving the nation’s cybersecurity. Cybersecurity efforts at the National Laboratories demonstrate the broad impact of the national security work. These efforts focus on developing real-time situational awareness, advancing predictive and scalable simulations, and creating analytic methodologies and data management and fusion tools that are needed to protect the National Laboratories and other national assets both in the defense and civilian sectors.
Example: Addressing future uncertainties related to national security. Beyond execution of important national security mission objectives, the National Laboratory System provides an important resource to address future national security uncertainties. Importantly, the National Laboratories provide technical options for leaders to execute the national security strategy. Through engagement in cutting-edge R&D, the National Laboratories provide a resource to guard against technological surprise threatening national security and provide solutions to ensure U.S. leadership in an uncertain world. The value of this excellence serves an important role in U.S. relationships with international partners, for whom the National Laboratories’ capabilities are a key element of assurance and extended deterrence. For example, capabilities developed in the stockpile stewardship mission are being applied to addressing the threat of homemade explosives, from understanding the threat to developing methods of detecting and countering the threat.
Improving national security related to nuclear weapons: The NNSA draws its mission and authorities from the Atomic Energy Act and the subsequent NNSA Act and is now charged with programmatic missions in maintaining a safe, reliable, and effective nuclear deterrent, powering the nuclear navy, ensuring nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear safety, and reducing the global threat from weapons of mass destruction. In addition, NNSA is directed to support U.S. leadership in science and technology. These organizations sustain an integrated nuclear security enterprise by stewarding the National Laboratories and their capabilities, while also executing vital programmatic missions.
The National Laboratories and associated production plants and sites are the principal facilities for execution of the DOE’s national security missions. The genesis of this relationship can be traced to the Manhattan Project, when Laboratories and other facilities were established to coordinate research, development, and production of the first nuclear weapons. While most of the National Laboratories participate in national security programs, three of the largest National Laboratories (LANL, LLNL, and SNL) are managed under the aegis of DOE/NNSA as part of the DOE nuclear security enterprise. These three National Laboratories ensure that the essential and innovative ST&E capabilities required to serve the long-term DOE missions in management of the nuclear stockpile are sustained.
Example: Advances in high performance computing. The National Laboratories, partnering with the U.S. computer industry, have driven the state of the art in high performance computing and helped enable a global leadership role for U.S. industry. DOE has largely led this effort—initially for NNSA weapons development, and today enabling stockpile stewardship responsibilities. This process has driven remarkable advances in the state of the art of high-end computing, and in establishing U.S. leadership in the area.
Initiating nuclear threat reduction: The science and engineering base of the National Laboratories is also applied to the second of NNSA’s mission pillars: nuclear threat reduction. The National Laboratories provide staffing and expertise to engage with interagency and international partners and advance technical capabilities to prevent, counter, and respond to nuclear and radiological proliferation and terrorism threats and incidents worldwide.
Examples: Nonproliferation. National Labs provide unique scientific, technical, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities essential to countering global nuclear proliferation. National Laboratories’ expertise supports U.S. programs that prevent the proliferation of weapons-useable nuclear materials. Lab capabilities are required to assist countries around the world in converting reactors to low-enriched uranium fuel and repatriating the highly enriched uranium fuel. Labs develop and build advanced systems essential to monitor, detect, assess, and respond to the potential spread of nuclear materials and nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons capabilities.
Working with others on national security: The National Laboratories work in partnership across the U.S. Government, academia, and industry to be better prepared for future technological surprises that might threaten national security. To that end, the DOD, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Intelligence Community are able to leverage a deep and broad base of capabilities and specialized facilities. These strategic partnerships enable other Federal agencies to perform work not otherwise possible; in return, these relationships enrich the national security enterprise by helping to sustain science and technology capabilities that are important to meet future national defense requirements. In particular, the 2002 Homeland Security Act gave DHS direct access to the DOE National Laboratories’ unique expertise, knowledge base, and experimental and computational facilities to help with needed science and technology for homeland security.
In the context of applying innovation from the NNSA Laboratories to the broader marketplace, the role of strategic partnerships (and in particular nonfederal partnerships) takes on special significance in national security programs. Increasingly, innovation comes from all segments of the U.S. economy. Engagement with broader technical communities serves to enhance the capabilities of the National Laboratories to serve core missions in national security and enhance the creative environment that will attract the next-generation workforce.
The National Laboratories are also regularly engaged to address emerging challenges and opportunities that crosscut the Federal Government in such disparate areas as the Materials Genome Initiative, National Strategic Computing Initiative, Precision Medicine, Cancer Moonshot, and the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The Laboratories remain a resource for the United States for ST&E innovation in addressing national-level challenges.
Environmental Stewardship Programs
The DOE Office of Environmental Management (EM) has the mission to complete the safe cleanup of the environmental legacy brought about from the development and production of nuclear weapons and the government-sponsored nuclear energy program. This mission spans the DOE complex and includes 16 sites that remain the focus of ongoing cleanup efforts. Key to the timely and cost-effective accomplishment of that mission is the central role that National Laboratories have in providing innovative solutions to resolve the complex and high hazard challenges that are endemic to environmental remediation; dispose of high-level waste and excess nuclear materials; and achieve facility decontamination and decommissioning.
The environmental challenges fall into three interrelated areas: managing legacy wastes, including high-level liquid waste currently in storage tanks, decontaminating and decommissioning legacy facilities, and cleaning up environmental contamination of soil, groundwater, streams, and ecosystems. Basic science environment-related accomplishments can be found in section 3.2.2.
Management of DOE legacy waste: As part of the environmental stewardship enterprise, the SRNL provides strategic technical leadership for the EM programs across the DOE complex, as well as the program leadership of critical R&D programs essential to the completion of the overall EM cleanup mission. SRNL works in concert with other National Laboratories to ensure that the full suite of capabilities of the DOE National Laboratory System is brought to bear on resolving the complex and high hazard challenges associated with the DOE-EM cleanup mission.
At present, DOE has approximately 88 million gallons of liquid waste stored in underground tanks and approximately 4,000 cubic meters of solid waste derived from processing the liquids. The current DOE estimated cost for retrieval, treatment, and disposal of this waste exceeds $50 billion, to be spent over several decades. The highly radioactive portion of this waste, located at the Hanford Site, INL, and Savannah River Site (SRS), must be treated, immobilized, and prepared for ultimate disposal. The National Laboratories are improving pretreatment processes to reduce the amount of waste to be disposed, developing waste retrieval technologies, advancing vitrification performance for waste storage, and inventing breakthrough waste immobilization technologies. Current projects focus on a number of efforts:
- In-tank sludge washing at the Hanford Site
- Enhanced waste processing at the INL, Hanford Site, and SRS
- Disposition of salt waste at SRS
- Low- and medium-Curie waste pretreatment at the Hanford Site
- Improved in situ characterization/monitoring methods at the Hanford Site, INL, and SRS
- Sludge heel retrieval at SRS
- Advanced melter technology at SRS and the Hanford Site
Basic Science Programs
Investment in basic science research is expanding our understanding of how structure leads to function in natural systems—from the atomic- and nanoscale to the mesoscale and beyond—and is enabling a transformation from observation to control and design of new systems with properties tailored to meet the requirements of the next generation of energy technologies. At the core of this effort is a suite of experimental and computational tools and facilities that enable researchers to probe and manipulate matter at unprecedented resolution. The planning and development of these tools and facilities is rooted in basic science, but they are critically important for technology development, enabling discoveries that can lead to broad implementation.
Each year, thousands of users take advantage of the capabilities and staff expertise at the DOE user facilities for basic research, while the facilities leverage user expertise toward maintenance, development, and application of the tools in support of the broader community of users. The multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research centers supported by DOE are designed to integrate basic science and applied research to accelerate development of new and transformative energy technologies.
Understanding the origin of matter in the early universe with unique accelerator facilities: The universe retains the imprint of a huge variety of fundamental processes that have governed its evolution from the Big Bang until today. Understanding problems such as the asymmetry of matter over antimatter and the role of neutrinos, the formation of visible matter and the origin of chemical elements, the properties of the quark- gluon plasma, and searches for new forces and particles require world-class facilities with high-power beams and massive detectors. Fundamental science can address today’s technology bottlenecks by providing the underpinning knowledge required to formulate new concepts for future technologies.
Connecting the biological world to energy: The Bioenergy Research Centers accelerate transformational breakthroughs in the basic science needed to develop the cost-effective, sustainable technologies necessary to make cellulosic biofuels viable on a commercial scale. The three Centers are multi-institutional, multidisciplinary, and collaborative efforts engaging the universities, DOE National Laboratories, the private sector, and nonprofits. They research on the entire pathway from bioenergy crops to biofuels production.
Their focus is on basic research, pursuing a range of high-risk, high-return approaches to cost effectively produce biofuels and bio-products from renewable biomass. Additionally, the Centers track the development of intellectual property to facilitate the transfer of basic science discoveries from the Laboratory to the private sector, thereby enabling the translation of their fundamental research advances into the market place. Research at the Centers, and in the biofuels community at large, is supported and accelerated by continuing development of novel enabling technologies; notably, high-throughput genomic and metabolic screening, synthetic biology, and computational modeling for predicting the effects of genetic manipulation.
Nanoscale science for materials by design: Nanoscience—assembling atoms, clusters of atoms, and molecular ensembles into new nanoscale architectures and materials with unique properties—relies on a set of five Nanoscale Science Research Centers to integrate theory, synthesis, fabrication, and characterization in their research activities.
Example: Smart-window technology. In the United States, about 25 percent of our total energy production is used for lighting, heating, and cooling buildings. Molecular Foundry scientists have designed a new coating based on nanocrystals that can be manipulated electrically to provide selective control over the transmission of visible light and heat-generating near-infrared light. This enables windows to maximize both energy savings and occupant comfort, while exploiting natural lighting indoors in a wide range of climates.
Example: Light emitting diodes (LEDs) from giant quantum dots. Current LEDs use rare earth (RE) phosphors, now produced almost exclusively in mainland Asia. The United States is trying to lessen its dependence on RE phosphors, and therefore must create LEDs without REs. National Laboratory scientists have created giant quantum dots (gQDs), which are semiconducting nanocrystals (typically CdSe), coated with a shell that creates a nonblinking light. They are working with a major lighting company to achieve high-efficiency lighting paired with lifetime reliability and application as direct replacements for red phosphors in the full range of LED architectures, including plastic and direct-on- chip architectures, from low/medium power LEDs to newer ultrahigh power (5 W/mm2) LEDs.
Entering new regimes for fusion energy: Fusion offers the promise of an energy system that would produce no greenhouse gases, have no long-term radioactive byproducts, and be a practically inexhaustible source of energy, requiring only water and lithium as fuel. As the worldwide fusion community prepares for next-generation fusion devices including the ITER, it is important to determine and test the plasma configurations that will be used in it, and to validate and test the codes used to predict plasma behavior. Developing the understanding and novel solutions to produce burning plasmas is an important task for the DOE National Laboratories.
In addition to the user facilities described above, the Laboratories also feature computing facilities that have wide-ranging application. Modeling, simulation, and data analysis using high performance computers offer researchers the opportunity to simulate complex real-world phenomena, interrogate and interpret large data sets, and accelerate development of new technology. The next generation of hardware, software, and algorithms offers the opportunity to computationally design complex systems for energy and environmental applications. DOE is a world leader in using supercomputers to tackle the most challenging problems in science and technology, giving us a better understanding of ourselves, our world, and our universe. Four of the top ten supercomputers in the world are found at DOE National Laboratories, as are 10 of the top 100 supercomputers, all linked by ESnet, DOE’s high-speed network. While the examples below support basic science applications, the sections on energy and national security facilities also feature advanced computational support.
Science discovery through high performance computing facilities: Simulating complex, real-world phenomena, interrogating and interpreting large data sets, and accelerating the development of new technologies rely on advanced modeling, simulation, and data analytics using high performance computing (HPC). Increasingly, DOE computing centers work in close collaboration with other DOE research facilities to help drive discovery, often using simulations to predict results and then comparing observed data with simulations to improve accuracy.
National Security Programs
Maintaining a safe, secure, and effective strategic deterrent in the absence of nuclear explosive testing requires innovative science and engineering. Through state-of-the-art experimentation, advanced simulation, and challenging evaluation of engineered systems, the current status of the stockpile is assessed, and confidence is sustained in its performance.
These efforts require specialized R&D and production facilities, supporting research with materials and in environments required for national security missions, including energetic materials research, development, testing, and evaluation, actinide science, and research in dynamic materials performance. Operation
of specialized programmatic facilities related to national security often involves management of secure environments (for management of classified information, communication, and/or items) or higher hazard environments. Programmatic facilities include those for handling of special materials (including operation of nuclear facilities), test facilities, and major experimental facilities enabling state-of-the-art science in support of national security missions.
Experimental facilities probing science in extreme conditions: Experimental facilities are required that characterize the behavior of weapons materials and systems in extremes of temperature and pressure, as well as in radiation environments. With these facilities, scientists can explore matter at extremely high energy densities, study the properties of shocked materials, and understand neutron and charged particle reaction rates relevant to fission and fusion.
Example: Extreme states of matter. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) is the world’s largest and most energetic laser facility ever built. By focusing NIF’s laser beams onto a variety of targets, scientists create extreme states of matter (conditions relevant to a nuclear explosion), including temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures that exceed 100 billion times Earth’s atmosphere. NIF users and collaborators include researchers from DOE National Laboratories, universities, and other U.S. and foreign research centers.
Example: Pulsed neutrons. The Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) is an accelerator-based, multidisciplinary research facility providing the scientific community with intense proton and neutron sources for both civilian and national security research. Studies in nuclear and materials science (from fundamental understanding of nuclear structure and reactions to the characterization of materials under extreme environments) are carried out with intense beams of unmoderated pulsed neutrons, moderated pulsed neutrons, and protons.
The report was developed by Adam Cohen, Kevin Doran, and David M. Catarious, Jr., with significant contributions from Alison Markovitz and the members of the Laboratory Operations Board, Karen Gibson, Alfred Sattelberger, Vivian Sullivan, Patricia Falcone, Jack Anderson, Margaret Dick, David Keim, Kim Williams, Charles Russomanno, and Alison Doone.