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January/February 2010
Feature

Energy Frontier Research Centers: Research to Promote Scientific Advances

The U.S. Department of Energy is targeting energy resources and their development with the 2009 funding of Energy Frontier Research Centers across the country. DOE anticipates that the EFRC research will lead to increased energy efficiency, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and advanced energy technologies.

In August 2009, DOE awarded $377 million to 46 EFRC projects chosen from 260 applications; the awards are part of a planned commitment of $777 million over five years. Panels of scientific experts selected the winning projects, which include 31 led by universities, 12 by DOE national laboratories, two by nonprofits and one by a corporate research laboratory.

Of the EFRC projects, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn., houses two, the Energy Frontier Center for Defect Physics in Structural Materials and the Fluid Interface Reactions, Structures and Transport Center.

“The overall aim of the DOE program is to do the fundamental research that will spark and underpin next generation energy technologies, technologies that not only satisfy our vast energy demands but do so in a manner that reduces our dependence on foreign sources and does not further damage the earth’s ecosystems,” says Malcolm Stocks, Ph.D., director of the CDP. “At ORNL, the Center for Defect Physics focuses on developing the fundamental knowledge to allow atomistic control and manipulation of defects, defect interactions and defect dynamics in structural materials and the charting of new pathways to the development of improved materials — materials with ultra-high strength, toughness and radiation resistance.”

One CDP focus is to understand the fundamental processes that determine how structural materials react to extreme radiation environments. Roger Stoller, Ph.D., ASTM International chairman of the board and a CDP co-principal investigator, says, “One of the most challenging experiments in the CDP will involve ultra-high resolution, time-resolved X-ray diffuse scattering measurements to characterize the primary radiation damage event, an atomic displacement cascade, on the time-scale of picoseconds using femtosecond X-ray pulses at the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford University. In concert with advanced computational simulations, we hope to use such experiments to obtain a full understanding of the generation, accumulation and the potential for mitigating radiation damage in structural materials.”

The EFRCs are addressing solar energy, biofuels, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear energy.

Researchers will take advantage of U.S. capabilities in nanotechnology, high intensity light sources, neutron scattering sources, supercomputing and other advanced instrumentation in their work to advance energy availability while mitigating the environmental impact of energy production and use.

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