DOE’s nuclear, renewable leaders visit INL



Idaho National Laboratory and the nation’s 16 other labs can do better at collaborating and keeping pace with private industry.

That was the message Tuesday at a series of meetings hosted on INL’s Idaho Falls campus and attended by two senior DOE officials, John Kotek and David Danielson, as well as Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little and a number of other private industry, utility and local government representatives.

“One of the things we’re constantly working to get better at is to work at the speed of business,” said Kotek, who as of today takes over the top position at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

At a time when energy innovation only is speeding up, national labs including INL are trying to get “on a timescale that’s meaningful to industrial partners,” Kotek said.

Private industry representatives who took part in the meetings included NuScale Power, hoping to build a small modular nuclear reactor plant in Idaho, as well as the Bill Gates-led company, TerraPower, also working in the reactor design field. Others executives in attendance worked for Siemens, General Motors and POET, a biofuel company, among others.

While Kotek likely will continue to be a frequent visitor to INL, considering its lead nuclear lab status, Danielson’s was a more rare visit. He leads DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which works on developing everything from wind and solar power to electric vehicles and more efficient homes and buildings.

Danielson said he particularly was excited about INL’s research into rare earth materials, biofuels and advanced battery testing, all of which fall under his area of expertise at DOE. INL’s foundation of nuclear research can be useful in sharpening those research areas, he said.

“I think it’s important that DOE is trying to get out of their traditional stovepipes, and trying to talk together,” Little said of Danielson and Kotek’s departments teaming up on research.

“As we are looking to make clean energy cost competitive with other forms of energy, and to enable it to be deployed in a widespread way without subsidies, we tap into these unique capabilities (at a nuclear lab such as INL),” Danielson said.

Danielson and Kotek cited the Lab-Corps program as one way DOE is beginning to think about how better to team up with private industry on projects. The program, launched last year, is meant to train lab researchers how to take their discoveries and turn them into a real-world benefit for a clean energy company.

Danielson said the program should get INL and other lab researchers “thinking about how you might commercialize a technology, or what needs are out there in the market that might (line up) with your innovation.”

One INL researcher involved in the first round of the training program, Matthew Balderree, has a technology that would use drones to help inspect the health of wind turbines.

“You want (lab) research investment to have a payoff down the road,” Kotek said. “What we’re hoping for through that sort of (Lab-Corps) initiative is that you actually develop a culture, where people working here on new technological developments are thinking with that sort of (commercial) end state in mind.”

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth