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Pre-ceremony presentation highlights Labs’ energy R&D

Pre-ceremony presentation highlights Labs’ energy R&D

Because of security and logistics considerations mandated by the White House and Secret Service, most of the attendees for President Bush’s appearance at the Steve Schiff Auditorium were in their seats some two hours before the 11 a.m. start of the Energy Bill signing ceremony.

Making a virtue of necessity, Sandia’s event planners developed a half-hour presentation for the long-seated audience, highlighting some of the Labs’ energy-related research. Presenters, introduced by Labs Deputy Director for Integrated Technology Programs Al Romig, included Div. 6000 VP Les Shephard and Sandia innovators (as Les called them) Jerry Simmons, Sandra Begay-Campbell, Peter Davies, and Terry Michalske.

Les first offered high-level comments putting the nation’s energy requirements in a Sandia context. He cited some energy-related facts:

  • By 2025 world energy consumption will grow by 40 percent.
  • By 2025 the United States will import 70 percent of its oil.
  • Electric power generation requires more than 40 percent of all fresh water used in the United States.
  • In one month enough solar energy falls on the State of New Mexico to power the United States for one year.
  • One out of seven Native American households does not have access to electricity — this compares with one out of a hundred for the rest of the United States.
  • Nuclear power produces 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States — with no greenhouse gases.
  • Hydrogen offers the potential for independence from imported oil — without carbon emissions.
  • Lighting consumes 20 percent of all electricity.

Second semiconductor revolution

Jerry Simmons spoke of what he called “a second semiconductor revolution.” The first was the transition from vacuum tubes to solid state electronics. The next, Jerry said — and it is well under way — is the transition from vacuum tube-based lighting to solid state lighting.

In making his point, Jerry noted that part of the long-term solution to burgeoning global energy demands over the next century will be to improve the efficiency of existing technologies. And, Jerry noted, “If you look around for where new energy-efficient technologies could have a big impact, lighting really stands out. About 20 percent of electricity is used for lighting. But fluorescents are only 25 percent efficient, and incandescent bulbs — the Edison light bulb — are only five percent efficient. Lighting is incredibly wasteful! Why can’t we do better?”

He praised aspects of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that continue support for the Next Generation Lighting Initiative.

Energy needs of tribal homelands

Sandra Begay-Campbell caught the audience’s attention by noting that even today having electric power in your home is not a given.
“I grew up only a few hours drive from Albuquerque and it was an exciting day when one of my grandmothers received electricity for the first time. We made a special visit that night, just to see her shiny new porch light. This basic need for infrastructure and to solve community problems sparked my interest in engineering.

“As I drive hours on rural dirt roads, I am proud to show people who are interested in tribal energy issues the photovoltaic and small wind turbines that provide electricity to many Navajo people. These technologies provide a viable electrification option, which fits in well with the Navajo culture.”

Sandra, a member of the Navajo nation, said she has high hopes that the Energy Bill’s provisions addressing the energy needs of tribal lands will “foster energy development and electrification of Indian country.”

Water and power generation

Peter Davies focused on a subject widely overlooked in discussions about energy — the staggeringly high demands that electricity production puts on fresh water resources.

“Today is a typical day across the United States,” Peter said, “and on a typical day we import about 12 million barrels of oil. On a typical day, we also withdraw about 3 billion barrels of freshwater from our rivers, lakes, and aquifers in order to generate electricity. This water is used in coal, gas, and nuclear power generation plants across our country. This water is essential for power generation. No water, no electricity.”

Just three percent of that water is actually consumed, Peter noted, but explained that it contains waste heat — a byproduct of the generation process — that must be dissipated.

“The impact of this critical energy-water interdependency will grow in the future. . . . Therefore, we must develop more water-efficient power generation technologies, develop alternative sources of water, and bring on line renewable technologies that do not require water.” The Energy Bill authorizes DOE to carry out research on the issue.

Imagine a hydrogen-fueled future

Terry Michalske discussed the nation’s potential hydrogen future, noting that the transition from fossil-fuel based energy for transportation to a hydrogen-based approach calls for vision, leadership, and commitment. Terry said President Bush has provided the vision for the hydrogen future, while the Energy Bill provides the leadership and commitment.

“Imagine a future where the currency of world energy is measured in kilograms of hydrogen instead of barrels of oil,” Terry said. “Imagine a world where driving your car to work or turning on the lights in your house adds no pollutants to our environment. Imagine a world where every nation can pursue its own energy independence.

“This is the vision of hydrogen . . . but significant technological challenges stand between us and that future.”Terry noted that Sandia is well-positioned to work with industry, academia, and other national laboratories to address those technical challenges; in fact, it is already doing so. “I’m excited by the possibility of using nuclear and solar technologies to produce hydrogen without adding carbon to the atmosphere,” he said. “We may even use nanotechnology to mimic the fundamental processes of biology and convert light directly into hydrogen fuel.”

Following the presentations, a video produced by Sandia’s Video Services Department especially for the event, “Energizing America,” offered more highlights of Sandia’s wide-ranging energy work and provided an overview of many other areas of Sandia research.