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Low-Carbon Electricity

Expanding the boundaries of carbon-free sources of energy such as nuclear, wind, water, solar and geothermal

Argonne was founded in 1946 to develop peaceful applications of a new, carbon-free source of energy: nuclear energy. More than 75 years later, our scientists and engineers continue to make strides in technologies that generate electricity without greenhouse gas emissions, including advanced nuclear, wind, water, solar, bioenergy and geothermal power.

Argonne remains a leader in the development of nuclear energy technologies, with efforts to sustain the existing U.S. nuclear power plant fleet, enable deployment of advanced nuclear energy systems, establish and maintain key national strategic nuclear infrastructure and fuel cycle capabilities, analyze nuclear energy systems to determine technical and economic viability, and enhance U.S. global competitiveness in zero-carbon power generation. Advanced nuclear reactors are designed with new technologies and smaller size that offer great promises to reduce deployment costs and timeline through design simplification and factory manufacturing, while providing clean, reliable, on-demand and flexible energy generation for electricity and industrial applications. Argonne is a partner in several of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program awards. In one of these projects, TerraPower leads the construction and demonstration of the Natrium reactor and energy system on a retired coal power plant site in Wyoming.

Argonne also performs R&D supporting integrated energy systems that combine multiple energy inputs (nuclear, renewable, fossil with carbon capture), multiple energy users (grid, transportation, industry), and multiple energy storage options (thermal, chemical, electrochemical).

Argonne researchers advance renewable power, leveraging the laboratory’s expertise in materials science and techno-economic modeling, as well as two of our DOE Office of Science national user facilities: the Advanced Photon Source (APS) and the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF). Our researchers develop new materials that can withstand high temperatures needed for drill bits for geothermal wells and concentrated solar power collectors. We apply boriding surface treatments to geothermal well casings to prevent corrosion, enhancing the reliability of geothermal power and building on Argonne’s award-winning ultrafast boriding technology. To support the reliability and efficiency of wind power, our researchers use the APS to image microscopic defects and fatigue in metal components of wind turbine drivetrains, enabling industrial suppliers and equipment manufacturers to improve their manufacture processes and materials durability. We also use the ALCF and Argonne’s high-resolution climate models to model energy production at wind plants.

Using the GCMat supply chain analysis tool, Argonne has helped DOE understand how the adoption of clean energy technologies can influence prices of rare earth elements such as neodymium and dysprosium, how material scarcity can affect technology choice for wind turbines, and how domestic unconventional sources of rare earths such as coal ash could help strengthen the rare earths supply chain.

To strengthen the reliability and resilience of the electrical grid and improve environmental sustainability, Argonne is assessing how changes to the grid’s generation mix over the next 10 years will affect reliability and resilience. Our researchers conduct hazard and grid vulnerability modeling for islanded energy systems that are highly dependent on fossil energy.