INL works on net-zero solutions including electric cars, micro nuclear reactors and more 

Trisha Miller//July 6, 2022//

INL works on net-zero solutions including electric cars, micro nuclear reactors and more 

Trisha Miller//July 6, 2022//

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Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has massive plans for green energy across Idaho and the nation. In fact, the lab has already implemented green initiatives (such as its energy-efficient fleet of over 600 vehicles), which have been adopted by other facilities and public entities. Its other efforts include a focus on nuclear energy and wind, solar, hydro and geothermal power. 

While INL has made it known that it plans to have net-zero emissions (meaning as close to 0% emissions as possible — any emissions will be such a low number that the atmosphere can naturally recycle them) by 2031, in tandem, the lab is working with three other facilities to offer solutions on a national scale. National Energy Technology Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and INL have banded together in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy to lead the nation to decarbonization milestones, and fast.

Aerial view of the Idaho National Laboratory Research and Education Campus. Image provided by INL

“Achieving netzero by 2031 will be an enormous challenge that requires tremendous innovation, changes to how we conduct operations, and collaboration with local, state, and national partners. By proving it can be accomplished, we will be able to inspire and help others,” INL Director John Wagner said in a statement.

To reach net zero by 2031, INL will address its facilities that stretch across 900 square feet, 600 vehicles, 320 buildings and work with its 5,200 employees. But INL has also expressed commitment to reducing vehicle emissions 75% by 2026 and helping Idaho Power reach its goal of 100% clean energy by 2045, among other various energy-conscious projects to be dispersed across the United States. 

Jhansi Kandasamy, Net Zero Program director at INL, remarked on the scale of work the labs are doing: “Since all four pilot labs are energy-intensive, our ability to achieve net-zero will provide innovations and roadmaps for other labs, businesses and municipalities to more efficiently and effectively reach their net-zero goals.”

The 600-strong fleet has somewhat acted as a pilot to demonstrate multiple different methods cars (and larger vehicles) can be powered in a more energy efficient and environmentally friendly manner. The team has tested and successfully implemented biodiesel fuel alternatives — the achievement of which secured INL a Presidential GreenGov Award — but it’s also working on other forms of vehicular energy such as solar charged batteries, hydrogen and electricity. The latter plan includes design of an electric infrastructure with charging stations.

Idaho National Laboratory’s MARVEL nuclear reactor. Photo courtesy of INL

In a press release from May 25, INL commented, “Nuclear is a proven 24/7 low-carbon source of energy and can greatly reduce current reliance on fossil fuel sources, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. INL plans to use nuclear innovations such as advanced reactor technologies — including micro and small modular reactors — to demonstrate a microgrid capable of powering its site when integrated with other renewable forms of energy such as solar, wind and geothermal.”

The goal is to reimagine nuclear energy. Historically, nuclear plants the world has become familiar with have been large and complex. INL stated it hopes to dismantle this idea by bringing micro and small reactors across the country. These reactors would be small enough to be transported and require much less construction and space than traditional reactors, which would mean clean, consistent energy in more locations instead of a few larger plants serving a much wider area. Additionally, according to Kandasamy, these smaller reactors can be scaled up or down to meet the needs of whichever size facility or town they are serving. 

“Advanced reactor designs start with safety in mind and incorporate new fuels that are more efficient at producing energy and create less waste than their larger counterparts. INL will demonstrate how advanced nuclear reactors can function on an integrated microgrid to provide clean energy,” Kandasamy said.

Kandasamy and INL want people to know that they are committed to sustainable energy solutions, they aren’t working to simply hit a mark and move on. Once they attain a goal, they plan to reach farther, past the point of net-zero emissions. INL stated it wants to reevaluate energy needs as it evolves and push the boundary of new innovations and practices, which for them means maintaining net zero along with other environmentally imperative enterprises that haven’t yet been discovered.

One of Idaho National Laboratory’s buses. Photo courtesy of INL