Thursday, October 15, 2009

Economic Development Strategy Leverages Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley Assets

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., Oct. 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Already a hotbed of research, the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley has a new roadmap for turning those technological and human assets into a prosperous future. The strategy identifies four promising industry sectors:

-- instrumentation
-- nuclear energy
-- bioenergy
-- energy-related materials.

Developed by Innovation Valley officials and consultants from the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, these four high tech areas utilize the high tech resources of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12 National Security Complex, the University of Tennessee , and partnerships and initiatives across the Innovation Valley, and reflect current national business trends.

"Our focus at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is to deliver the kind of science that will be the foundation for economic growth in the years ahead," said ORNL Director Thom Mason, who also chairs Innovation Valley. "This roadmap will allow our region to benefit from the technology assets we have and further strengthens the linkage between economic development priorities and the research direction for ORNL."


Instrumentation, the branch of engineering that deals with measurement and control, Jesse Smith, Director of Technology, Innovation Valley Consortium, said, "is a big part of the Innovation Valley's history - stemming from the Manhattan Project and TVA, and carrying on today with such innovative companies as NucSafe and Siemens (formerly CTI)."

Especially promising new fields for instrumentation exist in energy, environment, biosciences and homeland security.

Innovation Valley assets in this sector include business space at ORNL's Science and Technology Park, prototyping capabilities at the National Prototype Center at the Y-12 facility and the national lab's decades-long expertise in instrumentation.

Nuclear energy

"There's a lot of talk about the 'nuclear renaissance,'" Smith said, "We have the engineering, testing and measurement capabilities and extensive education and training programs in place to be a major player."

The Innovation Valley, he says, can design, test and build replacement parts for the nation's aging fleet of nuclear reactors.

"And if more plants are built, we are in an even stronger position," Smith said.

Key strengths of ORNL and B&W Y-12 are in nuclear-related materials, fuel cycle and next-generation reactor systems. UT possesses primary strength in instruments and controls, plus fuel cell management and radiation detection.


Bioenergy, which now ranks second only to hydropower in renewable U.S. primary energy production, is big news in the Innovation Valley. Construction is well underway on a major cellulosic ethanol pilot production facility in nearby Vonore that will convert switchgrass into "grassoline." The facility, part of Governor Phil Bredesen's Tennessee Biofuels Initiative, will be run by Genera Energy, a non-profit arm of the University of Tennessee. Biofuels from non-food crops such as switchgrass represent a growth area at the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center at ORNL.

Research assets in this industry are UT's agricultural focus, ORNL's strengths in microbiology and the region's chemical engineering expertise.

Energy-related materials

The Innovation Valley is heavily involved in the development of next-generation batteries, lightweight materials, thin film and silicon for solar panels. Many of these materials increase energy efficiencies and reduce costs involved in solar electricity.

Materials research resources at ORNL include the Department of Energy's Spallation Neutron Source -- the world's most powerful neutron source for materials research -- and the new UT-Battelle Joint Institute for Advanced Materials Science.

Recent announcements such as the Tennessee Solar Initiative and $1 billion investments in Tennessee by chemical giants Wacker Chemie and Hemlock Semiconductor show further progress. Both plants will produce polycrystalline silicon for solar panels.

Volkswagen's new mega facility near Chattanooga also creates opportunities in next-generation automotive materials.

SOURCE Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley

No comments: