The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (19)

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

ORNL chemists invent a more efficient way to extract lithium

ornllithiumOak Ridge National Laboratory

OAK RIDGE  Chemists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have invented a more efficient way to extract lithium from waste liquids leached from mining sites, oil fields and used batteries. They demonstrated that a common mineral can adsorb at least five times more lithium than can be collected using previously developed adsorbent materials. 

“It’s a low-cost, high-lithium-uptake process,” said Parans Paranthaman, an ORNL Corporate Fellow and National Academy of Inventors Fellow with 58 issued patents. He led the proof-of-concept experiment with Jayanthi Kumar, an ORNL materials chemist with expertise in the design, synthesis and characterization of layered materials.

“The key advantage is that it works in a wider pH range of 5 to 11 compared to other direct lithium extraction methods,” Paranthaman said. The acid-free extraction process takes place at 140 degrees Celsius, compared to traditional methods that roast mined minerals at 250 degrees Celsius with acid or 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius without acid.

Lithium is a lightweight metal commonly used in energy-dense and rechargeable batteries. Electric vehicles, which are needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, rely on lithium-ion batteries. Industrially, lithium is extracted from brines, rocks and clays. The ORNL innovation may help meet rising demand for lithium by making domestic sources commercially viable.

Saturday, 13 April 2024 06:34

Momentum builds slowly for TVA’s post-coal plans

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Spherical tokamak plasma turbulenceSupercomputer simulation of plasma turbulence in a spherical tokamak, which is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion.  Image courtesy of Walter Guttenfelder, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Filippo Scotti, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via DOE.

Fusion research, natural gas, solar power and battery improvements at heart of TVA’s plans to wean itself off coal

OAK RIDGE — The Tennessee Valley Authority is phasing out coal and announcing developments tied to other energy sources at two plants that sit on either side of Oak Ridge.

One of the options includes a fusion test site. Scientists have long pursued fusion energy, though the technology remains in infancy and has yet to generate electricity anywhere.

The TVA coal plant on Edgemoor Road in the Claxton community in Anderson County closed Dec. 1 last year. TVA remains uncommitted to any plans for most of the land around the plant. A company recently announced, however, that it plans tests connected to fusion power in a small part of one of Bull Run’s old buildings by 2028. It will be an experiment and not generate power directly.

Meanwhile, TVA plans to retire Kingston Fossil Plant on Swan Pond Road in Harriman by the end of 2027. Its nine coal-fired units power about 818,000 homes. To replace the power generated at the plant, TVA plans to build a new complex at the Kingston plant’s site, combining natural gas, solar power and battery storage.

TVA plans to retire all its coal plants by the 2030s.

Last modified on Thursday, 18 April 2024 23:16

Justin Pearson addresses People’s Voice on TVA’s Energy PlanTennessee state Rep. Justin J. Pearson speaks to community members assembled for the evening discussion during the People’s Voice on TVA’s Energy Plan.  John Waterman/Appalachian Voices

A lack of public process brought together a coalition of environmental organizations 

NASHVILLE  In every state except Tennessee, for-profit utilities and their regulators are required to get public input about energy-resource planning.

These Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) provide an opportunity for a utility to demonstrate that the ratepayer money the utility spends is on the best mix of energy investments that meet this objective. 

In Tennessee, however, TVA, which is the nation’s largest public power provider, has no process for engaging the public on its IRPs.

It is this lack of public process that brought a coalition of environmental organizations together to host a mock public hearing in a Nashville church last month presided by Ted Thomas, former chair of Georgia Center for Energy Solutions. Their goal was to call attention to the fact that TVA acts more like a corporation or a self-regulated monopoly than as a public utility. The groups say that lack of public involvement in the process harms Tennesseeans across the board. 

Last modified on Saturday, 23 March 2024 21:16

ORNL wants to leave watercraft carbon emissions in its wake

Caterpillar 4-stroke diesel engineThis Caterpillar in-line 6-cylinder marine diesel engine will be the subject of research and development for efficient, more climate-friendly marine propulsion with methanol fuel.  Genevieve Martin, ORNL/U.S. Dept. of Energy

OAK RIDGE — The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Caterpillar Inc. have entered into a cooperative research and development agreement to investigate methanol as an alternative fuel source for four-stroke internal combustion marine engines. The collaboration supports efforts to decarbonize the marine industry, a hard-to-electrify transportation sector.

As the U.S. continues to seek ways to reduce environmentally harmful greenhouse gas emissions, methanol is an attractive fuel alternative to diesel because it reduces carbon emissions. Methanol also reduces emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. In addition, methanol’s relatively high energy density makes it easier to store on marine vessels than gaseous fuels meaning it can be more easily integrated into overall existing engine design and operation.

Greener solution powers new method for lithium-ion battery recycling

2023-P12386.jpgORNL researchers Lu Yu and Yaocai Bai examine vials that contain a chemical solution that causes the cobalt and lithium to separate from a spent battery, followed by a second stage when cobalt precipitates in the bottom.  Carlos Jones/ORNL/DOE

OAK RIDGE — Used lithium-ion batteries from cell phones, laptops and a growing number of electric vehicles are piling up, but options for recycling them remain limited mostly to burning or chemically dissolving shredded batteries. The current state-of-the-art methods can pose environmental challenges and be difficult to make economical at the industrial scale.

The conventional process recovers few of the battery materials and relies on caustic, inorganic acids and hazardous chemicals that may introduce impurities. It also requires complicated separation and precipitation to recover the critical metals. However, recovering metals such as cobalt and lithium could reduce both pollution and reliance on foreign sources and choked supply chains.

This research is funded as a project of the Advanced Battery Recycling Consortium, or ReCell, a program of the Vehicle Technologies Office within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Lu Yu and Yaocai Bai and researchers Rachid Essehli and Anuj Bisht contributed to the study, which utilized the DOE’s Center for Nanophase Materials Science at ORNL.

— Oak Ridge National Laboratory

ORNL separates rare earth from the chaff

Membrane solvent extraction process schematicMembrane solvent extraction schematic.   ORNL

OAK RIDGE Caldera Holding, the owner and developer of Missouri’s Pea Ridge iron mine, has entered a nonexclusive research and development licensing agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to apply a membrane solvent extraction technique, or MSX, developed by ORNL researchers to process mined ores. MSX provides a scalable, efficient way to separate rare earth elements, or REEs, from mixed mineral ores.

The MSX technology was pioneered at ORNL by researchers in the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Innovation Hub, or CMI, led by Ames National Laboratory. The inventors, Ramesh Bhave and Syed Islam of ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division are named in 26 inventions and five active licenses related to the recovery of REEs.

TDEC releases money to help rubber meet the road


KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation granted $350,197 to the University of Tennessee from the Tire Environmental Act Program

UTK will provide matching funds of $512,793 and use the grant toward a research and development project that will develop multiple sustainable technologies for the application of tire rubber in road construction. The project costs $862,990 and has the potential to create a vast market for waste tires unrivaled in size by any other use of scrap rubber.


“We are seeing great advances in repurposing tires for environmental benefits,” said TDEC Deputy Commissioner Greg Young. ”Programs like this not only help clean up sites of used tires, they involve innovative new uses for them. We congratulate UT-Knoxville on this project.”

UTK is partnering with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to install a series of pavement test sections using the technologies developed from this project. Benefits of including rubber in asphalt pavement mixes include improved skid resistance, cracking resistance, and noise reduction.

The purpose of the Tire Environmental Act Program is to select and fund projects that best result in beneficial uses for waste tires. Projects must qualify for one of three categories: tire processing/recycling, tire-derived material use, or research and development. The program provides grant funding to eligible entities, including local governments, non-profit organizations, higher education institutions, K-12 schools and for-profit businesses.

Tennessee established the Tire Environmental Fund in 2015. Upon the first retail sale of a new motor vehicle to be titled and registered in Tennessee, a flat fee based on the number of a vehicle’s wheels is assessed. The fee goes into the fund, which is used for projects creating or supporting beneficial end uses for waste tires.

Since 2015, grantees have been awarded almost $6.8 million, and approximately 5.5 million tires or nearly 58,000 tons of scrap tires have been diverted from landfills. The tires are repurposed for use in rubberized asphalt, tire-derived aggregate, tire-derived fuel, granulated rubber porous flexible pavement, and other beneficial end uses that result in tires being diverted from landfills for a higher and better use. 

— Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

KnoxFill’ Michaela BarnettKnoxFill founder Dr. Michaela Barnett was recently featured on WUOT to address trash and sustainability.  KnoxFill

This article was originally published on WUOT in a collaboration with students from the University of Tennessee's Department of Journalism and Media

Two Knoxville-based startups are tackling the challenges of waste and sustainability, one household at a time

KnoxFill, founded by Dr. Michaela Barnett, is the city’s only refillery, and provides household and food products, ranging from shampoo and laundry detergent to coffee and tea.

Vitriform3D, a 3D printer technology focused on using glass waste and converting it into architectural building products, was founded by Alex Stiles, PhD and Dustin Gilmer, PhD.

Both businesses are filling a void left by a lack of state and local policies to address sustainability issues, and by the logistics challenges of recycling. “We know from the science that recycling can be part of a sustainable waste management program, but it really comes after trying to reduce source waste,” Barnett said. “Recycling really should be a last resort.”

Vitriform3D offers consumers the chance to recycle, and know that their recyclables are also being re-used. Knoxville has long lacked easy glass recycling capabilities; currently, residents have to transport their own glass to one of five repositories around the city. “We’re launching a service we call Fourth & Glass, Stiles said. “That is Knoxville’s first dedicated glass only recycling program. We do have the equipment to handle glass and turn it into new products.”

Last modified on Tuesday, 07 November 2023 21:13

10443176025_00a582b883_o-1-scaled.jpgThe historic federal climate legislation known as the Inflation Reduction Act passed last summer. The $7 billion program will help fund rooftop solar projects benefiting communities with lower incomes and provide workforce development enabling millions of households’ access to affordable, resilient, and clean solar energy.  Southern Environmental Law Center

A competitive grant program to bring solar power to people with limited incomes has found huge demand in the South

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, as well as other tribal governments, municipalities and nonprofits submitted applications for Solar for All, a new program designed to expand solar access.

“I’m thrilled to see enthusiasm for this funding in Southern states, which have traditionally lagged behind the rest of the country in residential solar while many households struggle to pay their electricity bills,” said Gudrun Thompson, leader of Southern Environmental Law Center’s Energy Program.

Part of the historic federal climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act passed last summer, the $7 billion program will fund rooftop solar projects benefiting communities with lower incomes and provide workforce development enabling millions of households’ access to affordable, resilient and clean solar energy and related jobs. These funds have the potential to double the number of rooftop solar customers with 100 percent of cost saving solar, benefiting customers that would not otherwise be able to access solar.  

“This is a generational opportunity to enable low-income households in the South to access affordable, resilient, and clean solar energy,” Thompson said.

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 December 2023 10:17

Inflation Reduction Act charges positive clean-energy results in Southeast

1280px-Electric_Car_recharging.jpgElectric car recharging.  Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

KNOXVILLE — This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant clean energy and climate action legislation in U.S. history, and our region is already seeing massive economic benefits. Consider this: just one year into the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), four Southeastern states rank in the top 10 nationally for new clean energy investments:

  • Georgia: $18.83 billion with 22 new major clean energy projects, the 2nd most in the nation
  • South Carolina: $11.71 billion with 20 new major clean energy projects, 
    the 3rd most in the nation
  • Tennessee: $5.76 billion with 13 new major clean energy projects, the 6th most in the nation
  • North Carolina: $9.61 billion with 9 new major clean energy projects, the 10th most in the nation
  • Florida: $503 million with 5 new major clean energy projects

The Southeast will also be a leading hub for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing with more than 60,000 announced jobs, according to SACE's fourth annual Transportation Electrification in the Southeast report, produced with Atlas Public Policy, which will be published next Wednesday, September 6. The report also shows that Georgia leads all states in the country for announced EV manufacturing jobs. Join us for the webinar on September 6 at 11:00 a.m. ET to hear more highlights of the report.

While the economic growth numbers from the first year of the IRA are encouraging, the real impacts will be measured by the people and communities that will benefit from the transition to clean energy.

— Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

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