Upgrade of INL facility will help provide clean energy for America's future - East Idaho News
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Upgrade of INL facility will help provide clean energy for America’s future

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An employee at the INL’s Biomass Feedstock National User Facility placing corn stocks into a machine to be separated and broken down. See how the process works in the video above. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS — U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm made a stop in Idaho Falls Wednesday morning to celebrate a $15 million upgrade to the Idaho National Laboratory’s Biomass Feedstock National User Facility.

BFNUF is the world’s most complete biomass preprocessing research and development facility. It collects various types of waste from landfills — animal and agricultural waste, plastic, wood, metal and other products — and converts it into something usable, like building materials or aviation fuel. The video above shows how waste is processed, screened and broken down.

The Energy Systems Laboratory, the building that houses the BFNUF, was completed in 2012. At the time, BFNUF focused solely on wood and agricultural waste and had a “one size fits all” approach in processing it, according to BioEnergy Technologies Office Director Valerie Sarisky-Reed. With the addition of other types of waste material over the years, quality control of the feedstock — waste material that’s been prepared for processing — became a priority. The upgrade is designed to help with that.

Prior to a ribbon-cutting, Granholm expressed gratitude to local farmers for working with the INL to provide feedstock for the facility.

“I’m glad to hear that the lab has been so instrumentally in partnership with the agricultural community,” Granholm said. “We often think about farming … being so helpful in creating a revenue stream for solar or for wind, but for agriculture waste there’s all sorts of opportunities in this sustainable future.”

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Granholm and INL Director John Wagner answer questions from the media following Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

INL Director John Wagner pointed out that industry partners are critical to the operation of the BFNUF. One of its major partners is GTI Energy, an Illinois-based energy research and training organization.

During the event, GTI Vice President Don Stevenson noted that America has the potential to make more than a billion tons of biomass every year for energy production while also reducing annual carbon emissions by nearly half a billion tons and providing hundreds of thousands of people with good-paying jobs.

In a conversation with local media, Jeff Lacey, a senior staff scientist at the Bioenergy Feedstock Technologies Department, explained why alternative energy is important to America’s economy.

“Most of the plastics we use today are made from oil. If we can start to decrease our dependence upon oil products, it helps to secure our nation so we’re not relying on the Middle East or Russia for our oil prices. We can start to recycle these things and not have to rely on new products,” Lacey says.

It also has the potential to eliminate landfills, Lacey says, which is a significant cost for people in metro areas.

America’s dependence on oil is something Granholm referenced in her remarks as well. Petroleum is used in chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and “the clothes we wear,” she said. Companies nationwide are experimenting with “sustainable alternatives” because of the work at the INL facility and other national labs.

“The 17 national labs are really the crown jewel of America’s science, technology and innovation ecosystem. What is happening here at INL has such an important swath of that research that is necessary to achieve the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” Granholm said.

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U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm addresses the crowd during Wednesday’s celebration. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

One of the Biden Administration’s goals is to establish the U.S. as a world leader in clean energy. In conjunction with that, Granholm announced the Clean Fuels and Products Shot, the latest measure in the DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative. The initiative is a series of measures aimed at accelerating breakthroughs in clean energy solutions over the next decade. The Clean Fuels and Products Shot is specifically targeted to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the use of bio-based aviation fuels and bioplastics — products manufactured at the BFNUF.

During Wednesday’s event, Granholm also announced an extension of the DOE’s contract with Battelle Energy Alliance through Sept. 30, 2029 so the entities can continue to work together in achieving their goals.

Watch a portion of the media Q&A with Granholm and Wagner below:

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Jennifer Granholm speaks with INL dignitaries during a tour of the BFNUF. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

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Sr. Staff Scientist Jeff Lacey, left, speaking with Jennifer Granholm about feedstock processes at BFNUF. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

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Jennifer Granholm, center, with INL Director John Wagner, left, and other dignitaries preparing to cut the ribbon on the upgraded Biomass Feedstock National User Facility. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com