Episode 117: What are national energy labs and what do they do?

Energy Bite expert Jared Cohon, Director of the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation and former President of Carnegie Mellon University, explains how the National Energy Labs started and the kinds of work they do.

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Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories

The Department of Energy National Laboratories website


Transcript

HOST: Perhaps you’ve heard of national energy labs like Los Alamos and Sandia. Have you ever wondered what they do? On this week’s Energy Bite, Jared Cohon, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, has some answers.

COHON: The origin of the national energy labs was the Manhattan project that focused on the development and manufacturing of nuclear weapon systems. Over time, the mission of the labs expanded to other specialized science and technology capabilities.

Today, the United States has 17 national energy labs. Three from the nuclear weapons era such as New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Lab. Four applied labs such as Pittsburgh’s National Energy Technology Lab focused on oil and gas research and Colorado’s National Renewable Energy Lab. And there are ten science labs that conduct basic research in physics.

HOST: How have the labs been criticized?

COHON: Some have criticized the labs as too expensive and too duplicative in their activities. While some of this criticism is fair, a committee I chair for DOE has found the labs play an important role in providing research abilities that no one university or corporation could financially maintain on its own.

HOST: What do you think of our national energy labs? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

ANNOUNCER: Energy Bite is a co-production between 90.5 WESA and Carnegie Mellon’s’ Scott Institute for Energy Innovation.

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