Energy Research at the Weapons Labs?

I wrote a piece for this morning’s Albuquerque Journal trying to address what I think is a misunderstanding afoot in New Mexico about the future of Los Alamos and Sandia labs – the idea that they can shift to energy reserach as support for nuclear weapons spending declines. It ain’t gonna be easy:

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised $150 billion over 10 years for renewable energy, and lab backers hope some of that money can flow into Los Alamos and Sandia.
But those within the federal energy establishment point to reasons why the potential may be less than New Mexico labs’ backers hope.
Sandia and Los Alamos are just two among 21 Energy Department labs and research centers. Many have stood on the sidelines watching while Sandia and Los Alamos saw their nuclear weapons budgets grow, and will likely think that it is their turn now. More importantly, other labs — most notably the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado — already specialize in the sort of work the Obama administration wants to fund.
Los Alamos and Sandia may be able to get a small piece of the action, one knowledgeable insider told me, partly by partnering with other energy research centers. But it is unrealistic to expect expanded energy funding to make up for any declines in nuclear weapons spending.


  1. They are not going to capture the same amount of business, but there are substantial energy related programs at the weapons labs already, for example the Combustion Research Facility at Sandia CA

  2. Eli,
    What is the annual budget of the Combustion Research Facility?
    I was told last week that its budget is decreasing, that it is very expensive to use, that it does not do alternative energy research, and that it only works for very large traditional engine companies. Is any of this true?


  3. Eric, someone is lying to you or visa versa. CRF does do alternative energy research as you could have found by looking at the Sandia CA web site. You could look for the work they are doing on alternate fuels in combustion engines, hydrogen, hydrogen reforming for fuel cells, etc. You could.

    Second, Eli’s direct experience with DOE is that research leading to open publications does not get charged for (just heard this repeated in a talk on EMSL at PNL). Having done considerable work at CRF, they expected us to cover our living expenses while there but we were not charged for using the facility. On the other hand if the work is proprietary there can be user charges as you would expect for any work for hire. Everyone has to propose what they intend to do and it is evaluated. From many discussions while there, the staff is open to working with anyone to advance combustion science so I wonder who or what you are listening to.

    As to the budgets, is there ANY national lab whose budget has not gone down in the last few years? Pretty much none of them have a budget this year.

  4. Eli,
    I was told this by a person at Sandia, CA who apparently did not have any first hand experience.
    Thanks for the information.
    Now I will learn more about CRF.

    Is there a particular person with whom I should talk? You can communicate with me at if you want to get this conversation out of John’s blog. 😉

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