Lawrence Livermore grabs two spots in DOE’s Energy Earthshot program

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LLNL will co-lead the “Center for Coupled Chemo-Mechanics of Cementitious Composites” (CM4) and will lead “Terraforming Soil,” both part of the Department of Energy Office of Science Energy Earthshot program.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists will lead and co-lead projects in support of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) new Energy Earthshot program.

The Energy Earthshots Initiative calls for innovation and collaboration to tackle the toughest topics in energy-related research. In January, DOE announced Office of Science funding for the Energy Earthshot Research Centers (EERCs) — they will build off a concept the DOE successfully demonstrated in the previous Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) and the Scientific Discovery Through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program. The new centers will support fundamental research to accelerate breakthroughs in support of the Energy Earthshots Initiative.

The Energy Earthshots are designed to stimulate integrated program development and execution across the DOEs basic science and energy technology offices. They are part of an all-hands-on-deck approach to provide science and technology innovations that the nation needs to address tough technological challenges required to achieve our climate goals. The Energy Earthshots will accelerate breakthroughs toward more abundant, affordable and reliable clean energy solutions and the carbon dioxide removal needed to counterbalance hard-to-abate greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our Energy Earthshots are game-changing endeavors to unleash the technologies of the clean energy transition and make them accessible, affordable and abundant,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The Energy Earthshot Research Centers and the related work happening on college campuses around the country will be instrumental in developing the clean energy and decarbonization solutions we need to establish a 100% clean grid and beat climate change.”

Six Energy Earthshots have been announced so far: Hydrogen Shot™, Long Duration Storage Shot™, Carbon Negative Shot™, Enhanced Geothermal Shot™, Floating Offshore Wind Shot™ and Industrial Heat Shot™. They are supported by the three primary Office of Science program offices: Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences and Biological and Environmental Research.

Jennifer Pett-Ridge, head of LLNL’s Carbon Initiative, will lead a $19 million center called Terraforming Soil,” which will support the Carbon Negative Shot. Of the total award, LLNL will receive ~$17 million.

LLNL scientist Jiaqi Li will serve as the deputy director for the “Center for Coupled Chemo-Mechanics of Cementitious Composites,” which will support the Enhanced Geothermal Shot. Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) leads this center, and LLNL will receive $1.9 million over four years for its role in the project.

Terraforming Soil

To reduce the United States’ net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to zero and limit the impacts of global warming, it is essential to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Soils store a vast amount of carbon in both organic and inorganic forms — on the order of 3,000 billion tons globally — this is more carbon than is found in the atmosphere and land plants combined.

While the United States’ 166 million hectares of agricultural soils have lost a vast amount of carbon in the past century due to cultivation and erosion, there is clear potential to reverse this trend and actively manage agricultural lands with strategies that capture CO2 from the atmosphere. The Terraforming Soil Energy Earthshot Research Center (EERC) will research new bio- and geo- engineered techniques to understand, predict and accelerate scalable and affordable CO2 drawdown in soils, via both organic and inorganic carbon cycle pathways.

“Our goal is to advance the fundamental understanding of CO2 drawdown in soils through both organic and inorganic pathways, measuring soil C storage capacity, durability and regional variations that affect needed land-management practices,” Pett-Ridge said.

The Terraforming Soil EERC team includes 50 world-class experts in soil carbon cycling, photosynthesis biochemistry, plant/microbial gene engineering and genomics, mineral geochemistry, machine learning, exascale modeling and computing, additive manufacturing and in situ isotope-based characterization.

The center will bridge cutting-edge analytical and computational studies with a commitment to engage with community stakeholders, exploring the technical, social and economic implications of engineered soil CO2 drawdown. In addition, the team will emphasize diverse training opportunities for students and early career scientists and amplify equity and inclusion throughout the research pipeline.

Collaborators include the University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, Rice University, Princeton University, Yale University, Carleton College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northern Arizona University, Colorado State University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Andes Ag, Inc. and the Woodwell Climate Research Center.

Center for Coupled Chemo-Mechanics of Cementitious Composites

LLNL will conduct fundamental research to understand and predict chemo-mechanics of sustainable materials within Enhanced Geothermal System (EGS) environments and develop new materials to overcome major challenges in deploying cost effective EGS.

Geothermal well environments are arguably the most challenging for cement to survive, and multiple problems of wells durability and performance are associated with cementing materials and well-cementing methods. These include, but are not limited to, poor cement acid resistance, poor thermal and mechanical stress resistance under cyclic thermo-mechanical loads, poor bonding with metal casing and, as a result, poor casing corrosion protection. Well integrity issues linked to cement degradation and failure are more severe for the high temperature conditions that EGS wells undergo during hydraulic stimulation operations and thermal shocks. Furthermore, cementing operations during geothermal well constructions suffer from cement slurries losses into formations, long waiting times for cement to solidify or rapid uncontrolled cement solidification followed by drill out operations or abandoning the well. 

“To address the durability and sustainable issues of enhanced geothermal wells, a fundamental understanding of chemo-mechanics of alternative cementitious materials that could provide cost-effective, and sustainable solutions for EGS is required,” Li said.

The proposed work will focus on gaining a fundamental understanding of reaction mechanisms, equilibrium and phase compositions, mechanical properties for cementitious composites under EGS conditions designed industrial wastes. The knowledge generated by the project will form a comprehensive framework for informed development and commercialization of 1) environmentally sustainable, durable, cost effective well materials, including cementitious composites and inorganic coatings and 2) new well designs forgoing the use of cementitious materials in EGS wells. To achieve this goal advanced high-energy analytical and computational techniques will be used in design, monitoring and characterization of model systems.

Besides BNL and LLNL, collaborators include Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Cornell University, Princeton University, The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.