Millions being spent this year on 3 Tri-Cities science buildings

More than $170 million is being invested in new science buildings in Richland to solidifying the Tri-Cities as a national and regional science and research stronghold.

One project is set to finish later this year.

Here’s what’s underway:

1. Energy sciences research

A $90 million energy science research center at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Lab will consolidate energy research under one roof.

It’s on schedule to finish in August on PNNL’s Richland campus, confirmed spokesman Greg Koller.

The national lab’s fundamental research in advanced chemistry, materials science and computing research — areas in which PNNL is a world leader — is currently spread out among several buildings in north Richland.

PNNL Energy Sciences workers.jpg
Construction continues on the $90 million building for energy research at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Richland campus. The research facility will include 140,000 square feet of space that will house labs and workstations for approximately 200 PNNL and visiting scientists, engineers and research support staff. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

The state-of-the-art facility will give scientists access to the most advanced equipment available.

The building will have enough labs and work stations to accommodate about 175 scientists, engineers and support staff.

State-of-the-art instrumentation will boost fundamental research to expand sustainable energy solutions.

It is planned to enhance regional research collaborations, including those with the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Money from the state is expected to buy an advanced nuclear magnetic resonance machine, similar to those used for medical imaging and a specific type of next-generation electron microscope.

Both instruments look at materials at the atomic level to understand their structures, providing information to scientists as they design new materials with specific properties.

The new building is part of a campus modernization program at PNNL, including Discovery Hall, a science and technology collaboration event center that opened in April 2018.

The conceptual design of the proposed LIGO Hanford Observatory STEM Exploration Center. Terence L. Thornhill Architect Inc. Courtesy LIGO

2. Space exploration center

Construction is well on its way on a $7.7 million exploration center in Richland that’s expected to play host to 10,000 student visitors each year.

Work on the LIGO Exploration Center at the LIGO Hanford Observatory near Richland began in October and is expected to open this time next year.

When finished, students and the public can learn about gravitational waves at the place where their existence was detected 100 years after Albert Einstein predicted them.

In 2016, LIGO detected the gravitational waves from two black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago. Gravitational waves are powerful ‘ripples’ in space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes such as supernovae.

More than 50 hands-on exhibits will help students, educators and the general public understand the gravitational waves associated with cataclysmic events in space.

DGR Grant Construction of Richland is building the center that was paid for with a grant from the state of Washington.

2--grid storage launchpad
The Grid Storage Launchpad facility would enable independent testing of the next generation of grid energy storage materials and systems under realistic grid operating conditions.

3. Grid Storage Facility PNNL

A new $75 million national grid energy storage research and development facility at the PNNL campus in Richland will be up and running by the end of next year or early 2023 pending additional funding

The Grid Storage Launchpad project will support accelerated development of grid energy storage technology, modernizing the power grid and unlocking its economic potential.

Among the benefits of the facility — that is yet to be named — will be making the national power grid more resilient, secure and reliable and eventually increase energy storage capacity to transfer it from the lab to the market place allowing growth in domestic manufacturing.

It will provide labs for basic materials synthesis and processing, in-operando characterization, small-scale cell fabrication, kilowatt-scale testing and validation, advanced prototyping, visualization and analysis, according to the Department of Energy.

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Allison Stormo has been an editor, writer and designer at newspapers throughout the Pacific Northwest for more than 20 years. She is a former Tri-City Herald news editor, and recently has returned to the newsroom.

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