Oak Ridge Energy Corridor Takes Aim at Energy Priorities

Corridor will promote alternatively-fueled mass transit vehicles and recharging facilities for electric and hybrid vehicles

A consortium of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), community organizations, regional planners, the Department of Energy and other groups has formally aligned behind the "Oak Ridge Energy Corridor," a regional initiative to aggressively promote multi-modal transportation planning, alternatively-fueled mass transit vehicles and strategically-placed recharging facilities for electric and hybrid vehicles.

The overarching goal of the diverse group is to show how new technologies -- and close cooperation between public and private sectors -- can reduce a region's carbon footprint.

The consortium also includes other Innovation Valley-based organizations such as the National Transportation Research Center, City of Oak Ridge, Metropolitan Knoxville Municipal Airport Authority, Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, Y-12 National Security Complex and UT-Battelle, the partnership which manages the national lab. The next step will be to secure private sector involvement.

The energy-based economy of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley here has grown significantly in recent years with construction of a major new ethanol facility led by Genera Energy, an arm of the University of Tennessee, and advanced research in solar technologies, biofuel processing, electric and hybrid vehicles and lightweight carbon fiber that can make vehicles lighter and therefore more fuel efficient.

Another hoped-for spinoff of the initiative is expansion of the region's energy-related jobs, a trend that got a boost by Confluence Solar's decision last month to build a $200 million manufacturing, warehousing and distribution facility in Clinton, Tenn., near ORNL, a move expected to create some 300 jobs. Confluence creates mono-crystal silicon ingots that increase the efficiency and lower the cost of solar photovoltaic solar power generation.

Both Wacker Chemie and Hemlock Semiconductor are building $1 billion-plus plants in Tennessee to produce high quality polysilicon used in solar panels and computers.

High tech startups -- many of them based on commercialization of new technologies from ORNL -- and established companies moving to the area find a supportive network of local, state and regional economic developers promoting the business and technical advantages of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley.

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