Argonne breaks ground for new energy lab

By:  Cindy Wojdyla
Joliet Herald-News

The United States has to be ready to compete with China in the energy revolution, Sen. DickDurbin said Friday at a groundbreaking at Argonne National Laboratory.

Durbin and Energy Secretary Steven Chu sank shovels in the ground for what will be a new $95 million Energy Sciences Building on the Argonne campus.

“Our country faces some extraordinary environmental and economic challenges,” Durbin said. “But there is one thing certain, if the United States is going to remain a leader in the world, in the 21st century, we need to invest in science and innovation that will address our growing energy demands.”

Durbin, D-Illinois, said he was in China a few weeks ago for the third time in the last 20 years. He met with a Chinese official talked about his country’s commitment to energy research.

The official told Durbin, “We missed the industrial revolution, we missed the information technology revolution, we’re not going to miss the energy revolution,” the senatory told the crowd gathered at Friday’s event.

Chinese scientists are working to find the best solar panels, wind turbines and other energy applications they think will dominate the world economy, Durbin reported.

That’s why the United States cannot cut back on money for energy research, he said. The Argonne building will allow “200 of the best minds” in the country to come together to lead the United States in energy research including alternative fuel vehicles and improvements in energy efficiencies in residential and commercial buildings, Durbin said.

The project, scheduled for completion in 2013, will provide 1,700 construction jobs and 2,000 ancillary jobs.

The cathode materials used in the Chevy Volt battery were developed at Argonne. Discoveries like that will help make the country’s economy stronger, Durbin said.

“The cutting-edge research done by scientists and engineers here at Argonne, a place with a long history of innovation and discovery, is just what America needs.”

Chu said Friday’s event was more than a groundbreaking, it was a celebration of the next chapter in a scientific history that dates back to the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bomb during World War II.

“That team together was just going like greased lightning to get solutions and deliver the goods, and that’s what we need to do in order to compete with all the other countries in the world,” Chu said.

“ … We can do this, we have all the raw ingredients and we can just blow by everything else. … Until I retire from this position, the slogan will be: Inventing America, made in America, sold around the world.”

Chu said the Argonne building will help develop energy alternatives including cheaper battery-operated cars that travel farther as well as plant-based and natural gas fuel alternatives.

“So all of those things will mean America and the world can diversify it’s dependence, its sole dependence, on oil as a transportation fuel.”

The new energy technologies, which will become a multi-trillion dollar market annually, will be sold domestically and abroad, further helping the U.S. economy, Chu added.

Sputtering economy

Argonne may help the U.S. economy of the future, but today’s economy continues to sputter.

Durbin was asked Friday about grim economic news released this week, including anemic job creation, higher unemployment, lower home values and higher gas prices.

“We’re pulling out of this recession but too slowly,” he said. “We want to accelerate this recovery. It doesn’t help when gasoline prices are over $4 a gallon and oil companies are making profits unprecedented in business history. We really have to call on them to focus on prices that are consistent with economic recovery. It’s not only in America’s best interests, it’s in the best interests of these oil companies.”

He also said Congress can’t “play games” with a plan to extend the debt ceiling.

“If we don’t don’t extend the debt ceiling, it will be the first time in history that America has defaulted on its debt and that will call into question our full faith and credit,” he said.

The debt ceiling has to be resolved by Aug. 2, a “high noon” date set by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Durbin said.