Innovation Valley: A Mecca for Energy

The Knoxville, TN region’s energy test bed research hub is home to the Oak Ridge National Lab.

By the BF Staff
From the July/August 2017 Issue

As the home to leading research in energy at Electric Power Research Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and Y-12 National Security Complex, Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley has long been a mecca for renewable and alternative energy.

Knoxville energy
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons/

Innovation Valley is East Tennessee’s regional economic development partnership managed by the Knoxville Chamber. The regional footprint of Innovation Valley spans eight counties and includes the Knoxville Chamber, Blount Partnership, The Roane Alliance, Tellico Reservoir Development Agency, Loudon County Economic Development Agency, Anderson County Economic Development Agency, and the City of Oak Ridge.

“The Innovation Valley region, with its numerous assets, truly offers an excellent location for many different types of businesses,” said Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber. “We offer companies a business friendly climate and are graduating more than 19,000 degreed or certified professionals each year in our region.”

The nation’s largest science and energy laboratory, ORNL, conducts basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security. With a staff of 4,559 that includes more than 3,200 scientists and engineers, ORNL aims to accelerate widespread clean energy innovation in an effort to provide affordable and reliable energy and to promote economic growth. Its research community is working with many of America’s best innovators and businesses to research, develop, and demonstrate cutting-edge technologies in sustainable transportation, renewable power and energy efficiency.

A $6.5 billion investment from Y-12 National Security Complex is underway at the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF). This facility will introduce a new phase of manufacturing to the energy technology sector. This investment represents the largest construction project by the federal government in TN since WW II.

Currently, 21,846 Tennesseans are employed at 321 establishments across TN in the energy technology sector.

Because of its prominence in the region, the energy industry has been included in Innovation Valley’s strategic plan as a target recruitment cluster. The plan, or Blueprint 2.0, outlines five target recruitment clusters that are perfectly suited to take maximum advantage of the area’s strengths, especially its concentration of scientific and technological assets, central location, well-developed infrastructure, and low cost of living.

Companies like EnerNex, AMS Corporation, and Proton Power, along with the University of Tennessee (UT) and its 27,000 students, are helping change and improve the nation’s energy technology, production, and consumption.

Electric power research firm EnerNex and UT are both working on smart-grid technologies to bring U.S. electrical infrastructure into the 21st century. EnerNex has partnered with several utility companies to determine what new technologies, products, and services are needed to support more widespread deployment of distributed generation, including renewable energy sources such as solar systems.

UT’s Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks, or CURENT, also researching ways to improve the grid. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy awarded UT an $18.5 million grant to form CURENT. The center is a collaborative of academia, industry, and national laboratories. Locally, CURENT works closely with ORNL, TVA, and the Electric Power Research Institute to carry out its research.

Proton Power’s system is based on a gasifier called Cellulose to Hydrogen Power (CHyP), which uses biomass feedstock to make inexpensive hydrogen, which is converted to energy for the UT, Wamplers Farm Sausage and AC Global Energy.

To learn more about Innovation Valley and its regional assets, visit