Broadening Energy Options

Chemical engineers have been at the forefront of many world-changing — and empowering — developments. From the shepherding of nuclear power to the nickel-metal batteries that power hybrid vehicles, chemical engineering is critical to the creation of new energy options. Today’s growing diversity in fuel sources and power devices brings along a new set of challenges, tailor-made for modern chemical engineers — who are working to lower emissions and creating the next generation of clean energy technologies.


1945 — Enriched uranium is produced at the Clinton Engineer works — the 2,142-column thermal diffusion plant at Oak Ridge, TN. The plant was built in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, and was designed to separate U-235 from U-238. (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

1957 — Shippingport, the world’s first large-scale nuclear power plant, goes into service 15 years after sustained nuclear reaction was demonstrated by Enrico Fermi. The plant — built on the Ohio River about 25 miles from Pittsburgh, PA — operated until 1982, and had a capacity of 60 MWe. (Duquesne Light Co.)

1959 — Mass-scale storage and marine transport of liquefied natural gas is proven feasible using a converted World War II liberty freighter. (Conch Methane Services, Ltd.)

circa 1964 — High-energy lithium batteries using reactive metals in polar (hydrophilic) aprotic (no O-H or N-H bonds) solvents are developed. (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

late 1970s — Environmentally-friendly, high-energy NiMH battery is developed; later used in the Toyota Prius. (Philips; Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Laboratories)