Pacific Northwest National Laboratory ESC; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory ESC;

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Energy Sciences Capability Facility, Richland, Washington

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to tackle crucial energy issues with new signature facility

As a United States Department of Energy national lab, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, is a renowned research institution. Partnering with several local universities, PNNL’s scientists use their chemistry, earth sciences, and data analytics expertise to tackle our most pressing energy problems.

In order to best conduct high-level research in catalysis and material application science, PNNL is building a new Energy Sciences Capability facility (ESC). Once complete, the ESC will focus on the chemical processes, materials, and technologies at play in energy consumption, and serve as a signature lab on their main campus.

Working with Kirksey Architecture and Harvey-Cleary Builders, Arup provided structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire engineering services for the new facility.

Deliberate design and delivery

From the outset, PNNL had very specific, well-considered ideas for how the facility should be designed, built, and delivered. PNNL opted for a design-build approach so that the contractors and engineers could work as a unit to design a space specifically tailored to the lab’s vision of flexibility and efficiency. 

Project Summary


138,000gsf facility

52lab modules

PNNL tapped frequent collaborator Harvey-Cleary Builders, in tandem with Kirksey and Arup, to design a modular laboratory building capable of addressing specific research topics. Four high-performing imaging labs will use extremely sensitive electron microscopes to examine materials at the molecular level. In addition, a nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy suite will use powerful magnets to scan the local magnetic fields of material samples. The equipment necessary for these specialty laboratories and equipment mandated stringent environmental and vibration design requirements.

The goal-setting and collaboration process between PNNL and the design-build team has been focused from the beginning on the challenges of energy efficiency, modularity, and infrastructure resilience to meet the current and future science mission for the ESC. The level of technical expertise among all parties and willingness to explore options as a team to arrive at best-value solutions have set the project on a path for success. ” Yacknowitz Josh Joshua Yacknowitz Seattle Group Leader

Modularity and future flexibility

PNNL was intent on building in as much flexibility and redundancy into the ESC as possible. The design team therefore configured the main building infrastructure with future uses in mind. The front of the facility is an office block with a two-storied lobby — something seen more frequently in a corporate space. Behind it is a large laboratory block with more than 50 lab modules.

An interstitial utility corridor will bring the services that feed the lab into a more easily accessible area. Typically, this mechanical infrastructure is in the ceiling, which would require maintenance staff to access the sometimes-hazardous lab area. The horizontal corridor within the building minimizes the distribution of systems throughout the lab while reducing disruptions to the space.

Waste-heat recovery

National laboratories like PNNL must also meet the Department of Energy’s sustainable building standards. To help meet these requirements and take advantage of the waste-heat generated by adjacent high-performance computing facilities, PNNL and the design-build team are also developing a heat transfer building. This building will take waste heat from the computing operations, and through the heat transfer building, pass along the heat to other buildings on campus, including the ESC. This lays the groundwork for a future heat-sharing network that can be part of the broader campus infrastructure.

Rendering of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory ESC Rendering of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory ESC