ORNL, Los Alamos National Lab And EPB Win R&D 100 Award

  • Thursday, November 11, 2021

R&D 100, the most prestigious innovation awards program for the past half century, has honored Oak Ridge and Los Alamos National Laboratories, along with EPB, with a R&D 100 award for a joint project that is developing technology to protect America’s electric grid from cyberattacks.  The annual awards feature strides in research and development in the past year that span industry, academia and government-sponsored research programs. 

ORNL, Los Alamos and EPB have worked together for several years on the QED: Quantum Ensured Defense of the Smart Electric Grid project.  Based on cutting-edge quantum science and network security, QED uses quantum communications in an effort to protect power grid control signals from third-party infiltration.  EPB is the only utility in the United States that is field testing this quantum technology.

The technology harnesses single particles of light, or photons, to distribute cryptographic keys that can be used to lock control signals into secret codes to protect the electric grid.  This novel method brings the security assurances of quantum communication systems to long-haul distances of electric grid systems.

The team has demonstrated the operational use of QED on part of a 21-kilometer field test bed on EPB’s Smart Grid and 100 percent fiber optic network here in Chattanooga.  Together the scientists are seeking ways to escape the ongoing attack-defend cycle of cybersecurity breeches by developing this new method of protecting information.

“Successfully demonstrating QED in a real environment helps establish the feasibility of this technology for protecting critical energy delivery infrastructure,” said Nicholas Peters, the Quantum Information Science section leader at ORNL.

“Our team is grateful for this national recognition, doubly so since it was achieved in close collaboration with our colleagues at Oak Ridge and EPB,” said Raymond Newell, research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and one of QED’s principal investigators. “We’re particularly excited about the opportunity to deploy this new technology to meet pressing national security needs in critical infrastructure.”

This project is part of a larger collaboration including industry partner Qubitekk, based in San Diego, Ca.

“The work on this project shows the possibilities of quantum technology in the protection of our nation’s critical infrastructure,” said Dr. Duncan Earl, president and CTO of, Qubitekk, Inc.  “Others in the utility, healthcare, and financial sectors, always under threat of cyberattacks, can look to quantum-ensured defense to secure themselves against those attacks.”

Funding for this project was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response.

“EPB is incredibly honored to be working on the research and implementation of this cutting-edge technology with the aim of enhancing power grid resiliency for our customers as well as people across the U.S.” said David Wade, president and CEO of EPB. “We’re glad to work in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, ORNL, Los Alamos and Qubitekk to push the boundaries of innovation.”

ORNL’s Muneer Alshowkan, Philip Evans and Nicholas Peters partnered with Los Alamos’ Raymond Newell, Claira Safi and Justin Tripp and EPB’s Steve Morrison to develop this technology along with Duncan Earl, Corey McClelland and Patrick Swingle from Qubitekk.

Established in 1963, the R&D 100 Awards annually recognize 100 accomplishments in research leading to new commercial products, technologies and materials from around the world notable for their technological significance. 

ORNL researchers received seven 2021 R&D 100 Awards, plus special recognition for a COVID-19 related project.  Los Alamos researchers brought home eight R&D 100 Awards this year, plus five special recognition awards.

This year’s wins bring ORNL’s total R&D Awards to 232 and Los Alamos’ to 178 since the award’s inception. These national laboratories’ discoveries, developments, advancements and inventions bolster security in the United States and enhance national competitiveness.

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