When a pinch is problematic: Detecting pertechnetate in groundwater
PNNL develops an effective tool for measuring a tricky contaminant
PNNL develops an effective tool for measuring a tricky contaminant
Imagine trying to detect and measure a pinch of salt in an Olympic-size swimming pool. Now pretend the tools you are using don’t work well. Some can detect the salt but can’t tell you how much is in there, and others confuse salt with chlorine.
Now swap the swimming pool for a source of groundwater and the salt for a radioactive contaminant called pertechnetate.
Pertechnetate is a byproduct of nuclear waste. If it ends up where it is not supposed to be—like, in groundwater—it could impact human health, which is why researchers and regulators keep a close lookout for it. The environmental safety limits for pertechnetate are roughly equivalent to a pinch of salt in an Olympic pool. And there are only a few technologies to measure it, each with limitations.
PNNL research tackles this challenge with new technology to detect and accurately measure pertechnetate at super low levels in groundwater. This research, “Redox-Based Electrochemical Affinity Sensor for Detection of Aqueous Pertechnetate Anion,” was the cover article for the March 2020 edition of ACS Sensors (DOI: 10.1021/acssensors.9b01531).
Why it matters: The Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standard for pertechnetate is 0.000000052 grams per liter (that’s roughly 1/6000th the weight of a single poppy seed). While techniques exist for detection of pertechnetate in the environment, many have their drawbacks. PNNL’s technology can accurately measure low levels of pertechnetate in groundwater. Additionally, this proof of concept has the potential to be applied to other target contaminants simultaneously, increasing efficiency for environmental sensing.
Summary: The new technology acts like a coin counter, but at a microscopic level. It sorts one type of chemical from another, providing the total amount of a target chemical at the end. The tool uses custom probes with a gold electrode that only allows the target groundwater contaminants to stick while the other chemicals bounce off.
Sulfur likes to bind to gold and it also tends to react with pertechnetate, making sulfur-containing compounds an ideal intermediate in tool development. The sulfur sticks to the gold probe, then reacts with the pertechnetate, which forms a precipitate. The precipitate inhibits an electric current pulsing through the probe, providing an inverse measurement of pertechnetate concentration.
What’s Next: While this work was specifically focused on pertechnetate, there is potential to expand the technology to simultaneous multiple targets with the goal of increasing the efficiency of environmental measurements.
Sponsors: This research was funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program at PNNL and by the Deep Vadose Zone program under the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Environmental Management. Part of this research was performed at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a national user facility at PNNL managed by the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research.
PNNL Research Team: Sayandev Chatterjee, Meghan S. Fujimoto, Yingge Du, Gabriel B. Hall, Nabajit Lahiri, Eric D. Walter, Libor Kovarik. ACS Sensors cover illustration by Rose Perry, PNNL.
Tethys Engineering addresses industry’s technical and engineering challenges
Marine renewable energy (MRE) has the potential to provide 90 gigawatts of power in the United States through waves and tidal and ocean currents.
To harness the ocean’s energy, the MRE industry needs to understand how to address technical and engineering challenges such as efficient power takeoff, device survivability, and grid integration.
PNNL developed Tethys Engineering in September 2019 to allow sharing resources around the deployment of devices in corrosive, high-energy marine environments. The recently launched Tethys Engineering online database includes collected and curated documents surrounding the technical and engineering development of MRE devices. Users can search and filter results to intuitively identify information relevant to developers, researchers, and regulators.
Tethys Engineering includes more than 3,000 journal articles, conference papers, reports, and presentations related to wave, current, salinity gradient, and ocean thermal energy conversion technologies. The database contains information from around the world.
The Tethys Engineering database was created as a companion to the already established Tethys website, which focuses on the environmental effects of the MRE industry.
In 2018, the US Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office Marine Hydrokinetics Program directed two national laboratories, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory, to investigate the potential of marine renewable resources to contribute the U.S. electric system. Due to the innovative nature of marine renewable energy and the transformation of the US electric system resource mix, there is a lack of insight about the future potential role and grid value proposition of marine energy.
An initial step in this technical project is to review available literature to inform and help characterize the portfolio of potential marine energy resource contributions. This literature review summarizes the energy fundamentals of marine resources; the performance and operational characteristics of energy conversion devices; grid opportunities and integration challenges most applicable to marine energy; storage coupling to achieve grid opportunities; and offshore wind energy competition and collaboration. It provides the context and the state of knowledge in which the grid value proposition of marine energy should be further researched and explored.
Notable findings from the review include the following:
As the marine energy industry grows, there is a corresponding increase in the body of literature about both the potential value of harnessing marine resources as well as the requisite technical work to integrate the resource into the grid. Due to the unique aspects of marine energy resources, especially their offshore location, volume, and predictability, there are many reasons to consider marine energy a viable potential renewable resource in the future electric system.
The US Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) has tasked two national laboratories, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), to develop an understanding of the grid value proposition for marine renewable energy (MRE): how harnessing the energy of waves, tides, and ocean currents could be a meaningful and competitive source of renewable energy in the future grid.
This work will provide insights to the conditions under which MRE technologies offer unique benefits for the electricity system. PNNL and NREL will conduct a project to comprehensively review the grid value for marine renewable energy development at scale on an intermediate- to long-term horizon. The project will dovetail with nationally-accelerating valuation efforts to characterize and quantify specific services from energy resources and assess the value of those services over time. It will capitalize on the emerging concept of locational value, especially for distributed energy resources (DER), referencing adopted frameworks and related laboratory analysis. And it will take advantage of laboratory expertise in a variety of disciplines – ocean physics, mechanical and electrical engineering, energy economics – chained together in order to ensure that benefits and services assessed are realistic for MRE technologies and ocean energy resources.
The purpose of the immediate analytical approach is to outline the landscape of MRE attributes and their potential value and, at a high-level, discuss methods to quantify these values. For purposes of this investigation, the words grid value should be broadly construed. The term is meant to include, but not be limited to, provision of a defined grid service, measurable benefit to grid performance, avoided costs to system investments or operations, revenue capture, and contribution to desired grid qualities (e.g. reliability or low carbon intensity). Value can also accrue to a range of entities.
The authors intend to consider use cases and system benefits where MRE may have a competitive or unique role; and where there is a distinct and measurable value additional to energy production. To do this, the authors look beyond the typical values of energy production (a payment of cents per kilowatt-hour produced) and instead to “grid services,” those services required for the grid to operate and deliver energy to customers (i.e. unit scheduling and dispatch, reactive power and voltage control, and frequency control). Certain grid services are captured in the traditional suite of ancillary services that may be directly compensated in an organized market, and as a result many of these benefits already have highly competitive contributing generators or other electricity system assets. Therefore, in this initial exercise of considering competitive and unique benefits, the authors are less concerned with the energy (or grid service) production itself but the timing, the location, or the system condition that form measurable and distinct value.