Future Hydropower Generation and Consequences for Global Electricity Supply Investment Needs
Changes in precipitation and temperature could affect electricity investments across the globe
Changes in precipitation and temperature could affect electricity investments across the globe
Hydropower dams produce almost one-fifth of global electricity supplies. However, changes in precipitation and temperature patterns could influence water availability for hydropower around the world.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory explored how sustained losses and gains in hydropower generation could affect the investments needed to meet global electricity demands in the 21st century. Under the most extreme scenario, they projected changes in cumulative electricity investment costs of more than $100 billion by 2100 for many countries and regions of the world.
Whereas previous studies quantified possible effects of changes in future precipitation and temperature on hydropower, this study explored the possible implications for the mix of electricity supplies. The study combined detailed, global-scale hydrological and dam modeling with integrated human-Earth system modeling, providing a new means for assessing the effects of Earth system changes on global energy systems.
Precipitation and temperature patterns could be very different in the future. Some river basins may receive more water on average, while others may receive less. These changes could increase or reduce power generation at hydroelectric dams.
In this study, scientists aimed to quantify these effects and then explore some potential implications for investments in electricity generation technologies resulting from increases or decreases in hydropower. Applying global projections of rainfall and temperature, researchers generated flows for all global rivers. They used the flows to simulate power generation at approximately 1,600 of the world's major hydropower dams.
Researchers ran the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM) to understand how losses or gains in hydropower might affect the deployment of alternative generating technologies. The study showed that, in certain drying regions such as the Balkans, significant financial outlays could be required to deploy new generating capacity to address shortfalls in hydropower. For instance, under one scenario applied in the model, the additional cumulative investment requirement for the Balkans region totaled $68 billion by 2100.
Researchers estimated a global, cumulative investment need—summed across all drying regions—of approximately $1 trillion (±$500 billion) in this century. For regions projected to experience increased precipitation, total investments avoided were of a similar magnitude.
Reference: S.W.D. Turner, M. Hejazi, S.H. Kim, L. Clarke, J. Edmonds, "Climate Impacts on Hydropower and Consequences for Global Electricity Supply Investment Needs." Energy 141, 2081-2090 (2017). [DOI: 10.1016/j.energy.2017.11.089]
PNNL scientists spice up electrolyte solution to increase charge cycles
When it comes to the special sauce of batteries, researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have discovered it's all about the salt concentration. By getting the right amount of salt, right where they want it, they've demonstrated a small lithium-metal battery can re-charge about seven times more than batteries with conventional electrolytes.
A battery's electrolyte solution shuttles charged atoms between electrodes to generate electricity. Finding an electrolyte solution that doesn't corrode the electrodes in a lithium-metal battery is a challenge but the PNNL approach, published online in Advanced Materials, successfully creates a protective layer around the electrodes and achieves significantly increased charge/discharge cycles.
Conventional electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries, which power household electronics like computers and cell phones, are not suitable for lithium-metal batteries. Lithium-metal batteries that replace a graphite electrode with a lithium electrode are the 'holy grail' of energy storage systems because lithium has a greater storage capacity and, therefore, a lithium-metal battery has double or triple the storage capacity. That extra power enables electric vehicles to drive more than two times longer between charges.
Adding more lithium-based salt to the liquid electrolyte mix creates a more stable interface between the electrolyte and the electrodes which, in turn, affects the life of the battery. But that high concentration of salt comes with distinct downsides - including the high cost of lithium salt. The high concentration also increases viscosity and lowers conductivity of the ions through the electrolyte.
"We were trying to preserve the advantage of the high concentration of salt, but offset the disadvantages," said Ji-Guang "Jason" Zhang, a senior battery researcher at PNNL. "By combining a fluorine-based solvent to dilute the high concentration electrolyte, our team was able to significantly lower the total lithium salt concentration yet keep its benefits."
In this process, they were able to localize the high concentrations of lithium-based salt into "clusters" which are able to still form protective barriers on the electrode and prevent the growth of dendrites - microscopic, pin-like fibers - that cause rechargeable batteries to short circuit and limit their life span.
PNNL's patent-pending electrolyte was tested in PNNL's Advanced Battery Facility on an experimental battery cell similar in size to a watch battery. It was able to retain 80 percent of its initial charge after 700 cycles of discharging and recharging. A battery using a standard electrolyte can only maintain its charge for about 100 cycles.
Researchers will test this localized high concentration electrolyte on 'pouch' batteries developed at the lab, which are the size and power of a cell phone battery, to see how it performs at that scale. They say the concept of using this novel fluorine-based diluent to manipulate salt concentration also works well for sodium-metal batteries and other metal batteries.
This research is part of the Battery500 Consortium led by PNNL which aims to develop smaller, lighter, and less expensive batteries that nearly triple the specific energy found in batteries that power today's electric cars. Specific energy measures the amount of energy packed into a battery based on its weight.
Sponsor: Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Vehicle Technologies Office
Reference: Chen S, J Zheng, D Mei, KS Han, MH Engelhard, W Zhao, W Xu, J Liu, and JG Zhang. 2018. "High-Voltage Lithium-Metal Batteries Enabled by Localized High Concentration Electrolytes." Advanced Materials. Early online. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201706102
Read the original media release by Susan Bauer here.
The Marine and Coastal Research Laboratory (MCRL), which was previously known as the Marine Sciences Laboratory, is the U.S. Department of Energy’s only marine research facility. MCRL, located at PNNL-Sequim, is uniquely positioned for marine-based research that is focused on helping the nation achieve sustainable energy, a sustaining environment, and coastal security.
Sequim Bay links a small, but relatively undisturbed, watershed to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Puget Sound. This allows for:
Nearly 15,000 square feet of research laboratories are connected to the bay via a supply system that delivers 200 gallons of seawater per minute and returns it to the bay after treatment. MCRL's unique location is also within one of the cleanest airsheds in the world, providing an ultratrace background for work in measurement and signature sciences.
To defend coastal regions, MCRL researchers engineer new approaches to address the greatest challenges in detecting and responding to national and global threats. Programs focus on developing efficient and effective ways to translate data acquired from environmental media—air, water, sediment, and biota—into information that can be acted upon.
MCRL research is supported by more than 80 staff members with expertise in biotechnology, biogeochemistry, ecosystems science, toxicology, and Earth systems modeling. A dive team is also on staff to support in-water research and testing. Projects at MCRL span algal biofuels, biofouling and biocorrosion, climate change and ocean acidification, environmental monitoring, quantification of transport and effects of chemicals in marine environments, and coastal risk and hazard prediction and analysis.
At the Aquatic Research Laboratory, PNNL scientists explore solutions for our nation’s growing need for clean, renewable energy. Projects are focused on monitoring and predicting the impacts of hydropower development and operation on water resources. The research supports the nation’s ability to optimize power production while minimizing environmental effects.
Scientists are using the Aquatic Research Laboratory to:
expand sustainable hydropower through research and assessment of operational impacts
advance understanding of how climate change impacts energy production, especially related to hydropower and other renewable energy
integrate environmental protection into hydropower operations, especially related to fish passage and survival
understand the effects of Hanford Site operations on the Columbia River ecosystem.
The availability of Columbia River water in a facility with specialized research equipment makes the Aquatic Research Laboratory a unique and valuable asset within the national laboratory system and among stakeholders in the region and beyond. The 7,400-square-foot laboratory has the following distinctive features and capabilities:
advanced aquaculture and water reuse system for accurate and precise control of experimental conditions while conserving water and energy resources
research equipment that simulates conditions at water development projects to study fish passage, including hyperbaric and hypobaric chambers, shear and turbulence tanks, and fish respirometers
training and project implementation in facilities dedicated to surgery, necropsy, and analytics.
Peering through the thick, green glass of a decades-old "hot cell," an expert technician manipulates robotic arms to study highly radioactive waste from Hanford, in support of ongoing cleanup.
Nearby, in a recently refurbished "quiet suite," an exquisitely sensitive electron microscope reveals the atomic structure of plutonium, advancing scientific understanding of the metal that plays a central role in our community's history.
This juxtaposition of old and new is found in the Radiochemical Processing Laboratory, a 65-year-old facility that is essential to nuclear science and engineering research at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
For 65 years, RPL has been advancing solutions for environmental cleanup, nuclear security, energy and medicine.
Beyond hot cells, glove boxes and radiological fume hoods, this facility — known as RPL — houses specialized research equipment and scientific expertise in nuclear materials characterization, chemistry, physics and engineering to address the nation's most significant nuclear challenges.
The RPL was built to support uranium recovery and plutonium processing associated with Hanford operations in the 1950s and '60s. Its contributions to numerous programs over the decades have earned it a special place in history. Last November, the American Nuclear Society honored RPL as a Nuclear Historic Landmark.
The award recognized RPL's unique capabilities and how they underpinned scientific discoveries and technological solutions for environmental cleanup, nuclear nonproliferation, reactor safety and medical isotopes.
Harkening back to its roots, including studies in the late 1970s to investigate vitrification (where waste is solidified in a stable glass waste form), RPL still delivers solutions for Hanford cleanup. This spring, about three gallons of low-activity Hanford tank waste were vitrified at RPL, using a continuous process similar to that planned for the Vit Plant.
By demonstrating the process with actual waste instead of a simulant, researchers in RPL helped confirm the science and engineering as the plant moves toward full-scale operations.
RPL also serves a unique function related to global nuclear security and nonproliferation. It is the only radionuclide laboratory in the United States — and one of only 13 in the world — that is certified by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization to process air particulate samples collected at monitoring stations around the globe. Each year, RPL researchers analyze about 60 samples for the CTBTO, looking for signs of possible nuclear explosions.
In support of the Department of Homeland Security's efforts in counter nuclear terrorism, PNNL researchers recently established a test bed that replicates different ways plutonium can be processed. By identifying and capturing information about the resulting variations in color or density, for example, it may be possible to correlate plutonium with where it may have originated.
Addressing the need for safe and secure nuclear energy generation, PNNL developed dosimetry monitoring capsules that are custom-designed and constructed at RPL for specific reactor environments. After being installed in reactors at labs, universities and commercial facilities around the world, the capsules are returned to RPL for analysis that helps reveal radiation damage and the status of the reactor.
RPL is also contributing to the fight against cancer. Leveraging its capabilities, PNNL researchers have developed processes for making highly pure medical isotopes for research and treatment. Nearly 20 years ago, a patented process for producing yttrium-90 was licensed to a pharmaceutical company that now makes the isotope widely available.
Today, a new treatment developed by PNNL and the University of Washington is in clinical trials. This treatment is based on work at RPL to automate the radiochemical process for faster, purer production with more consistent quality.
For 65 years, RPL has been advancing solutions for environmental cleanup, nuclear security, energy and medicine. With DOE's recent approval to operate through at least 2045, it will remain an enduring asset for the nation and the world, bridging its historic past to the many contributions it will make in the decades to come.
Steven Ashby, director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, writes this column monthly. His other columns and opinion pieces are available here.
PNNL's autonomous 'Sensor fish' and acoustic transmitter licensed by wildlife tracking company ATS
Hundreds of surrogate "fish" will be put to work at dams around the world through an agreement between ATS - Advanced Telemetry Systems - and the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to improve operations and increase sustainability.
PNNL developed the Sensor Fish to understand what happens to fish as they pass through turbulent waters and turbines at hydroelectric facilities. The Sensor Fish is a small autonomous device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stressors that fish, such as juvenile salmon, experience when passing through or around dams.
The technology was recently licensed to ATS through a process known as technology transfer, which enables federally-funded research to be made commercially available.
"There is a big need for the type of data provided by the Sensor Fish."
The sensors provide dam operators and fisheries researchers with accurate, physical measurements such as acceleration, pressure, rotational velocity and orientation, which convey what real fish experience during downstream passage. Each sensor provides roughly 2,000 measurements per second and typically takes less than two minutes to pass through the dam due to the water's velocity.
"The vast majority of juvenile salmon and steelhead passing through the turbines survive without injury in the Columbia River Basin," said Daniel Deng, a Laboratory Fellow at PNNL. "Still, we want to understand more about the injuries and mortality that do occur from abrupt pressure changes in dam turbine chambers. The Sensor Fish provides information to help engineers design more fish-friendly turbines going forward."
Once the Sensor Fish comes out on the other side of the dam, an automatic retrieval system brings it to the surface. Radio signals and flashing LED lights from the Sensor Fish will then allow them to be collected quickly from boats stationed nearby.
The Sensor Fish has demonstrated its value in many field studies, for which Deng's team has built individual Sensor Fish in their lab at PNNL. Now, with the technology licensed to ATS, the manufacturing process can be streamlined, and more hydropower operators and researchers will be able to put it to use.
"There is a big need for the type of data provided by the Sensor Fish," says ATS president Peter Kuechle. "Mature hydropower industries in the U.S. and Europe hope to modify operations in order to help fish survive. In Europe, regulations insist on testing for this information, and certainly there's a need for the data in emerging hydropower projects globally."
ATS has also licensed two other fish technologies developed at PNNL. The Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System (JSATS) and its advanced decoder software that can track fish passage through dams and beyond, and also monitor fish behavior. PNNL developed the JSATS transmitters and battery to be so small it can be injected into young fish — eliminating the need to surgically implant a tag, which puts extra stress on a fish. The JSATS includes the smallest acoustic transmitters in the world. PNNL has also recently developed an even smaller tag technology that allows for research on the tiniest fish including juvenile eel and lamprey.
"This new acoustic fish tag meets the Army Corps of Engineers' JSATS specifications and weighs less than one one-hundredth of an ounce," said Kuechle. "The JSATS technology is complementary to our long history offering innovative and cost-effective wildlife tracking products and we're proud to have supplied the devices to the Army Corps this year for an important study on the lower Snake River."
PNNL also has developed bigger, rugged tags with larger batteries to enable research on large and long-lived species such as sturgeon. PNNL is working to develop a self-powered tag that would enable long-term monitoring.
PNNL's tracking and sensing technologies are applicable to a wide range of species, research goals, commercial applications and locations. The laboratory has validated its tracking and sensing technologies with more than 100,000 fish in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Germany and East Asian countries since 2007. They are also applicable to a wide range of species, research, locations and commercial applications. They are available for testing with small mammals and amphibians.
The development of these technologies was funded over many years by the Army Corps of Engineers, DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on signature capabilities in chemistry, earth sciences, and data analytics to advance scientific discovery and create solutions to the nation's toughest challenges in energy resiliency and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Congratulations to Dr. Sue Clark on being elected to a second term on the Washington State Academy of Sciences Board of Directors. As a board member, she works to provide objective scientific and technological information on important issues to inform public policy making and increase the role and visibility of research in the Evergreen State. Clark is a Battelle Fellow who holds a joint appointment at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Washington State University (WSU). She is also the Chief Scientist and Technology Officer for the Energy and Environment Directorate at PNNL.
Currently, Clark leads research into the processing of high-level radioactive wastes and the environmental chemistry of plutonium and other actinides. She is the director of the Interfacial Dynamics in Radiation Environments and Materials (IDREAM) Energy Frontier Research Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science and Office of Environmental Management. At WSU, she is a Regents Professor in the Chemistry Department, having served on the faculty for more than 20 years.
Clark's expertise is sought after in the United States and abroad. For example, she served for 3 years on the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, appointed by the U.S. President. She has also completed consultancies with the International Atomic Energy Agency, supporting the development of educational programs and policies related to nuclear security and nuclear forensics.
Clark's expertise, drive, and mentoring have earned her awards and honors, including the American Chemical Society Garvan-Olin Medal for her research activities and advocacy for advancing women chemists, Fink Distinguished Lecturer at Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at WSU. She is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Sigma Xi.
Bridging the gap between fundamental battery research and development
Focused on accelerating the development of the next generation of energy storage technologies, PNNL features a host of facilities that make up a holistic development program. The Advanced Battery Facility (ABF) houses much of the critical work done in this process.
The ABF was built to bridge the gap between fundamental battery research and commercial-scale battery development. The facility provides an ideal system for exploring a broad range of chemistries and materials at a commercially relevant scale. It also contains a complete process line capable of preparing, fabricating, and validating pouch cells from powder materials to battery testing.
The ABF is a user facility that compliments the Department of Energy’s other facilities in the development of high-density energy storage systems for electric vehicles. Scientists there collaborate with their counterparts in industry, academia, and national security. The lab features:
a 600-square-foot dry room
a 600-square-foot ambient lab dedicated to developing anode materials, slurry, and electrolytes, and performing pouch-cell lifetime testing
standard pouch cell capacity of 1 ampere hour (Ah), which can be adjusted from 100 milliampere hours to 2 Ah
This makes the ABF ideal for the development of new battery chemistries, including lithium-sulfur, sodium-ion, and magnesium batteries, as well as the next generation of lithium-ion batteries.
With its capabilities spanning development and validation of new chemistries, to validating consumer-developed and commercial materials, the ABF is at the heart of energy storage research efforts at PNNL.
The ABF is part of the integrated facility for battery research at PNNL that include state-of-the-art imaging and spectroscopic characterization tools, and a variety of standard testing and diagnostic equipment, and unique capabilities for grid applications to test and validate the performance of the batteries for both grid and transportation.
Congratulations to Reid Peterson, Jaehun Chun, and Sue Clark of the IDREAM Energy Frontier Research Center on their role in a groundbreaking paper. They were part of a team of authors representing Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington River Protection Solutions and Washington State University and funded by PNNL's Nuclear Processing Science Initiative. The paper provides a view into the radioactive waste stored in the Hanford Site's underground tanks and offers some new perspectives on understanding of tank waste properties.
The paper, "Review of the Scientific Understanding of Radioactive Waste at the U.S. DOE Hanford Site," was published in December 2017 in the online version of Environmental Science and Technology.
At the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington State, approximately 56 million gallons of mixed radioactive and chemical waste were produced from the processing of irradiated fuel to recover plutonium for nuclear weapons. The waste was generated over a 40-year period, is stored in 177 underground tanks, and is expected to cost many billions of dollars to remediate.
The paper examines the history and general character of the tank waste, including complexity and physical and chemical behaviors that impact treatment and disposal. The document asserts that prediction and control of waste behavior will require quantitative information on the physics and chemistry of particle-fluid interfaces, as well as higher spatial and chemical resolution of the solid phase. The authors point out that new microscopy advances are enabling physics/chemistry-based predictive models of waste behavior, which could lead to more effective processing methods.
The research team members are Reid Peterson, Edgar Buck, Jaehun Chun, Richard Daniel, Eugene Ilton and Gregg Lumetta of PNNL; Daniel Herting of WRPS; and Sue Clark, who serves in a joint PNNL-WSU appointment.
Brian Thrall, who directs PNNL's Biological Systems Science group, was among 18 authors of a report just released online assessing the role of the human microbiome in exposure to environmental chemicals.
"Environmental Chemicals, the Human Microbiome, and Health Risk: A Research Strategy" was sponsored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Science.
A lot is known about how the human microbiome interacts with chemicals, said Thrall. But that has more to do with therapeutic drugs than environmental chemicals.
Although the United States has a robust framework for assessing the risks of chemical exposure, that framework does not account for how the human microbiome responds to environmental chemicals or how it modifies, mitigates, or aggravates such exposures.
So far, he said, "the microbiome has not been considered, by itself, a potential component of variation and response to chemical exposures."
The research agenda set out by the report could change that, said Thrall, with PNNL well poised to play an important role. He cited the Lab's strengths in chemical biology, microbiome function, chemical exposure, and multiomics and health.
Congratulations to the IDREAM Energy Frontier Research Centeron their latest all-hands meeting. At this 3-day event, researchers and advisors discussed how the center is answering tough questions about complex radioactive environments. Throughout the gathering, scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Notre Dame, University of Washington, and Washington State University presented their research and shared ideas.
Their efforts were rewarded with thoughtful insights from the center's advisory committee. The advisors gave detailed advice about the current research and future directions.
At the meeting, two popular collaboration events were the poster session and the early career dinner. At the poster session, scientists spent nearly 2 hours talking about their work, whether that was reactivity in highly alkaline electrolytes or the influence of radiation on such systems. At the dinner, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom had never met in person before, became fast friends over the task of building the tallest freestanding tower that could support a marshmallow. The bragging rights went to a trio from Washington State University: David Semrouni, Trent Graham, and Tyler Biggs.
In addition, the scientists had in-depth conversations about the best practices and upcoming plans for sharing their results. They also discussed data management, including the need for access and context, and planned for upcoming scientific publications in high-profile journals.
"Within IDREAM, we benefit tremendously from the energy and enthusiasm of all team members, especially our early career scientists," said Dr. Sue Clark, IDREAM Director. "We also benefit from the constructive comments we receive from our advisory committee."
The team is already acting on the advisory committee's suggestions and taking steps to further elevate the research as they go into their mid-year review with the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, which funds the center.
The all-hands meeting was held in Richland, Washington, from January 14 through 16, 2018.
At PNNL’s Bio-Acoustics and Flow Laboratory, scientists explore ways to integrate environmental protection for fish passage and survival in hydropower operations. The Bio-Acoustics and Flow Laboratory addresses a range of engineering and ecological issues, with an emphasis on environmental monitoring and risk assessment for conventional hydropower, wind, marine, and hydrokinetic renewable energy systems.
The laboratory includes an applied acoustics team consisting of chemists, battery engineers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, materials scientists, mathematicians, and fish biologists. This multi-disciplinary team allows PNNL to address acoustic technology problems across the range from basic material properties of acoustic system elements, instrumentation, and applications, to propagation modeling.
The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation has accredited the Bio-Acoustics and Flow Laboratory. This certification permits PNNL to perform primary certified testing on instruments made by others and also perform certified testing on instruments that PNNL builds. The laboratory supports thorough system calibration checks and troubleshooting for the many active and passive acoustic instruments used for projects conducted by PNNL.
Laboratory staffers have extensive experience in flow measurements both in the laboratory and field environments. Projects include the development of acoustic microtransmitters and receivers for aquatic animals, , radio-frequency transmitter for small bats and birds, sensor fish to support advanced hydropower development, and the development of the Marine Animal Alert System.
Environmentally friendly material tweaked to soak up to 5 times its weight in oil, float 4 months in icy, rough waters
Lowly sawdust, the sawmill waste that's sometimes tossed onto home garage floors to soak up oil spilled by amateur mechanics, could receive some new-found respect thanks to science.
Researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have chemically modified sawdust to make it exceptionally oil-attracting and buoyant, characteristics that are ideal for cleaning oil spills in the icy, turbulent waters of the Arctic. The nontoxic material absorbs up to five times its weight in oil and stays afloat for at least four months.
"The chance of an oil spill in the Arctic is real. We hope materials like our modified sawdust can help if an accident happens."
"Most of today's oil remediation materials are designed for warm water use," said PNNL microbiologist George Bonheyo, who leads the modified sawdust's development from PNNL's Marine Sciences Laboratory.
"But as ice retreats in the Arctic Sea, fossil fuel developers are looking north, and we need new oil spill response methods that perform well in extreme conditions," added Bonheyo, who also holds a joint appointment in bioengineering with Washington State University.
"The chance of an oil spill in the Arctic is real," said fellow PNNL microbiologist Robert Jeters, who is also part of the project. "We hope materials like our modified sawdust can help if an accident happens."
Containing oil spills in cold waters is especially tricky, as bobbing ice chunks push oil below the water's surface, making it difficult to collect. The same goes for rough waters, whose tall, clashing waves disperse oil.
The modified saw dust pulls double duty. Beyond absorbing oil, it also enhances another approach to combatting oil spills — controlled burns. If changing weather or tides move spilled oil toward a sensitive area fast, oil can be burned before it can cause further harm. Called in-situ burning, the practice can significantly reduce the amount of oil in water and minimize its adverse environmental effects.
Bonheyo and his team looked to develop an environmentally friendly and inexpensive material that floats despite rough or freezing waters and can support in-situ burning. Not wanting to create more pollution if emergency responders can't retrieve oil cleanup material, Bonheyo's team considered other natural ingredients like rice hulls and silica. But they ultimately found their winner in a fine dust called wood flour. A woodworking byproduct, wood flour is often used to make wood composites.
To turn the dust into a thirsty oil mop, researchers chemically attach components of vegetable oil onto the material's surface. These attachments make the modified material oil-grabbing and water-shunning. The final product is a light, fluffy, bleached powder. The team is also trying out adding tiny, oil-eating microbes — fungi and bacteria — to the powder's surface so any left-behind material could naturally break down oil over time.
Applying the modified sawdust is simple: sprinkle a thin layer over oil on the water's surface. The material immediately starts soaking up oil, creating a concentrated and solid slick that stays afloat thanks to the material's buoyant nature. The oil-soaked material can either be burned or retrieved.
The team is using PNNL's unique Arctic simulation lab in Sequim, Washington to evaluate the material in icy waters. The facility is a customized shipping container that cools down to as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit, which prompts researchers to don snowmobile suits and ski masks while they work. Ice slush forms on the surface of water that circulates inside a 290-gallon raceway pond placed inside the bitterly cold lab space. Oil is spilled on the slushy surface, followed by a sprinkle of modified sawdust. Tests have shown the material's water-repellent nature prevents ice from forming on it, allowing it to soak up oil and remain at the surface.
Researchers are also testing how well the material performs in controlled burns. They conducted initial burns this fall at the U.S. Coast Guard and Naval Research Laboratory's Joint Maritime Test Facility near Mobile, Alabama. Burn tests continue today at PNNL's Marine Science Laboratory. Early results indicate a small amount of material enables burning of both thin and thick layers of spilled oil.
In the coming months, PNNL will further evaluate the modified sawdust. The material will need additional testing and approval by multiple agencies before it can be used at actual oil spills.
PNNL is developing the material for the Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety of Environmental Enforcement. BSEE is the lead federal agency charged with improving safety and ensuring environmental protection related to the offshore energy industry, primarily oil and natural gas on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.
The material's development team includes Bonheyo, Jeters, Yongsoon Shin, Jiyeon Park, Andrew Avila and Maren Symes.
PNNL Wins Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Bringing Government Technologies to the Marketplace
Software that helps cybersecurity analysts prevent hacks and a microbial disinfecting system that kills with an activated salt spray are two of the latest innovations Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has successfully commercialized with the help of business partners.
Due to the unique paths the development teams took to get the technology from Department of Energy lab to the private sector, the Federal Laboratory Consortium has honored the two teams made up of lab and commercial business staff with 2016 Excellence in Technology Transfer awards. The consortium is a nationwide network that encourages federal laboratories to transfer laboratory-developed, taxpayer-funded technologies to commercial markets.
PNNL has earned a total of 83 such awards since the program began in 1984 — far more than any other national laboratory. The 2016 awards will be presented April 27 in Chicago, Illinois, at the consortium's annual meeting.
If you're a hacker aimed at stealing credit card information from a retail company and you want to evade detection, you hide in massive amounts of network data. Analysts have the know-how to sort through this digital mess to find hackers, but they often identify attacks too late. Analytical software developed at PNNL and licensed to Champion Technology Company Inc. can help find these and other threats in near-real-time. That's because the software, called Columnar Hierarchical Auto-associative Memory Processing in Ontological Networks — or CHAMPION, has the knowledge to sort through data like an analyst, but on a much greater scale.
Scientists designed CHAMPION to use human analysts and historical data to learn about the company it's protecting. Starting with advanced Semantic Web technologies, which translate human knowledge into something that's machine readable, CHAMPION then uses descriptive logic to reason whether activity is suspicious. For example, if a retail company's HVAC data back-up account tries to access the point-of-sale system, CHAMPION could use historical data to conclude that this is unusual. Once identified, the software alerts an analyst of the suspicious activity — in time to potentially thwart an attack.
Sorting through data can consume up to 40 percent of an analyst's day. By streamlining these tasks, CHAMPION can save money and free analysts to focus on higher-priority tasks. And cybersecurity isn't CHAMPION's only trick. Change its diet of knowledge and the software can learn to analyze financial services or health care data.
This technology transfer involved a unique collaboration between PNNL and Early X, a non-profit education foundation spun out from Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management. In this effort, a group of MBA students and diverse business executives identified 70 market opportunities for CHAMPION. This groundwork led to the start of Champion Technology Company Inc.
The team receiving an FLC Award for CHAMPION includes: PNNL's Shawn Hampton and Kannan Krishnaswami; Champion Technology Company's Ryan Hohimer; and former PNNL staff John McEntire, Frank Greitzer and Matthew Love.
Microbes — tiny bits of life such as bacteria, viruses and mold — can wreak havoc on our bodies by causing sickness and even death. Ranging from staph infections to Ebola, many microbe-caused ailments can now be prevented with the Micro Aerosol Disinfecting System.
The system turns a simple table salt solution into a fine mist containing natural molecules that disinfect an entire room. Tests have shown the system can kill at least 99.9999 percent of health-harming microbes. It could be used to disinfect hospitals, gymnasiums, schools and other enclosed spaces. It's far more effective, easier to apply and less expensive than other disinfection methods.
It works by running an electrical current through a diluted salt solution, which creates super-reactive molecules, ions, and free radicals that have exceptionally strong disinfecting properties. A device then turns the activated solution into a micro aerosol mist, which is released into a room. The aerosol's microscopic droplets disinfect the air and every surface. Its activated molecules destroy microbes inside a treated room within minutes to a few hours, depending on a room's size and the amount of pathogens present.
Watertech Equipment and Sales LLC of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, licensed the Micro Aerosol Disinfecting System from PNNL. PNNL initially developed a prototype of the technology through a now-concluded DOE program that supported former weapons scientists in non-weapons research and development across the former Soviet Union. The technology was further developed with internal PNNL funding and support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which attracted Watertech's attention.
The award recognizes PNNL's extensive development and testing of the technology using internal funding to advance the technology to the point that Watertech licensed the technology just eight months after initially visiting with PNNL.
Watertech has adapted the system into an easy-to-deploy product to be sold for various uses, including hospital and clinical disinfection, mold remediation, and supporting the agricultural and food processing industries. The team recognized for transferring this process includes: PNNL's Evguenia Rainina, Ron Thomas and Derek Maughan, as well as Watertech's Glenn Barrett, Keith Johnson and Eric Frische.
For more information on technology transfer programs at PNNL, visit their website.
Videos feature women who lead and inspire at PNNL
When salmon journey down the Columbia River or molecules rearrange to become renewable fuel, you can count on research teams at Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to follow. At the center of many of these teams are women-scientists and engineers who chase mystery and replace it with discoveries. In honor of Women's History Month, four scientists at PNNL share their stories in a video series called Women in Research:
The researchers talk about their journey becoming who they are today. They give advice on finding allies and mentors; overcoming failure and adversity; and balancing career and family. You can find the Women in Research video series on PNNL's YouTube channel.
Engineering wonder slid into place more than three decades later
Today marks the 31st anniversary of the catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant's Unit 4 reactor. The blast discharged 400 times the radioactivity released by the Hiroshima bomb and drove nearly 200,000 people from their homes near the plant in Ukraine.
Now, the hastily built sarcophagus used to temporarily contain what remained of the reactor's hull after the meltdown has been permanently entombed. A massive steel arch was built, and in 2016, slid over the sarcophagus where it is expected to safely and securely contain the radioactive debris for 100 years.
In the early 1990s, Battelle, operator of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, was part of an international consortium looking at the long-term safety and containment of Unit 4 at Chernobyl. Through 2014, Battelle researchers at PNNL applied their expertise in nuclear science, safety, remediation and engineering to help Ukrainians.
Among their many contributions, researchers led the early designs for the arch steel structure called the New Safe Confinement. The effort was billed as the world's largest moveable structure — 843 feet across, 355 feet high and 492 feet in length. That's roughly the size of two Manhattan blocks and tall enough to enclose the Statue of Liberty.
Though Battelle withdrew from the project in 2014, a few Battelle researchers remained "on loan" to Bechtel at Slavutych to oversee construction and movement of the NSC to its final destination. Construction of the nearly 40,000-ton structure began in 2010, and it was delicately moved in November 2016 over the sarcophagus.
Battelle's Andrei Glukhov, who was a reactor operator at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant when the catastrophe occurred, was among those who remained. Glukhov and other researchers recently returned to PNNL. But from 1994 through 2014, more than 200 employees contributed to help improve safety at the Chernobyl site. Several researchers uprooted entire families, relocating them from the Tri-Cities to Slavutych to be closer to where the solutions were needed. In addition to contributing scientific research and engineering, they introduced to Slavutych one of the U.S.'s favorite games — baseball.
Read more about our work at Chernobyl and view photos of the NSC here.
Researchers propose how bubbles form, could lead to smaller, more stable lithium-air batteries
With about three times the energy capacity by weight of today's lithium-ion batteries, lithium-air batteries could one day enable electric cars to drive farther on a single charge.
But the technology has several holdups, including losing energy as it stores and releases its charge. If researchers could better understand the basic reactions that occur as the battery charges and discharges electricity, the battery's performance could be improved. One reaction that hasn't been fully explained is how oxygen blows bubbles inside a lithium-air battery when it discharges. The bubbles expand the battery and create wear and tear that can cause it to fail.
A paper in Nature Nanotechnology provides the first step-by-step explanation of how lithium-air batteries form bubbles. The research was aided by a first-of-a-kind video that shows bubbles inflating and later deflating inside a nanobattery. Researchers had previously only seen the bubbles, but not how they were created.
"If we fully understand the bubble formation process, we could build better lithium-air batteries that create fewer bubbles," noted the paper's corresponding author, Chongmin Wang, of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "The result could be more compact and stable batteries that hold onto their charge longer."
PNNL researchers used an environmental transmission electron microscope to record a first-of-a-kind video that shows bubbles inflating and later deflating inside a tiny lithium-air battery. The video helped researchers develop the first step-by-step explanation of how lithium-air batteries form bubbles. The knowledge could help make lithium-air batteries that are more compact, stable and can hold onto a charge longer.
Wang works out of EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science user facility located at PNNL. His co-authors include other PNNL staff and a researcher from Tianjin Polytechnic University in China.
The team's unique video may be a silent black-and-white film, but it provides plenty of action. Popping out from the battery's flat surface is a grey bubble that grows bigger and bigger. Later, the bubble deflates, the top turning inside of itself until only a scrunched-up shell is left behind.
The popcorn-worthy flick was captured with an in-situ environmental transmission electron microscope at EMSL. Wang and his colleagues built their tiny battery inside the microscope's column. This enabled them to watch as the battery charged and discharged inside.
Video evidence led the team to propose that as the battery discharges, a sphere of lithium superoxide jets out from the battery's positive electrode and becomes coated with lithium oxide. The sphere's superoxide interior then goes through a chemical reaction that forms lithium peroxide and oxygen. Oxygen gas is released and inflates the bubble. When the battery charges, lithium peroxide decomposes, and leaves the former bubble to look like a deflated balloon.
This finding was the focus of a Nature News & Views column written by researchers at Korea's Hanyang University, who describe the research as "a solid foundation for future Li-O2 battery designs and optimization."
This research was supported by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Reference: Langli Luo, Bin Liu, Shidong Song, Wu Xu, Ji-Guang Zhang, Chongmin Wang, Revealing the reaction mechanisms of Li-O2 batteries using environmental transmission electron microscopy, Nature Nanotechnology, March 27, 2017, DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2017.27.
Read more in this News & Views article: Yang-Kook Sun and Chong S. Yoon, Lithium-oxygen batteries: The reaction mechanism revealed, Nature Nanotechnology, March 27, 2017, DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2017.40.
Glass scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory hosted the Department of Energy's Acting Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, Sue Cange earlier this month. DOE's Office of Environmental Management's mission is to complete the safe cleanup of the environmental legacy brought about from five decades of nuclear weapons development and government-sponsored nuclear energy research.
Cange was visiting the Hanford nuclear site along with her chief of staff Betsy Connell and associate principle deputy assistant secretary for field operations Stacy Charboneau. They took time out to tour the laboratory where PNNL researchers study the science underpinning vitrification — the process of turning nuclear waste into glass. PNNL scientists support DOE's Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, under construction now, where the waste will be mixed with glass-forming materials and melted into a durable glass form for safe, long-term storage.
Cange learned how the challenges of Hanford's chemically diverse waste are met using scientific glass formulation methods to increase waste loading in the glass and minimize the volume of glass and hence reduce the cost of the clean-up effort. Cange also saw the Laboratory Scale Melter system which is being used to understand the dynamic process of converting the liquid waste into solid glass.
PNNL is world-renowned for its expertise in glass formulation and processing — knowledge that is instrumental to the work done in partnership with the DOE Office of River Protection to develop the vitrification process.
The PNNL Director's Column has more information on how the laboratory supports Hanford cleanup efforts.
New approach makes lightest automotive metal more economic, useful
Magnesium — the lightest of all structural metals — has a lot going for it in the quest to make ever lighter cars and trucks that go farther on a tank of fuel or battery charge.
Magnesium is 75 percent lighter than steel, 33 percent lighter than aluminum and is the fourth most common element on earth behind iron, silicon and oxygen. But despite its light weight and natural abundance, auto makers have been stymied in their attempts to incorporate magnesium alloys into structural car parts. To provide the necessary strength has required the addition of costly, tongue-twisting rare elements such as dysprosium, praseodymium and ytterbium — until now.
"Using our process, we have enhanced the mechanical properties of magnesium to the point where it can now be considered instead of aluminum for these applications — without the added cost of rare-earth elements."
A new process developed at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, should make it more feasible for the auto industry to incorporate magnesium alloys into structural components. The method has the potential to reduce cost by eliminating the need for rare-earth elements, while simultaneously improving the material's structural properties. It's a new twist on extrusion, in which the metal is forced through a tool to create a certain shape, kind of like dough pushed through a pasta maker results in different shapes.
Initial research, described recently in Materials Science and Engineering A, and Magnesium Technology, found the PNNL-developed process greatly improves the energy absorption of magnesium by creating novel microstructures which are not possible with traditional extrusion methods. It also improves a property called ductility — which is how far the metal can be stretched before it breaks. These enhancements make magnesium easier to work with and more likely to be used in structural car parts. Currently, magnesium components account for only about 1 percent, or 33 pounds, of a typical car's weight according to a DOE report.
"Today, many vehicle manufacturers do not use magnesium in structural locations because of the two Ps; price and properties," said principal investigator and mechanical engineer Scott Whalen. "Right now, manufacturers opt for low-cost aluminum in components such as bumper beams and crush tips. Using our process, we have enhanced the mechanical properties of magnesium to the point where it can now be considered instead of aluminum for these applications — without the added cost of rare-earth elements."
Researchers theorized that spinning the magnesium alloy during the extrusion process would create just enough heat to soften the material so it could be easily pressed through a die to create tubes, rods and channels. Heat generated from mechanical friction deforming the metal, provides all of the heat necessary for the process, eliminating the need for power hungry resistance heaters used in traditional extrusion presses.
The PNNL team designed and commissioned an industrial version of their idea and received a one-of-a-kind, custom built Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion machine — coining the acronym for ShAPE™.
With it, they've successfully extruded very thin-walled round tubing, up to two inches in diameter, from magnesium-aluminum-zinc alloys AZ91 and ZK60A, improving their mechanical properties in the process. For example, room temperature ductility above 25 percent has been independently measured, which is a large improvement compared to typical extrusions.
"In the ShAPE™ process, we get highly refined microstructures within the metal and, in some cases, are even able to form nanostructured features," said Whalen. "The higher the rotations per minute, the smaller the grains become which makes the tubing stronger and more ductile or pliable. Additionally, we can control the orientation of the crystalline structures in the metal to improve the energy absorption of magnesium so it's equal to that of aluminum."
The billets or chunks of bulk magnesium alloys flow through the die in a very soft state, thanks to the simultaneous linear and rotational forces of the ShAPE™ machine. This means only one tenth of the force is needed to push the material through a die compared to conventional extrusion.
This significant reduction in force would enable substantially smaller production machinery, thus lowering capital expenditures and operations costs for industry adopting this patent pending process. The force is so low, that the amount of electricity used to make a one-foot length of two-inch diameter tubing is about the same as it takes to run a residential kitchen oven for just 60 seconds.
Energy is saved since the heat generated at the billet/die interface is the only process heat required to soften the magnesium. "We don't need giant heaters surrounding the billets of magnesium like industrial extrusion machines, said Whalen. "We are heating — with friction only — right at the place that matters."
Magna-Cosma, a global auto industry parts supplier, is teaming with PNNL on this DOE funded research project to advance low cost magnesium parts and, as larger tubes are developed, will be testing them at one of their production facilities near Detroit.
PNNL's ShAPE™ technology is available for licensing and could help to make a dent in the auto industry's magnesium target, and slim down cars which currently weigh an average of 3,360 pounds.
N. Overman, S. Whalen, M. Olszta, K. Kruska, J. Darsell, V. Joshi, X. Jiang, K. Mattlin, E. Stephens, T. Clark, S. Mathaudhu, "Homogenization and Texture Development in Rapidly Solidified AZ91E Consolidated by Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion (ShAPE)," Materials Science and Engineering A, 701, 56-68, 2017, June 12, 2017, DOI: 10.1016/j.msea.2017.06.062.
S. Whalen, V. Joshi, N. Overman, D. Caldwell, C. Lavender, T. Skszek, "Scaled-Up Fabrication of Thin-Walled Magnesium ZK60 Tubing using Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion (ShAPE)," Magnesium Technology, 315-321, Feb 16, 2017, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-52392-7_45.
Scientists worldwide are measuring ever smaller amounts of radiation
Very low levels of radiation can tell scientists a lot about our world. New approaches and techniques for measuring very low or trace levels of radiation have recently been featured in a special issue of the Journal Applied Radiation and Isotopes which published the proceedings of the 7th Low-Level Radioactivity Measurement Techniques conference.
The international conference was held for the first time in the U.S. and focused on low-level radiation measurement techniques from around the world. The ability to measure trace levels of radiation activity is challenging but crucial for:
The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory hosted the U.S. conference and served as guest editors for the special issue. PNNL was recently extended an invitation to join the International Committee for Radionuclide Metrology which sponsored the Low-Level Radiation Measurement Techniques conference where 123 scientists from over 20 countries presented a total of 121 papers.