Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, August 2016


To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications staff member identified at the end of each tip. For more information on ORNL and its research and development activities, please refer to one of our media contacts. If you have a general media-related question or comment, you can send it to [email protected]

ANALYTICS – Johnny on the spot …

Mass spectrometry and direct sampling come together in a powerful way with a new technology that can identify a material in mere seconds. PenDoc, invented by Gary Van Berkel and Vilmos Kertesz of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, could help in drug discovery, medical diagnostics, food safety, the environment, forensics and national security. The design consists of a pen-like sampler that the user touches to the surface being tested. The sample is then dissolved in the pen and transferred to a flowing solvent stream and on to a mass spectrometer and analysis software. The mass spectrometry market for rapid detection is expected to reach $19 billion globally by 2020, according to Transparency Market Research. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]


Cutline: Oak Ridge National Laboratory's PenDoc makes sampling the surface of a strawberry for pesticides, for example, quick and easy.

ENVIRONMENT – Addressing the mercury challenge …

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory study is providing an unprecedented watershed-scale understanding of mercury in soils and sediments. Researchers focused on evaluating mercury and soil properties along the banks of a mercury-contaminated stream in Oak Ridge, Tenn., sampling 145 locations and performing kayak-based video mapping. Ultimately, the work could help scientists develop sorbents and other technologies to bind or remove mercury from soils, said research team member John Dickson, a post-doc in the Environmental Sciences Division. Complete results will be presented in Phoenix at the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America annual meeting in November. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]


Cutline: By wet-sieving stream sediment, (from left) Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Kenneth Lowe, Melanie Mayes and John Dickson sort sediment into different particle size in this stream near Rocky Top.

ENERGY – High-efficiency heating …

Salt and ammonia are key ingredients of a high-efficiency natural gas-fired heat pump system being developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Rheem and ClimateWell. Potentially, the SaltX system could provide 43 percent greater efficiency than today's best furnaces and maintain its rated capacity to outdoor temperatures of minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit. "The innovative approach of this system is that the salt is embedded in a matrix treated by nanoparticles, allowing it to crystallize during the desorption process," said ORNL's Kyle Gluesenkamp, who leads the project. The salt and ammonia are housed in an outdoor unit with a water loop connecting to the indoor central air duct heat exchanger. This design results in a much higher energy density, lower cycle times, smoother output and higher efficiency at lower cost. The system, expected to provide a payback of three to four years in some climates, is also more compact than competing heat units. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]


Cutline: The SaltX heating system offers better efficiency than today's best furnaces and a potential payback of just three to four years.

ENGINES – Getting the soot out …

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are taking a closer look at previously uncharacterized, microscopic soot particles collected during lab experiments on light-duty, multi-cylinder advanced combustion engines. The ORNL-led team is widely known for advancing a combustion technology called reactivity controlled compression ignition that reduces nitrogen oxide emissions and particulate matter, or soot, and improves fuel efficiency in a low-temperature combustion environment. The team detected the particulate matter in this mode. "We're further analyzing the soot to learn more about its potential impacts on light-duty engines and air quality," said ORNL's John Storey. The particulate matter discovery is part of a paper that summarizes ORNL's long-term research using RCCI technology published in "Soot Dynamics in Internal Combustion Engines," a special edition by the International Journal of Engine Research. [Contact: Sara Shoemaker, (865) 576-9219; [email protected]]


Cutline: Melanie Debusk collects soot samples from a reactivity controlled compression ignition engine at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's National Transportation Research Center.

HYDROGEN – Coming to a station near you …

A stationary vessel developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers Zhili Feng and Yanli Wang could be the key to less expensive hydrogen storage, making it possible for more hydrogen-powered vehicles to hit the road in the near future. Feng and Wang have designed a steel-concrete composite vessel that optimizes cost, scalability, durability and safety, effectively solving the hydrogen embrittlement problem that causes corrosion in conventional stainless steel containers. With Feng's steel-concrete composite vessel, small vents prevent pressure buildup. "By allowing hydrogen to migrate through the innermost layer of the vessel through ports, the design mitigates hydrogen embrittlement in a layered steel alloy vessel," Feng said. "This design is safer and more cost-effective, making hydrogen easier to store at the station." [Contact: Jennifer Burke, (865) 946-1405; [email protected]]


Cutline: A 90-kilogram 430-bar prototype of the steel-concrete composite vessel has been manufactured, and is undergoing fatigue testing.

CLIMATE – Future cool down …

Increasing temperatures are one of several conditions scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are studying to determine how changes in climate — along with population growth and aging power plants — will affect the nation's future energy needs. Looking at greater Chicago, a multi-laboratory team led by ORNL's Melissa Allen developed a methodology using ORNL's high-resolution climate and population prediction tools to investigate how certain energy generation portfolios (incorporating renewables and technology) can help meet the projected rising demand for electricity. "Results showed that in scenarios where power was created using renewables, supply margins did not achieve industry standards," Allen said. "But when we added technology options to the mix, the margins improved by double digits." [Contact: Sara Shoemaker, (865) 576-9219; [email protected]]


Cutline: ORNL's new climate change methodology helps predict energy efficiency impacts in rapidly growing areas like greater Chicago. This tool can be applied to any U.S. or global region.

MATERIALS – Interdependent defects …

Scientists have long known that adding tiny defects into otherwise perfect materials can influence the substance's electronic or magnetic properties. Now, a new study led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows that defects in complex oxides do not act independently, which will change how scientists understand this class of materials. After shining light on strontium titanate samples, the researchers observed changes in conductivity that could only be explained by interactions among the materials' defects. "These defects actually talk to each other," said ORNL's Paul Snijders. "The cascading changes make these defects correlated." The findings will inform research that seeks to make use of complex oxide materials for next-generation electronic devices or catalysts. The team's research is published in Scientific Reports. [Contact: Morgan McCorkle, (865) 574-7308; [email protected]]


Cutline: An ORNL-led study discovered that defects (pictured in green, purple and yellow) in strontium titanate interact to influence the material's overall properties.

GEOCHEMISTRY – Storing carbon …

Storing carbon dioxide for millennia in geologic formations relies on effective seals. Gernot Rother of Oak Ridge National Laboratory participated in analysis of neutron scattering data taken at the Jülich Centre for Neutron Science during a collaborative study led by Cambridge University and Shell Global Solutions. The investigation employed experiments and modeling to assess if a caprock trapped carbon dioxide supplied by an underlying aquifer. Researchers revealed a barrier-forming zone in which minerals dissolve, react with carbon dioxide and precipitate to clog pores. "Changes happening at the nanometer length scales that neutrons interrogate define how well caprock works as a barrier," Rother said. "Coupled geochemical reactions and fluid flow phenomena in nanopores control the seal integrity. This particular caprock retains carbon dioxide far longer than expected." [Contact: Dawn Levy, (865) 576-6448; [email protected]]


Cutline: The Carmel caprock, which overlies an aquifer naturally charged with carbon dioxide, was analyzed with neutron scattering, revealing alteration only in the basal 7 cm and progression of caprock corrosion an order of magnitude slower than expected.


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