Story tips from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, February 2016
BATTERIES – Hybrid packs power …
Batteries for grid and stationary applications could get a boost with an approach that uses inexpensive and plentiful aluminum and lithium-containing cathodes to increase capacity, cycling performance and safety. The hybrid battery, developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, uses aluminum as the anode – a negative electrode – instead of lithium or graphite. It also uses a new cell design that dramatically reduces the problem of corrosion caused by the strong acidic nature of electrolytes. The result of this work, published in the journal Chemical Communications, is a battery that potentially offers alternative energy storage devices for multiple applications at a lower cost. The paper is available at http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2016/cc/c5cc09019a#!divAbstract. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]
Cutline: ORNL's new battery design holds significant promise for grid and stationary power storage.
COMPUTING – Meeting of minds …
Oak Ridge National Laboratory will play host this summer to researchers whose goal is to design computers that combine the best of human and machine. ORNL's Neuromorphic Computing Workshop is expected to attract participants from Department of Energy labs, universities and industry and will help chart a course to address the White House grand challenge to develop and transform computing as we know it. Katie Schuman, a Liane Russell Post-Doc Fellow and one of the conference organizers, noted that the focus is on emerging neuromorphic architectures that allow for computing flexibility, on-line system learning and understanding. "While our end goal is to develop computers that are inspired by the way the brain operates, our near-term goal is to write and scale programs that will enable upcoming supercomputers to simulate the behaviors of neuromorphic systems," said Schuman, a member of the lab's Intelligent Computing Research Team. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]
Cutline: A neuromorphic, or brain-like, network reading and recognizing a handwritten number.
MATERIALS – Cleaner biomass cookstoves …
Some of the estimated 4 million premature deaths each year attributed to indoor cookstove smoke might be prevented because of the work of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Colorado State University and Envirofit International. With 3 billion people in developing countries using open fire cookstoves, the need is great for durable, low-cost corrosion-resistant materials that also enable a stove to burn cleaner, said ORNL's Mike Brady, who has led alloy design efforts for the team since this work began in 2007. The team is now reporting a new alloy (iron-chromium-silicon base) that shows early promise for better corrosion resistance than the current state-of-the-art alloys (iron-chromium-aluminum) at lower cost. The team is also publishing corrosion test methods, data and mitigation approaches for next-generation cookstove combustor materials that can be used by cookstove manufacturers to design more durable, better-performing cookstoves. This work was presented recently at the Engineers in Technical and Humanitarian Opportunities of Service conference in Kirkland, Washington. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]
Cutline: With just a few small sticks, Envirofit International's M-5000 Wood clean cookstove can boil water in seven minutes. Two-thirds of the company's 1 million stoves sold used alloys developed by the research team.
ENERGY – Critical materials, critical role …
Ensuring a reliable supply of rare earth elements, including four key lanthanides and yttrium, is a major goal of the Critical Materials Institute as these elements are essential to many clean-energy technologies. These include energy-efficient lighting, electric vehicles, photovoltaic panels and wind power. Collaborating with partners of the Ames Laboratory-led CMI, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are using a variety of approaches, including computing, to speed processes and to identify technology gaps in the supply chain for critical materials. One of the efforts involves using froth flotation – the separation of hydrophobic mineral particles from hydrophilic ones – to concentrate rare earth minerals from various ores. Another is focused on finding better methods to recover lithium from geothermal brine. "By taking an indirect tack to diversify the supply of critical rare earth elements, we are also developing new uses for the abundant rare earth elements lanthanum and cerium," said Bruce Moyer, a group leader in the lab's Chemical Sciences Division. "This will improve the economics of recovering and purifying the less abundant critical rare earth elements." [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]
Cutline: ORNL researchers are developing an idealized collector molecule that has a shape complementary to the surface atomic structure of xenotime, a rare earth yttrium-rich phosphate mineral.
NANOSCIENCE – Learning from nanocrystal growth …
To tailor tiny nanocrystals for catalysts, semiconductors and other applications, scientists must predict what happens inside the particle, at the boundary and in the solvent during particle growth. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Kentucky tackled this tricky task by developing a framework to analyze crystal growth mechanisms, collective dynamics and proximity effects. In situ liquid scanning transmission electron microscopy captured behavior that simulations correlated to physical and chemical phenomena. "Insight into the physics and chemistry of nanocrystals' formation and growth will improve our understanding of their physiochemical properties," said postdoctoral fellow Anton Ievlev of the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, a Department of Energy User Facility at ORNL. "This knowledge may aid in the design of new materials for microelectronics, biomedicine and other fields." [Contact: Dawn Levy, (865) 576-6448; [email protected]]
Cutline: Researchers developed a framework to learn physical and chemical phenomena defining nanocrystal growth from scanning transmission electron microscopy.
CLIMATE – Populations at risk …
Increased extreme weather events expected to accompany climate change pose a significant risk to coastal regions, home to more than half of the U.S. population with more people on the way. In fact, the rate of population growth in areas within 50 miles of the coasts is projected to nearly triple the national rate, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers. Consequently, vast amounts of critical infrastructures for oil and gas, power generation, water, rail and road transportation, and banking are located in these areas. They are all particularly vulnerable to hurricanes, tsunamis, storm surges, flooding, sea level rise and erosion. "Our research profiles these areas in order to enhance understanding of the challenges, risks and opportunities for improving the reliability and resiliency of infrastructure services in these areas," said Thomaz Carvalhaes, who presented a talk titled "Profiling Populations at Risk Due to a Changing Climate in Coastal Areas of the United States" at the UTK GeoSym 2016. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]
Cutline: One-third of the nation's energy generation units are located within 50 miles of the coasts.
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