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Story tips from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, November 2015

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NUCLEAR – Sound inspections …

Inspections will play a crucial role in the decisions to extend operating licenses for many of the nation's aging nuclear power plants, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory has a tool that could help. "The question that needs to be answered is whether the concrete structures that cannot be replaced in a nuclear power plant can perform their intended safety functions," said ORNL's Dwight Clayton. While commercial nondestructive evaluation techniques are useful for examining structures such as bridges, they are largely ineffective for nuclear power plants, where concrete is particularly thick and reinforced with heavy steel. The technique developed by Clayton and colleagues uses linear array ultrasound and advanced signal processing to reveal flaws. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]l.gov]

MANUFACTURING – Advanced motor prototyping …

By using additive manufacturing to print active components of motors, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are conducting research that cannot be done with conventional methods. "To date, 3-D printed induction motors are made of plastic core pieces with copper windings to produce 'motors' that rotate," said Curt Ayers, who leads the effort that resulted in a motor made with printed metallic parts. "Our work focuses on building and testing new complex motor designs that would provide the characteristics – high power density, high efficiency and low cost – needed to take motors to the next level." Ayers emphasized that this work "isn't being done simply to produce a motor with 3-D printing." Instead, the ORNL focus is on the ability to rapidly produce and test various configurations of complex traction drive motors for electric and hybrid vehicles and many other applications. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]gov]

COMPUTING – Intelligent user interfaces …

High-resolution imaging of materials produces complex, copious data. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are developing a visual analytics system that could essentially "look over a scientist's shoulder," learning from human actions and improving its predictions of what the scientist thinks is interesting. The approach combines computational data analytics with interactive data visualization–human intuition and knowledge. "Humans are very good at visual processing and intuition tasks that are hard to do with a computer," ORNL's Chad Steed said. "If we could grasp that strength of the humans in some type of intelligent interface, we could go after problems that neither approach in isolation could solve." [Contact: Dawn Levy, (865) 576-6448; [email protected]]

ENERGY – High-efficiency rooftop A/C …

Trane Commercial Systems and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have coaxed 20 percent greater performance out of a baseline commercial rooftop air conditioning unit with the potential for even better efficiency by switching refrigerants. Through a cooperative research and development agreement, ORNL and Trane conducted an exhaustive technologies survey to select energy-efficient and cost-effective components, said Bo Shen, who led the project for ORNL. Predicted annual energy savings for cooling of small office buildings at 16 U.S. locations ranged from 44 to 48 percent compared to a baseline system. Trane and ORNL are now investigating using DR-55 as a promising low global warming potential refrigerant, replacing R-410A. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226; [email protected]]

SUPERCOMPUTING – Accelerating climate research …

The next-generation Earth system model will simulate climate systems at unprecedented resolution over an unprecedented time scale in order to understand climate change, Earth system feedbacks and potential tipping points. The Accelerated Climate Model for Energy project, led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Peter Thornton, aims to answer the most pressing climate prediction questions, including how precipitation patterns will change in a warming climate and how the melting Antarctic ice sheet will contribute to sea level rise. Using Titan, the nation's fastest supercomputer for open science research, the team has carried out a series of first-ever simulations in which human activity (fossil fuel emissions and agricultural commodity prices) was synchronously predicted with climate system responses (atmospheric composition and ecosystems). The fully coupled model, which will be ready for production around mid-2017, will be capable of simulating 80 years (1970-2050) of climate variability in less than three weeks. [Contact: Jeff Gary, (865) 574-8066; [email protected]]

BUILDINGS – Seeking solutions …

Inventors and innovators are invited to submit their ideas to JUMP, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's latest buildings technology crowdsourcing platform. JUMP, launched in partnership with General Electric, AO Smith and United Technologies Research Center, aims to solicit novel solutions to a number of technical challenges in energy-efficient buildings technologies. Current campaigns are focused on HVAC sensors, refrigerator defrost systems and water heater thermal energy storage. Winners, selected by a panel of lab and industry technical advisers, will qualify for cash prizes of $3,000 to $5,000 in addition to consideration for up to $320,000 of in-kind technical support. To learn more, visit http://web.ornl.gov/jump. [Contact: Morgan McCorkle, (865) 574-7308; [email protected]]

SUPERCOMPUTING – Breaking the barrier …

Bioenergy researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have explained the molecular mechanism of an effect that has puzzled scientists for years. A team led by Jeremy Smith has discovered that lignin, when pretreated with a tetrahydrofuran-water solvent, shifts from a globule to an extended coil, providing unrestricted access of enzymes to cellulose. Past experimental studies have shown that chemical pretreatments with this mixture is highly effective at extracting lignin from biomass and achieving high yields of fermentable sugars from cellulose, but until now, researchers have not known why. By simulating biomass systems on the Titan supercomputer, scientist are getting closer to defeating lignin, one of the biggest barriers to efficient transformation of biomass into biofuel and bioproducts. [Contact: Jonathan Hines, (865) 574-6944; [email protected]]

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