Story tips from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, November 2016


Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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MATERIALS – Mixed results …

Scientists have developed a process for mixing unmodified lignin with general-purpose rubber and other components that yields high-performance renewable thermoplastics containing up to 41 percent of lignin content. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory-led research team tested two combinations of materials using different lignin varieties resulting in samples that were either "stretchy" or demonstrated tensile strength comparable to glassy plastic such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS. By using low-cost additives, the sturdy lignin was broken down through the mixing method that bypasses expensive, and often chemically intensive, pre-processing typically required for lignin to be viable. The ORNL-developed bio-derived materials could be suitable for automotive and household applications. Details of the project were published in Green Chemistry. [Contact: Sara Shoemaker, (865) 576-9219,]


Caption: Mixing in low-cost additives increases the viability of lignin to produce high-performance renewable thermoplastics, an ORNL-led study shows.

GEOCHEMISTRY – Squeezing more fuel . . .

For an ExxonMobil-funded study, Oak Ridge National Laboratory chemists helped characterize shale that holds onto methane gas tightly. Conducting the first direct measurements of methane density in tight shale, the researchers used small-angle neutron scattering to study features smaller than 10 nanometers–a plethora of petite pores produced when hydrocarbons "cooked" and matured to make methane. The large surface area of small pores means gas molecules have lots of places to which to stick. Consequently, the researchers found methane was twice as dense in pores less than four nanometers wide compared to larger pores. "A better understanding of where gas is inside these tight shales will translate to better modeling and better understanding of extraction processes," said Gernot Rother, who set up pressurized neutron scattering experiments with ORNL colleague David Wesolowski. [Dawn Levy, (865) 576-6448,]


Caption: Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are expected to at least double natural gas extraction from tight shale by 2040. Neutron scattering showed shale rich in organic matter and characterized by small pores held twice the methane of shale with greater inorganic content and larger pores. (Image credit: Andy Sproles, Gernot Rother/ORNL)

BUILDINGS – Exterior performance …

Oak Ridge National Laboratory will lead the 13th international conference on Thermal Performance of the Exterior Envelopes of Whole Buildings XIII on December 5-8 in Clearwater, Florida, an event that attracts building envelope experts from around the world to share state-of-the-art research and technology applications. One topic of interest will be a mold growth index model workshop, explaining the model's development and application and providing examples of how MGI usage could vary depending on building materials. The MGI model is expected to become a new buildings standard. Along with ORNL, the event's sponsors this year include the Department of Energy, National Institute of Building Sciences and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. Since 1989, ORNL has led the event known as the Buildings 13 Conference, which occurs every three years. [Contact: Sara Shoemaker, (865) 576-9219,]


Caption: One topic of interest building envelope experts will discuss during the ORNL-led Buildings 13 Conference is the mold growth index model, which could become a new buildings standard.


Media Contact

Sara Shoemaker

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