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SRNL Highlights

South Carolina State University students William Dumpson and Alejandra Chirino
 

Research exchange promotes
networking between SRNL and
Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Students and representatives from seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) recently participated in a research exchange hosted by Savannah River National Laboratory, the DOE Office of Environmental Management's National Lab.

Held in February at the Center for Hydrogen Research near SRS, the day's events included a joint poster session featuring university research and SRNL research, and networking opportunities for the students, faculty and SRNL staff.

Two of the participating S.C. State University (SCSU) students—William Dumpson and Alejandra Chirino—participated in a research effort on gas chromotography and mass spectrometry, one of a number of projects funded in 2010 by a three-year DOE-EM grant to SCSU and eight other HBCUs.

S.C. State chemistry professor Dr. Joe Emily called the day's activities "a wonderful opportunity for our science students to get some exposure to a prestigious research institution in our own state."

SRNS Executive Vice President and SRNL Director Dr. Terry Michalske added that the event featured "tremendous science, and excellent discussions that are going on between our staff and the students. We are fortunate to have such an outstanding group of HBCUs in our region, and we want to take best advantage of that resource in building the future of SRNL. After today's event, I'm even more impressed by the quality of the students and the research being conducted, and I'm very optimistic about our future collaboration and partnerships with these institutions."

SRNL Research Paves Way for Portable Power Systems

Dr. Kit Heung demonstrates the system, including a fuel cell and alane vessel powering 40 and 60 watt light bulbs.Developments by hydrogen researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) are paving the way for the successful development of portable power systems with capacities that far exceed the best batteries available today. SRNL's advances in the use of alane, a lightweight material for storing hydrogen, may be the key that unlocks the development of portable fuel cell systems that meet the needs for both military and commercial portable power applications.

SRNL has demonstrated a practical path to portable power systems based on alane and similar high capacity hydrogen storage materials that provide the sought-after high specific energy, which means the amount of energy per weight. Their accomplishments to date include developing a lower-cost method of producing alane, developing a method to dramatically increase the amount of hydrogen it releases, and demonstrating a working system powering a 150 W fuel cell. Portable power equipment manufacturers are looking for systems that can provide specific energies greater than 1000 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg); that's more than 2 to 3 times the capacity of the best primary lithium batteries today. "Higher specific energy means more energy per weight," said SRNL's Dr. Ted Motyka. "The goal is to provide sufficient energy to a system that is light enough to be carried by a soldier or used in unmanned aircraft and other applications where weight is a factor."

Hydrogen, at 33,000 Wh/kg, has the highest specific energy of any fuel, so it is a natural candidate to fuel such high-capacity systems. The challenge, however, has been developing a material for storing hydrogen with both the high capacity and the low weight needed for portable systems.

SRNL has been working for years on developing several light-weight, high capacity solid-state hydrogen storage materials for automotive applications. While most of these materials do not meet all the various requirements needed for automotive applications, many may be viable for small portable power systems. One of the most promising materials is aluminum hydride, (AlH3) or alane. Alane, while not a new material, has only in the last few years been considered as a hydrogen storage material for fuel cell applications. SRNL researchers are among only a handful of researchers, worldwide, currently working with alane and beginning to unwrap its material and engineering properties.

Dr. Motyka, Dr. Ragaiy Zidan and Dr. Kit Heung, all of SRNL, led a team to characterize and optimize alane as a hydrogen storage material, develop a small hydrogen storage vessel containing alane, and demonstrate hydrogen release at delivery rates suitable for powering small commercial fuel cells. The results of that work are attracting interest from several commercial companies working in the area of portable power systems.

Alane is one of the classes of materials known as chemical hydrogen storage materials. Like metal hydrides, chemical hydrogen storage materials provide a solid-state storage medium for hydrogen. Unlike metal hydrides, however, chemical hydrogen storage materials, like alane, do not readily reabsorb hydrogen, so once their hydrogen is released the material must be chemically reprocessed to restore its hydrogen. An advantage of alane is its very high hydrogen capacities; it can store twice as much hydrogen, in the same volume, as liquid hydrogen, and can do so at the very high gravimetric capacity of 10 wt%. Alane also exhibits very favorable discharge conditions, making it one of the ideal chemical hydrogen storage materials.

Among the biggest challenges the team addressed were the limited amount of readily available commercial alane, and its high cost to produce – which could be significant impediments to widespread use. As part of this project, they initially developed a bench-scale system to produce the quantities of alane needed for experimental and optimization studies. This work led to the development of a new and potentially lower cost process for producing alane. "Our process overcomes some of the handicaps of traditional methods for producing alane," says Dr. Zidan. "This novel method minimizes the use of solvents, and is able to produce pure, halide-free alane."

Work led by Dr. Zidan also resulted in a process to increase the amount of hydrogen that can be extracted from alane. This two-step process was found to double the amount of hydrogen that can be liberated from alane using a traditional one-step process.

A major part of this project was to evaluate alane systems for compatibility with small fuel cell applications. Preliminary results on a proof-of-concept vessel containing approximately 22 grams of alane showed that the system could scale nicely to meet the required hydrogen release rate for a small 100-watt fuel cell system. Based on those results a larger system containing 240 grams of alane was designed, fabricated and tested with a 150 watt commercial fuel cell. The results show that the system was able to operate the fuel cell at near full power for over three hours and at reduced power for several more hours.

Work to date was funded under SRNL's Laboratory Directed Research & Development program, which supports highly innovative and exploratory research aligned with the Laboratory's priorities. The success achieved so far has attracted additional funding from the DOE's Fuel Cell Technologies Program in the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, along with interest from commercial firms. (Published February 2012)

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SRNS Program Provides Model for Assisting Wounded Warriors Re-enter Workforce

SRNL’s Paul Smock (left) and Jason Rainey perform an ultrasonic examination to check pipe wall thickness.For many wounded veterans, getting back into the job market is one of the most important – and potentially most daunting – steps in returning to civilian life. The U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory and its management and operating contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions have joined forces with the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project to help assist wounded warriors re-enter the workforce.

Jason Rainey, the first veteran recruited and hired under the SRNS Wounded Warrior Support Initiative, recently reported to SRNL to begin a three- to four-month assignment designed to expand his skill base and prepare him for rejoining the workforce.

"We have donated money to the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project to help with a number of their initiatives, but we wanted to do something more," said SRNS President Garry Flowers. "This is something real and specific we can do to support an individual who has made a great sacrifice in his service of our country." Flowers hopes that the SRNS program can serve as a model for other national laboratories and other companies across the country.

Rainey, who was wounded in Iraq, will spend the next few months working with personnel in SRNL's Materials Science & Technology directorate, exploring the fields of nondestructive evaluation and materials analysis. "This program is definitely a great opportunity, not only for me but also for future veterans who participate, to acquire or expand critical job skills and possibly gain interest in different careers," Rainey said. "I cannot express how fortunate I am to be involved in this program and to work with the people in this group. It always feels good to know that our sacrifices are appreciated, and I would like to thank everyone involved in this program for reminding us of that."

SRNL’s Paul Smock (right) and Jason Rainey perform an ultrasonic examination to check tank wall thickness.The mission of the SRNS initiative, according to SRNL's Dr. George Wicks, who conceived it, is to "establish a process that allows Wounded Warriors to work at the Savannah River National Laboratory or SRNS operations for a short period of time under some of our best scientists, engineers and staff professionals, to help expand their skill base and assist them in furthering their education for re-entering into the workforce." The idea, Dr. Wicks said, is for SRNL personnel to serve as on-the-job mentors and provide resources, training, and oversight of the wounded warriors, while creating a supportive environment and building personal relationships that will improve confidence and abilities of the veterans, and the opportunity to ultimately reintegrate into the workforce.

Since no precedent for this type of program existed, SRNS called on the expertise of the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project, the Veterans Administration and the military, along with our own human resources and education outreach personnel with experience in student work programs, and SRNL researchers with experience in mentoring, to develop a structure for the program.

Laurie Ott of the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project, said, "SRNS' commitment to our service members and veterans is a real beacon to other employers and serves as a model for other national laboratories to follow. What we are seeing is just one of the benefits of public private partnerships and why they are the foundation of great communities. We are grateful for the relationship with SRNS and SRNL and hope to continue to leverage these resources for the benefit of those we all aim to serve."

Paul Smock, one of Rainey's SRNL mentors, finds his role with the initiative a rewarding intersection of his work life and personal interests. Smock has worked for three years with Team River Runners, which is a national organization that teaches kayaking skills to veterans. "We've trained visually impaired and amputee vets to kayak, and we take them on a whitewater kayaking trip for their 'graduation,'" he said. "These folks are amazing!"

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Research Advances Next Generation Nuclear Reactors

SRNL's participation in a University of South Carolina research and development project funded by DOE's Nuclear Energy University Program will help enable Next Generation Nuclear Plants (NGNP) to do "double duty" by making the plants' high-temperature exhaust heat available for additional use, such as the commercial production of hydrogen.

This thermal energy connection between the nuclear plant and a non-nuclear user of high-temperature heat is one of the features that distinguishes NGNP from previous nuclear plants. A technical hurdle to the use of heat from the nuclear plant's exhaust is the need to remove the trace level of hydrogen isotopes, such as tritium, present in the exhaust gas streams. This presents a significant challenge since the removal of hydrogen isotopes from the high temperature gas stream must be accomplished at elevated temperatures in order to subsequently make use of this heat.

The USC-led project, estimated at $1,366,626 (actual project funding will be established during contract negotiation phase), will study two types of novel materials as potential methods for removing tritium from the exhaust. One part of the research will look at extending the techniques for metal hydride materials, which have been developed for low temperature handling of hydrogen, to develop materials that can absorb hydrogen at elevated temperatures. Another part will study high temperature proton conducting materials as hydrogen isotope separation membranes. For both types of materials, research will emphasize both composition and the performance of these materials.

Kyle BrinkmanSRNL's role, led by Kyle Brinkman and Thad Adams, will involve the collaborative development of new materials as well as experimental testing of novel hydride and membrane materials in hydrogen and deuterium gas environments.

This project is one of 42 university-led research and development projects selected for awards totaling $38 million over three to four years through the Department’s Nuclear Energy University Program, whose goal is to help advance nuclear education and develop the next generation of nuclear technologies. The USC-led projects is part of the Program's Generation IV Reactor Research and Development. The goal of this research area is to research and develop the next generation of nuclear reactors that will produce more energy and create less waste. The focus is developing new reactor technologies with higher safety, economic, and sustainability performance.

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FBI, Savannah River National Laboratory, Put Science to Work to Protect the Nation

FBI REEF Facility Opening Video The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) announced the opening of a major expansion of the FBI’s facilities for the forensic examination of radiological material and associated evidence.  The FBI’s newly expanded Radiological Evidence Examination Facility (REEF), located at the Savannah River National Laboratory near Aiken, South Carolina, provides a major enhancement in the FBI's ability to protect the nation from crimes involving radiological material and bring to justice those who would use these materials to harm the nation's citizens.

The first phase of the REEF opened at SRNL in 2006, providing facilities and equipment where trained FBI personnel can safely perform forensic examination on radiologically contaminated evidence.  The new facility expands that original suite to about six times its original size and provides the capabilities for many more kinds of forensic examination.  The new radiological forensic laboratory takes advantage of the long-standing security, safety and radiological protection capabilities already in place at SRNL while allowing the FBI to focus on forensic examination, in consultation with SRNL experts.
The expanded facility offers the FBI the ability to conduct the full spectrum of traditional forensic analysis on contaminated evidence.   Working together, FBI and SRNL personnel have developed innovative solutions to adapt existing DNA, latent fingerprints, trace hairs and fiber, document exams and forensic photography techniques for safe use in a radiation controlled environment.  For example, new microscope slide holders, as well as digital photography and x-ray capabilities have been developed.

REEF facility demonstration in the labDigital fingerprint comparisons can now be conducted using secure computer terminals linked to the FBI’s national fingerprint database.  The REEF includes a fully functional FBI satellite office, where forensic examiners can securely share information via voice, data or video with any other FBI office.  The facility has a dedicated Evidence Storage room, where radiological evidence can be safely and securely stored to maintain its integrity for judicial proceedings. 


At the FBI Laboratory in Quantico Virginia, traditional forensic examinations of non-hazardous evidence are conducted in support of law enforcement investigations.  The new FBI Laboratory facility at SRNL provides FBI forensic examiners with the ability to perform these examinations on radiologically-contaminated evidence in a fully equipped, safe, secure forensic laboratory setting.

FBI Lab Director Chris Hassell shows Congressman Clyburn and SRNL's Todd Coleman a containment structure that could be used for examining radiologically contaminated evidence“We at SRNL are particularly proud of our partnership with the FBI, putting science to work to give the FBI the ability to conduct investigations that help keep our nation safe from nuclear terrorism,” says SRNL Acting Director Dr. Paul Deason.  As host to the FBI’s radiological evidence laboratory, SRNL conducted several years of research and development to adapt existing FBI forensic methods for application to radiological evidence, using their expertise in the safe handling of radiological materials.  This successful partnership is continuing; future developments already under way include the ability to use remote manipulators and “hot cells” to collect and analyze evidence from items containing sources of neutron or gamma radiation.

In addition, SRNL provides radiological crime scene training to FBI agents from around the country, and has developed special evidence packaging to allow investigators to collect and deliver radiological evidence to the laboratory.

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Wind Turbine Facility to help grow U.S. wind technology

Wind Turbine Facility to help grow U.S. wind technologySRNL is a primary member of the Clemson University-led team selected by DOE to receive up to $45M under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for a wind energy test facility that will enhance the performance, durability, and reliability of utility-scale wind turbines. This is great news, not just for SRNL and Clemson, but for South Carolina and the nation, and is expected to create hundreds of jobs and place one of the most important sites for wind energy research and development in South Carolina..  In addition to the grant from DOE, the team received $53M in matching funds for the project, which will build and operate a large-scale wind turbine drive train testing facility at the Clemson University Restoration Institute research campus on the former Charleston Navy base.  This investment will support jobs and strengthen American leadership in wind energy technology by supporting the testing of next-generation wind turbine designs. 

SRNL’s role, estimated at over $2M over the next two-three years, is to provide direct technical assistance in the design, specification, integration, configuration, and deployment of a high fidelity and custom Data Acquisition System (DAS). The system design will be based upon SRNL’s expertise in high fidelity test and data acquisition systems used for nuclear weapons components stockpile surety testing.  Joe Cordaro of SRNL’s Energy Security and Engineering Directorate will lead SRNL’s participation.

Wind Turbine Facility to help grow U.S. wind technologyThe Large Wind Turbine Drivetrain Testing facility will enable the U.S., which leads the world in wind energy capacity, to expand development and testing of large-scale wind turbine drive-train systems domestically. Wind turbine sizes have increased with each new generation of turbines, and have outgrown the capacity of existing U.S. drivetrain testing facilities.  The new testing capability will ultimately improve U.S. competitiveness in wind energy technology, will lower energy costs for consumers, and will maintain rapid growth in the deployment of wind energy systems.

Announcing the selection, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said, “Wind power holds tremendous potential to help create new jobs and reduce carbon pollution.  We are at the beginning of a new Industrial Revolution when it comes to clean energy and projects like these will help us get there faster.”

The primary team on the project includes Clemson University, Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI), Cities of North Charleston and Charleston, Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority, SRNL and the State of South Carolina.  Partners include the Charleston Naval Complex Redevelopment Authority; the South Carolina Department of Commerce; the State of South Carolina; South Carolina Public Railways; the South Carolina State Ports Authority; and private partners RENK AG, Tony Bakker and James Meadors.

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Interns Gain Valuable Research Experience

For one group of students, summertime meant time to head into the laboratory, the reading room or out into the field, to contribute to research projects that support the nation’s national and homeland security, energy security, or environmental management.

This summer, more than 60 students - undergraduates through post-doctoral students - participated in internship and student programs at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory.  The students came from all over the country, representing schools as far away as Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Arizona State University and the University of Idaho, with many from South Carolina and Georgia. Each was paired with a mentor from SRNL’s research staff and given one or more projects to work on.  These projects support the Laboratory’s work on behalf of DOE and the nation, while preparing the students to eventually take their place as the future of science and technology. Many of the students and mentors also value the internships as a pipeline for potential future employment at SRNL.

While most internships take place during the summer months, local internship participants and post-doctoral participants may remain year round.

“We have two objectives,” says Dr. Rich Dimenna of SRNL’s Process Modeling and Computational Chemistry Department, who is mentor to one of the interns.  “The principle one is to challenge and help develop a student.  The second objective – which is lesser, especially with beginning students – is to get some useful work out of them.  We’re accomplishing both.”

SRNL interns Whitney Jones (left) and Audrey ThompsonIt’s that “useful work” aspect that appeals to a lot of the participating students.  “What I like is that we’re not reproducing experiments that every student has done before you,” says Whitney Jones (left in photo at right), an Augusta State University graduate who has held internships with SRNL’s biotechnology group for two years.  “It’s more fulfilling than that.” 

Andrew Romich, an industrial engineering undergraduate from University of Florida, came to SRNL through the Department of Homeland Security’s Scholars and Fellows program, a highly competitive program that funds hand-picked students to work on homeland security-related projects at the national laboratories.  “I like that I get to do research.  I get to work with simulations and a lot of statistics.  It seemed like something really useful,” he says about his project on maritime port security.  “Feeling like you make a difference always feels good.”

Romich’s project involves computer simulations of the deployment of security resources at the nation’s ports, analyzing them for ways to best use their resources to reduce radiological or nuclear security risks.  Dr. Dave Dunn and Dr. Steve Harris, his SRNL mentors, appreciate both the skill and the enthusiasm he brings to the task.  “He had his choice of national laboratories,” Dr. Dunn says.  “We’re happy he chose here.”  Because his task is unclassified, part of his final product is a paper that SRNL is submitting for publication in one of the respected technical journals, which is a real feather in the cap of a young researcher.

SRNL intern Jordan Burbage with Charlie Milliken of SRNL's Environmental Biotechnology groupThe students also appreciate the immersion in research at SRNL.  “We’re more than getting our feet wet,” says Jordan Burbage (right in photo at left), a Clemson undergraduate in biological sciences from Barnwell.  “We’re diving in to see what it’s about.”

SRNL intern Stephen Taylor working in the lab“What attracted me was working with DOE and being part of the future of energy research,” says Stephen Taylor (photo at right), a Clemson biosystems engineering undergraduate from Marion, S.C.  “Even after we’re gone, the SRNL researchers can use the data we generated and get results.”

SRNL intern Jack Goodell works on a project in the labTaylor, Burbage, Jones and Audrey Thompson, a Clemson microbiology undergraduate from Charleston, are working with SRNL’s biotechnology group on separate but interrelated projects related to the development of non-food crops like switchgrass to produce ethanol.  Jack Goodell (photo at left), an engineering undergraduate from the University of Michigan who is working with SRNL’s alternative energy group, is pursuing a related project.  Goodell pretreats the switchgrass to extract lignin, the subject of his task.  What is left goes to Thompson and Burbage, who are each studying how to break down one of the sugars to make ethanol.  “I try to see how much yeast we want, how much sugar, what temperature to make it the happiest and to make the most ethanol,” Burbage says.

“I read a paper that says xylose (one of the sugars) can be easily degraded, but it’s not easy to replicate that data,” Thompson says.  “You learn that in real research, things don’t always work, and you go back to the drawing board, read more papers, and find another way to go at it.”

Taylor’s project involves the waste that will come from the ethanol production process, using its bacteria in fuel cells that will produce electricity to treat the waste, studying how to get the microbes to pump out more energy to the electrode.  Dr. Chuck Turick, who is mentor to Burbage, Taylor and Thompson, says that the group produces results needed for the program, but that the implications of their work at SRNL are bigger than that.  “We get data from them.  We get work done,” he says.  “But what’s more important is to allow the students to focus on something they’re interested in.  Do that, and give them the equipment to use, and the data takes care of itself.”

Goodell’s mentor Dr. Steve Sherman finds the benefits of working with interns to be both short- and long-term.  “Our students today will be tomorrow's collaborators, and hopefully, person by person, we will help strengthen the laboratory as an institution by bringing in a diverse student work force who will one day be the people we collaborate with, rely upon, or hire to help us with our work.”

Dr. Dimenna says that SRNL is getting “a very nice product” from his intern Geoff Taylor from Aiken. Dr. Dimenna was looking for someone with math expertise and enough background in physics and chemistry to develop a model of a portion of a nuclear process.  Taylor, who recently graduated from Wofford in mathematics and begins graduate school at USC in public health and epidemiology in the fall, already had experience in the computation program that SRNL planned to use for the project, and was looking for an internship related to nuclear processes, so it was a good fit for both of them.   “The problem we gave him is so developmental, there is no solution yet.  This is current research,” Dr. Dimenna says.  “He’s doing preliminary work we needed that will allow us to move forward with collaborations.”

“The work itself is interesting,” Taylor says.  “Not only that, but I work with a group of three or four professionals, and I wouldn’t say I’m equal to them, but my input is considered.”

SRNL’s Michael Williams selected Caroline Johnson of North Augusta, an undergraduate chemical engineering student at USC, from about 80 intern resumes he reviewed, because he needed someone with her skills.  In return, he works to make sure her summer here is a valuable experience for her.  “I’ve mentored about 30 interns in my time here.  Normally, I don’t even look at someone unless they are at least a junior or senior, but she had excellent laboratory experience and a lot of tools I can build on,” he says.  “In her application, she said she was interested in hands-on experience, and that’s what we are giving her.  Learning in books is two-dimensional.  Here it’s applied.”

She appreciates the range of experiences the internship has provided, which include sample collection and analysis, the testing of a new state-of-the-art technology for treating radioactive waste, and development of simulants to be used in closing the site’s high-level radioactive waste tanks.  “It’s given me experience right off the bat.  That will make it easier in my courses because, with this hands-on experience, I understand what I’m doing and why.  It also lets me know that I have chosen the right field,” she says.  The laboratory also plans to publish a paper about one of the projects she’s working on, so she’ll get credit for her contributions to the publication.  “My sister, who is in grad school, has been published,” she says, “but it took her a lot longer, so I get to brag about that for a while.”

Miles Atkinson from Colorado, who graduated from Brigham Young University and will begin graduate work in hydrogeology at Clemson University in the fall, looked at a lot of other opportunities.  “Then I found out what I would be doing here, and it sounded really interesting,” Atkinson says.  He’s working with Maggie Millings of SRNL’s environmental sciences and technology group monitoring the performance of the Savannah River Site’s low level waste facilities.  “We’re trying to get an idea about the migration of tritium,” he says.  “I’m learning a lot of things I hadn’t known before about groundwater and the vadose zone [the area of unsaturated soils below the surface but above the water table].  This has reinforced that I do like this field.”

SRNL intern Brady Rambo (left) works with SRNL employee Richard WalkerBrady Rambo (left in photo at left) is another hydrogeology graduate student from Clemson and is working with Brian Riha of SRNL’s environmental sciences and technology group.  Both Riha and Millings appreciate the abilities that Atkinson and Rambo bring to their internships.  “Brady’s background, field experience and organization have been a huge help in keeping us on track with our ARRA work” (work funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), she says.  “With Miles, his geology background and experience in GIS have been a great help.  He’s doing data analysis, summary and final reports that will be a great help to our site customer.”

Both students value the opportunity to work at a national laboratory.  “The biggest thing I’ve seen is that they do real science here.  It’s not just about getting the job done.  They want to increase their knowledge.  I’m impressed by that,” Atkinson says.

 “A lot of the technologies they develop here are later on implemented in the environmental field,” Rambo says.  “So to future employers, it looks good that you’ve worked at a place with real research and development – cutting edge stuff.”  One of Rambo’s projects is a “zone of influence” test for one of the SRNL-developed technologies from removing solvent contamination from the soil, to determine how far away it’s having an effect, as well as analyzing grain size of sediments to determine how fast water moves through the soil layers.

This is the third SRNL internship for Beth LaBone, a University of South Carolina biology/ computer science undergraduate from Aiken.  She has valued her summers here so much that, when her mentor asked her to recommend a student for another intern post in the same department, she suggested her long-time friend Yanina Breakiron, a chemical engineering undergraduate at Clemson, concentrating on biomolecular engineering.  Both are working with Eduardo Farfan in SRNL’s Environmental Dosimetry Group.  “This is a good introduction to a broad spectrum of work,” Breakiron says.. “It’s given me a realistic viewpoint of what it takes to get things done.  In school you do an experiment, and you’re done.  It doesn’t work that way.”

For Dr. Farfan, the best part of having the students in the laboratory is “seeing things done quickly – they’re very productive.”  Among the variety of projects they are working on are various publications and presentations, which Dr. Farfan notes will be significant when they apply for grad school.  A draft article that LaBone had worked on during her previous summers at SRNL was recently accepted for publication.  Together, the students edited chapters of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide for publication in a journal, providing information for medical personnel on procedures for handling radioactively contaminated patients and for preparing treatment areas for contaminated patients.  Among other projects, the two also wrote or contributed to articles or presentations on SRNL’s work with the International Radioecology Laboratory at the Chernobyl Exclusion zone, and an SRNL facility where aquatic organisms are irradiated to study the effects of chronic low dose radiation exposure.

SRNL’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Program sponsors a group of interns at the Savannah River Site working under the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative (NGSI), a National Nuclear Security Administration initiative to build up a future workforce for supporting international safeguarding of nuclear facilities.  Some of the students work in SRNL, and some in other parts of the site, such as the Mixed Oxide Fuel Facility (MOX), currently under construction. SRNL’s program sponsor, Jeff Jay, says “NNSA recognizes the strategic significance of the upcoming retirements of the baby boomers who represent this set of core competencies in safeguards and has committed funding to support the growth of this pipeline for future safeguards professionals.” Leveraging site capabilities like MOX, SRNL and H Canyon in the assignment of the interns ensures they receive broad-based safeguards experiences with international applications. In addition to the undergraduate and graduate internships, the NNSA program will be expanded to include a PhD Fellowship Program in Safeguards, with two participants beginning work with SRNL in the fall.

Brady Speight from Edgefield, a rising senior in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Carolina, was introduced briefly to the program last summer and returned this summer working in the site’s Nuclear Materials Disposition Material, Control & Accountability section. “I’ve been busy, so I’ve really enjoyed it. The group I’m with is great. Along with their people skills, they have a great work ethic,” says Speight. His mentor, Belvia Payne, says “Brady was an instrumental part of the Safeguards and Security team that put together a process monitoring strategy for the HB-Line facility that could ultimately lead to approximately $2.8 million in cost savings.”

Michael Dulude of Moncks Corner, who has a degree in mechanical engineering and will start graduate school in nuclear engineering at the University of South Carolina in the fall, is working for SRNL on remote detection systems. One of his activities involves combining two different tamper indicating seal technologies for testing and evaluations. “We expect to see some results by the end of the summer,” he says.  His mentor is Lee Refalo, who has worked on loan from SRNL to the IAEA staff, which provides a perspective that Dulude appreciates.   “Lee has been out in the field, and seen some of this stuff being used, so he knows a lot about it,” he says.

Adam Redwine, one of two Texas A&M graduate students in the NGSI program, and the first NGSI intern at the MOX facility, is enjoying the way his internship balances his academic experience.  “I’m seeing a different side of the business from what I get in the classroom ,” he says.  “In the classroom, it’s theoretical.  I like that I’m getting to see the other side – how does it work in relation to society.” His mentor and manager of Shaw-AREVA’s Safeguards & Security Program, Dave Adkins, says, “I feel very strongly that this program has been a huge success and has had a positive impact on the project and Mr. Redwine. If all of the students from Texas A&M have the same attributes and mental attitude as Mr. Redwine, the Nuclear Renaissance will be very fortunate.”

Daniel Strohmeyer, the second of two Texas A&M graduate students in NGSI, will complete his Masters in Health Physics with a certificate in Nonproliferation Policy in December 2009. From the beginning of his internship, Strohmeyer was thrown immediately into review of Advanced Safeguards Approaches. “I have had a first-hand opportunity to experience the art of international collaboration, working on NNSA-IAEA safeguards projects with three different national laboratories,” he says. Mentor Dave Hanks, a six-year veteran as an International Safeguards Inspector with the IAEA until February 2009, is excited to have someone of Strohmeyer’s caliber with a Nonproliferation Policy and technical background through whom he can transfer his knowledge of international safeguards to a new generation.

SRNL intern Trevor TurnerLike many of the other interns, the students working with Michael Serrato and Dr. Christine Langton on the Reactor In-Situ Decommissioning project are finding that their internships are an eye-opening complement to a classroom education. “This lets you know what parts of your education you’ll really use,” says Wooten Simpson, a Clemson bioengineering undergraduate from Aiken.  “Like communication skills are really important.  I wouldn’t have known that.”

Serrato says the group is getting experience in real engineering practice.  “As a group, they participate as members of the project team.  The experience is not only hands-on application and analytical analysis, but also how to communicate their results in written language, so someone can understand what they have done.”

Clemson mechanical engineering/business grad student Trevor Turner (photo at right) from Edgefield, who is working alongside Simpson and Clemson mechanical engineering undergraduate Zachary Maier from Aiken, explains that their interrelated projects all have to do with filling the Savannah River Site’s shutdown nuclear reactors with grout.  “We knew we were going into accelerated project mode, and the grout formulations were going to be key,” Serrato says.  “These guys are providing the manpower to develop grout formulations.  Each task that these guys have been involved in and completed is a direct input into the project.”

SRNL intern Katy GustashawKaty Gustashaw (photo at left), who completed her masters degree in civil engineering at the University of Texas and begins work on a PhD this fall, is also working with grout, but hers is saltstone, a specialized mixture of slag, fly ash and cement used to stabilize and dispose of a portion of the Savannah River Site’s radioactive waste.  Her mentor, Dr. Alex Cozzi, says that he needed someone with Gustashaw’s experience for a project that uses ultrasonic sound waves to study the setting time required for the saltstone.  “What we’re getting with her is her background in concrete and cement research.  She’s providing a different perspective on how cement may interact with the other materials.”

“I’m planning to do a related project for my PhD, with inorganic polymer cements,” she says.  “Working here is getting me acclimated to the chemistry needed for that.  I think I can use some of the testing I’m doing here for the PhD work.”  The experience is helping her confirm her plans for the future.  “Having a specific project has helped me learn how to better set up a research project.  It helped me to see that I really do like research.  I want to be a professor, but I wasn’t completely sold that I liked research, so I thought ‘if I go to a research lab, maybe I’ll get a different perspective,’ and I did.  I’m getting lots of problem-solving experience.”

When Gustashaw does become a professor, Dr. Cozzi expects that her internship will have given her a familiarity with SRNL that opens doors for collaboration … and encourages her to send the Laboratory the next generation of interns.

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Visser, Rudisill, and Hobbs
Brinkman
Hoffman and Sindelar

Top: Visser, Rudisill, and Hobbs
Middle: Brinkman
Bottom: Hoffman and Sindelar

New Projects Advance Nation’s Energy Security

SRNL is collaborating in several new projects to advance the nation’s energy security under two programs recently announced by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Frontier Research Centers and the Nuclear Energy University Program.

Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs):

  • Materials Science of Actinides, led by the University of Notre Dame:  SRNL’s David Hobbs, Tracy Rudisill, and Ann Visser
  • Science Based Nano-Structure Design and Synthesis of Heterogeneous Functional Materials for Energy Systems, led by the University of SouthCarolina:  SRNL’s Kyle Brinkman and Thad Adams

Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP):

  • On the Response of the MAX Phases to Neutron Irradiation, led by Drexel University:  SRNL’s Elizabeth Hoffman and Robert Sindelar
  • Tritium Sequestration in Gen IV NGNP Gas Stream via Proton Conducting Ceramic Pumps, led by the University of South Carolina: SRNL’s Thad Adams and Kyle Brinkman

SRNL is collaborating in two of the 46 new multi-million-dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) that DOE’s Office of Science recently announced will be established at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the nation. The Office of Science will invest $777 million in EFRCs over the next five years in a major effort to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build a new 21st-century energy economy.  Supported in part by funds made available under President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the EFRCs will bring together groups of leading scientists to address fundamental issues in fields ranging from solar energy and electricity storage to materials sciences, biofuels, advanced nuclear systems, and carbon capture and sequestration (synopses of the 46 EFRC awards).

SRNL researchers David Hobbs, Tracy Rudisill, and Ann Visser   are contributing to Materials Science of Actinides, led by Prof. Peter Burns of the University of Notre Dame, which unites researchers from seven universities and three national laboratories to conduct transformative research in actinide materials science. Major research themes of the center include complex actinide materials, nanoscale actinide materials and actinide materials under extreme environments.  As a partner in the center, SRNL researchers will investigate the solution chemistry of complex and nanoscale actinide materials to develop efficient and robust separation processes for the recovery and purification of actinide materials. Funding for the SRNL research is $1.1 million over a 5-year period.

SRNL’s Kyle Brinkman and Thad Adams are similarly part of Science Based Nano-Structure Design and Synthesis of Heterogeneous Functional Materials for Energy Systems, led by Dr. Ken Reifsnider at the University of South Carolina. This EFRC will focus on building a scientific basis for bridging the gap between making nano-structured materials and understanding how they function in a variety of energy applications. The USC-led proposal is expected to be funded at $2–5 million per year for a planned initial five-year period. SRNL’s focus is on testing nanostructured materials to understand their conductivity.

Winning proposals were selected from a pool of some 260 applications received in response to a solicitation issued in 2008 by DOE seeking to establish novel research programs to address one or more of the science grand challenges described in the report, Directing Matter and Energy: Five Challenges for Science and the Imagination.

SRNL personnel are partners in two university-led nuclear research and development projects recently announced by Energy Secretary Chu as part of DOE’s investments in cutting-edge nuclear energy research and development.  Under the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP), 71 R&D projects will receive approximately $44 million over three years to advance new nuclear technologies in support of the nation’s energy goals.  By helping to develop the next generation of advanced nuclear technologies, the NEUP will play a key role in addressing the global climate crisis and moving the nation toward greater use of nuclear energy.

Both of the SRNL projects are related to issues and applications of materials for next generation nuclear power plant.  SRNL’s Elizabeth Hoffman and Robert Sindelar are collaborating in a project, led by Drexel University with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, entitled “On the Response of the MAX Phases to Neutron Irradiation,” which will explore the effect of fast neutron irradiation on a group of layered ternary carbides compositions within the MAX phase family.  Thad Adams and Kyle Brinkman are part of a project, led by the University of South Carolina, entitled “Tritium Sequestration in Gen IV NGNP Gas Stream via Proton Conducting Ceramic Pumps,” which will explore the role of hydrogen isotope diffusion in oxides as an alternative to gettering technologies in next generation nuclear energy systems. 

“As a zero-carbon energy source, nuclear power must be part of our energy mix as we work toward energy independence and meeting the challenge of global warming,” said Secretary Chu.  “The next generation of nuclear power plants – with the highest standards of safety, efficiency and environmental protection – will require the latest advancements in nuclear science and technology.  These research and development university awards will ensure that the United States continues to lead the world in the nuclear field for years to come.”

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AlgaeBlue-green Algae and Hydrogen Production:  Carbon boosts to the rescue

A team of SRNL researchers is studying how the relationships between blue-green algae and its environment, particularly nutrients and other bacteria, affect its ability to produce hydrogen that could be collected and used for the nation’s energy needs.  Results indicate that a carbon “boost” may increase the  hydrogen production capacity of many strains.     

One of the keys to making a hydrogen-powered future feasible is developing environmentally and economically sound methods of producing large quantities of hydrogen.  Biological hydrogen production by cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, is a highly attractive option because:

  • It uses a renewable resource requiring only water, sunlight, air, and trace mineral salts.
  • It does not use or produce hazardous materials.
  • It is carbon-neutral or even carbon–negative process (absorbing carbon, rather than producing it).

“It is known that many thousands, or even millions, of naturally occurring bacteria species have the ability to use sunlight to produce hydrogen,” says Chris Yeager, one of the researchers on the project, “but only a handful of strains have been studied.”  From a biotechnological perspective, he says it makes sense to explore (and potentially harness) the untapped diversity of H2-producing capabilities that have been naturally evolving for billions of years.

To advance the utility of these microorganisms for energy production, SRNL is conducting studies to 1) assess the overall physiological effects that bacterial associates and environmental factors have on cultures of hydrogen-producing cyanobacteria, and 2) characterize the combined effect of glucose and light on hydrogen-producing cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria are almost always closely associated with other bacteria. Indeed, many strains of cyanobacteria cannot be isolated and grown without their bacterial associates.  Still, very little detail is known about the interactions between the cyanobacteria and their commonly associated bacteria, especially how those interactions could affect the ability to produce hydrogen.  SRNL screened ~75 bacteria for their ability to enhance or inhibit cyanobacteial growth, and found that several impart a slight growth advantage. 

To learn more about the effect of light and carbon source on hydrogen production, SRNL examined 10-12 diverse cyanobacterial strains and found that glucose stimulated hydrogen production rates and yield in the majority of strains – as much as a 40-fold increase in yields in some strains. Other carbon sources (or “carbon boosts”) were also found to increase cyanobacterial hydrogen production. These results support the idea that organic rich waste streams from certain industrial processes could be used to stimulate photobiological hydrogen production.

In many strains, glucose-dependent hydrogen production rates and yield were not greatly stimulated by increases in light intensity. This research counters the commonly held belief that the techno-economic feasibility of cyanobacterial hydrogen production depends solely on light conversion efficiency, and points toward the utilization of “carbon boosts” to increase production.

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SRNL personnel

SRNL Project Ready to Explore Sub-Nano Technology

A Savannah River National Laboratory research project to study the use of highly dispersed platinum as a fuel cell electrode catalyst is one of 20 project proposals selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for funding under its Nanomanufacturing for Energy Efficiency 2008 Research Call. The funded projects promise to make revolutionary improvements in a broad range of energy production, storage, and consumption applications that will reduce energy and carbon intensity in industrial processes.

The SRNL project will examine catalyst structure at the sub-nanometer and even the single-atom level to determine whether dispersing the platinum will allow a significant reduction in the amount of the expensive precious metal used in a fuel cell.

PEM Fuel Cell

Nanotechnology, the understanding and control of matter at the atomic or molecular level, has the potential for major improvements in energy applications. Over the past seven years, the U.S. government has invested $8.3 billion in nanotechnology and made great strides in gaining fundamental knowledge at the nanometer scale.

An important next step in realizing the promise of nanotechnology is to improve production and manufacturing techniques for nanomaterials and nano-enabled products, many of which are “stuck at the lab scale.” The selected projects will advance the state of nanomanufacturing by improving the reliability of nanomaterials production and scaling-up manufacturing processes that use nanomaterials.

SRNL was awarded $250,000 for its 12-month project to evaluate the use of highly dispersed platinum on electrical conductive porous supports as a fuel cell electrode catalyst. Fuel cells use platinum as a catalyst to facilitate the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen.  Mathematical modeling indicates that the amount of precious metal could potentially be reduced by a factor of 100, if the platinum catalyst were dispersed so that every platinum atom is active for catalytic reaction, rather than being stacked against each other.  SRNL’s Steve Xiao, who is leading the project, will bring industrial catalyst experience to the fuel cell research project, which will examine catalyst structure in sub-nanometer and ultimately single atom or mono layer.

DOE national laboratories responded to the research call intending that innovative technologies developed will be further developed and deployed commercially by industry. The research call was geared toward “quick-win” nanomanufacturing projects with a realistic path to commercialization in 3–5 years.

The 20 research projects total over $17 million in DOE funding. The National Energy Technology Laboratory manages the Nanomanufacturing Program and will oversee the selected projects for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Industrial Technology Program.

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SRNL program successfully demonstrates fractional crystallization

Large-scale pilot test, using non-radioactive simulants of the Hanford wasteA testing program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory is providing insights into how Fractional Crystallization (FC) – a process similar to that used to purify table salt – could be used to separate the radioactive waste in the underground tanks at DOE’s Hanford Site into High Level Waste (HLW) and Low Activity Waste (LAW) streams.  In a large-scale pilot test, using non-radioactive simulants of the Hanford waste, SRNL successfully demonstrated FC’s effectiveness.

FC is being considered as a possible pretreatment technology to separate Hanford’s tank waste into the two  streams.  The LAW stream would be used to feed the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant LAW vitrification plant, reducing the volume of waste that must be treated as HLW.

Fractional crystallization aproach to pretreatment
Fractional crystallization aproach to pretreatment
at Hanford

Fractional crystallization uses an evaporation and crystallization process to separate radioactive isotopes from the nitrate and nitrite salts that make up a large fraction of the waste in Hanford’s tanks.  As the liquid in the waste evaporates, salt crystals are left behind. These salt crystals form a matrix that generally excludes most radioactive isotopes, including cesium, technetium, and iodine.

SRNL’s Engineering Development Laboratory completed the seven-week large scale pilot test of the Fractional Crystallization technology as part of overall project testing and demonstration program, Hanford Medium/Low Curie Waste Pretreatment Alternatives Project Integrated Test and Demonstration Plan.  Using Hanford tank waste stimulant, including non-radioactive cesium, the pilot scale tests demonstrated that FC effectively separates non-radioactive sodium salts from cesium.  All cesium decontamination and sodium product yield goals were met, specifically:

  • Achieved Cesium Decontamination Factor per Cycle > 150, compared to a goal of at least 50
  • Achieved a Sodium Product Yield (percentage of sodium isolated to send to LAW vitrification) of 52%, compared to a goal of 50%

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Porous Wall-Hollow Glass Microspheres

SRNL researchers unveil permeable glass 'microballoons' that can carry hydrogen, deliver drugs, and filter gases

Question: What looks like a fertilized egg, flows like water, gets stuffed with catalysts and exotic nanostructures and may have the potential of making the current retail gasoline infrastructure compatible with hydrogen-based vehicles of the future?

Answer: As reported by The Bulletin, the monthly magazine of The American Ceramic Society, it is a never-before-seen class of materials and technology developed by scientists at the Savannah River National Laboratory.  The Bulletin featured SRNL’s work on the cover of the June 2008 issue.  The full article can be downloaded here.

This unique material, dubbed Porous Wall-Hollow Glass Microspheres (PW-HGM), consists of porous glass 'microballoons' that are smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The key characteristic of these 2-100 micron spheres is an interconnected porosity in their thin outer walls that can be produced and varied on a scale of 100 to 3,000 Angstroms.

SRNL researchers have been able to use these open channels to fill the microballons with gas absorbents and other materials. Hydrogen or other reactive gases can then enter the microspheres through the pores, creating a relatively safe, contained, solid-state storage system.

Photographs of these glass-absorbent composites also reveal that the wall porosity generates entirely new nano-structures.

Porous Wall-Hollow Glass Microspheres (PW-HGM)SRNL researchers G.G. Wicks, L.K. Heung, and R.F. Schumacher have shown that the PW-HGM's permeable walls can be used for non-composite purposes, too. For example, the porosity can be altered and controlled in various ways that allow the spheres to filter mixed gas streams within a system.

Another feature of the microballoons is that their mechanical properties can be altered so they can be made to flow like a liquid. This suggests that an existing infrastructure that currently transports, stores and distributes liquids such as the existing gasoline distribution and retail network can be used. This property and their relative strength also make the PW-HGMs suitable for reuse and recycling.

The SRNL team is involved in more than a half dozen programs and collaborations involving the PW-HGMs in areas such as hydrogen storage in vehicles (Toyota), gas purification and separations, and even very diverse applications including improving lead-acid battery performance and nuclear non-proliferation. Applications such as the development of new drug delivery systems and MRI contrast agents are also blossoming in the medical field (Medical College of Georgia).

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Multi-cell sulfur-dioxide depolarized electrolyzer (SDE)Successful Hydrogen Production Test

SRNL completed a Level 1 milestone for the DOE Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative, completing characterization testing on a multi-cell sulfur-dioxide depolarized electrolyzer (SDE). The SDE, designed and built by SRNL, is a critical component of the Hybrid Sulfur thermochemical process for producing hydrogen using energy from advanced nuclear reactors. Posted 06/01/08

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Last updated: April 2, 2013

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