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Story Tips from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, November 2004

Released: 10-Nov-2004 11:50 AM EST
Source Newsroom: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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ENERGY EFFICIENCY -- Doing the Texas two-step . . .

A prototype energy system now being field tested in Austin, Texas, may revolutionize how businesses power and cool their buildings. The integrated energy system, implemented through a partnership between DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Austin Energy, the municipal utility, and developed by Burns & McDonnell, combines on-site electricity generation with cooling and heating to save energy. The system generates electricity from a natural gas-fired turbine, and that electricity is fed into the local power grid. At the same time, the turbine's exhaust heat fuels the world's largest absorption chiller to be fired only by "waste" heat. This "fuel free" chilled water cools one-million-square-feet of building space at a mixed use site. The cooling, heating and power system is expected to operate at 70 to 80 percent efficiency, compared with 55 percent efficiency in the best central power plants. The system will be monitored over the two-year demonstration by the ORNL-Austin Energy-Burns & McDonnell team and the University of Texas at Austin.

COMPUTING -- Seeing is believing . . .

Stellar explosions, protein structure and global climate models come to life in 1 billion vivid colors as scientists study their data and view simulations on a giant screen at the Center for Computational Sciences. The 8-by-30-foot power wall makes possible detailed study and collaborations in astrophysics, chemistry, climate, combustion, fusion, high-energy physics, life sciences, material science, nanotechnology and engineering sciences. "Visualizing and sifting through the incredible amount of information generated from massively parallel computer simulations is similar to trying to find a diamond in the desert," said George Fann of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Computer Science and Mathematics Division. The power wall, dubbed EVEREST, changes that and provides a rich visual interactive experience and a highly collaborative environment for scientists to analyze their data. EVEREST makes use of commercial graphics and entertainment technologies and off-the-shelf dual-processor personal computers connected by a high-speed network to drive 27 projectors. The result is a scalable high-resolution (35 megapixels) graphics imaging cluster that is removing boundaries and helping scientists see their research in a new light. Funding is provided by the Department of Energy's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research.

MATERIALS -- Beneath the surface . . .

Researchers developing surgical implants, protective coatings for engine components, paints and hard coatings for tools are among those who will benefit from a state-of-the-art instrument recently installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. With the Hysitron Triboindenter and existing instruments, scientists and industrial users can measure the form and dimensions of parts and specimens on a scale from tens of centimeters to a few nanometers. "We're talking about eight orders of magnitude " or a size measurement range of about 100 million times," said Peter Blau, who heads ORNL's Machining, Inspection and Tribology User Center. The new instrument, which is on loan for two years, allows nano-scratch testing, surface feature imaging and dynamic elastic modulus mapping. Sub-micron-scale information gained from tests performed in Blau's lab at the High Temperature Materials Laboratory is critical to developers of new ceramics, plastics and coatings for surgical implants such as artificial hips and knees. ORNL's Mechanical Characterization and Analysis User Center participated in acquiring the instrument. Funding is provided by the Department of Energy's Office of FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies and the High Temperature Materials Laboratory User Program.

TRANSPORTATION -- Next-generation sensors . . .

Future automobiles and trucks may be equipped with a nitrogen oxide (NOx) sensor that helps reduce emissions by seamlessly activating NOx traps or by using other approaches. The sensor, which is being developed by a team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Tim Armstrong and Ford Motor Co., boasts response times of about a second and couples advanced design concepts with the application of a voltage across the electrodes. This feature allows the sensor to be adjusted to provide NOx-selective data. Furthermore, the sensor utilizes standard commercial microelectronics manufacturing processes so it should be as inexpensive as the current industry standard. Nitrogen oxide emissions are of special concern because they resist decomposition in the oxygen-rich exhaust conditions from diesels and today's lean-burn gasoline engines. With the new sensor and control system in place, NOx emissions could be remediated with catalysts, traps or selective catalytic reduction. The project is funded by the Department of Energy's offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Distributed Energy and FreedomCar and Vehicle Technologies.

ENVIRONMENT -- Nature's healing hand . . .

Streamside vegetation can help reduce the impact of increasing levels of nitrogen in rainfall that can cause algal blooms and degradation of drinking water. Combining computer simulations and data from 12 years of field measurements, Patrick Mulholland of Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that biological organisms in the stream removed about one-fourth of the nitrogen and phosphorus entering the stream from the watershed. The immediate benefit is reduced concentrations of these nutrients reaching downstream lakes, estuaries and the ocean. Removal of nitrogen and phosphorus from stream water was highly seasonal and responsive to forest processes, with greatest removal occurring in the autumn and early spring. "This research demonstrates the strong effects of streamside vegetation and points to the important role of streams in preventing high nutrient exports and the eutrophication of downstream aquatic ecosystems," said Mulholland, whose findings will be published in Biogeochemistry. The research was performed on the Walker Branch Watershed of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park. Funding was provided by DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

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