DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2017-10-11 13:05:47
    • Article ID: 682719

    U.S. Air Force Funds Innovative Technology to Improve Groundwater Clean Up at Clarkson University

    • Credit: Clarkson University/Steven Jacobs

      Professors Thomas Holsen and Selma Mededovic Thagard pose in the CAMP lab with the enhanced contact electrical discharge plasma reactor, a novel method for degrading poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).

    Cleaning up areas where industrial chemicals have spilled, leaked or been disposed of is a billion-dollar industry in the United States with thousands of sites undergoing or scheduled for remediation. At the same time, conventional groundwater and soil clean up systems are proving to be too costly or of limited effectiveness for some types of chemicals.

    Professors Thomas Holsen and Selma Mededovic Thagard, faculty at Clarkson University’s Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering, have developed a novel and efficient method of cleaning contaminated water by using an electric discharge plasma.

    The promising technology has earned Holsen and Mededovic Thagard, and their co-PI Stephen Richardson, principal engineer at GSI Environmental Inc., a $1-million grant from the United States Air Force (USAF).

    The two Clarkson researchers have built a device called an enhanced contact electrical discharge plasma reactor, which contains metal electrodes that transmit electricity through a gaseous (argon) layer. The electricity flow forms a high-energy plasma at the electrode tips.

    “The plasma acts like fire. When spread across the water surface, it destroys contaminants that linger at the interface of the gas and water,” said Mededovic Thagard. The reactor uses only electricity to create plasma. It requires no chemical addition and produces no waste.

    The contaminants of interest are poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), a group of manmade chemicals used historically for a wide variety of residential, commercial and industrial purposes, including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabric and carpet, some food packaging and commercial and military firefighting foam. PFASs are of growing concern because of their persistence in the environment.

    Measurements of groundwater at numerous military firefighting foam release sites reveal PFAS levels significantly higher than would be allowed in drinking water based on current health advisory levels. The most common approach for eliminating these contaminants from the water is to use granular activated carbon (GAC) filters. The downside of using this approach is that it only transfers PFAS from one medium (water) to another (GAC). One of the Air Force’s goals is to find a technology that completely destroys PFASs or at least breaks them down to compounds that are less toxic. Clarkson’s plasma reactor can potentially solve these problems.

    The argon plasma in the reactor is responsible for creating a wide range of oxidative and reductive species. The reductive species destroy and break PFASs down into less toxic products that either remain in the water, or are released into the atmosphere as harmless gases.

    The Clarkson researchers also predict that their plasma technology will reduce cleaning costs by 50 to 80 percent.

    Mededovic Thagard and Holsen are also working on modifying the system so that it can eliminate a wider range of contaminates in smaller volumes of water, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing costs even further.

    “We are excited to be able to work with the Air Force to test our process at one of their sites,” says Holsen. “With many sites containing PFASs needing remediation, we hope our process can be a game changer in terms of lower treatment costs and better treatment efficiency.”

    Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations, and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

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    Diverse Biofeedstocks Have High Ethanol Yields and Offer Biorefineries Flexibility

    Evidence suggests that biorefineries can accept various feedstocks without negatively impacting the amount of ethanol produced per acre.

    Opening Access to Explore the Synthetic Chemistry of Neptunium

    New, easily prepared starting material opens access to learning more about a difficult-to-control element in nuclear waste.

    Symbiosis a Driver of Truffle Diversity

    Truffles are thought of as dining delicacies but they play an important role in soil ecosystem services as the fruiting bodies of the ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal symbionts residing on host plant roots. An international team sought insights into the ECM lifestyle of truffle-forming species through a comparative analysis of eight fungal genomes.

    Climate Simulations Project Wetter, Windier Hurricanes

    New supercomputer simulations by climate scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have shown that climate change intensified the amount of rainfall in recent hurricanes such as Katrina, Irma, and Maria by 5 to 10 percent. They further found that if those hurricanes were to occur in a future world that is warmer than present, those storms would have even more rainfall and stronger winds.

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    New design coats molecular components and dramatically improves stability under tough, oxidizing conditions.

    X-Rays Show How Periods of Stress Changed an Ice Age Hyena to the Bone

    An international team has unearthed what life might have been like for a now-extinct subspecies of spotted hyena. They found that despite their massive size, some cave hyenas experienced times of hardship that affected them to the bone, causing areas of arrested growth that appear as dark lines, like rings on a tree trunk.

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    A new chemical process converts a component of wasted wood pulp and other biomass into high-value pressure-sensitive adhesives.

    Very Heavy Elements Deliver More Electrons

    Scientists revise understanding of the limits of bonding for very electron-rich heavy elements.

    Detecting Light in a Different Dimension

    UPTON, NY--Scientists from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN)--a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory--have dramatically improved the response of graphene to light through self-assembling wire-like nanostructures that conduct electricity.

    From the Cosmos to Fusion Plasmas, PPPL Presents Findings at Global APS Gathering

    Invited Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory talks at 60th American Physical Society-Department of Plasma Physics annual meeting.


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    DOE issues call for HPC for Energy Innovation proposals

    The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) High Performance Computing for Energy Innovation (HPC4EI) Initiative today issued its first joint solicitation for the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing Program (HPC4Mfg) and the High Performance Computing for Materials Program (HPC4Mtls).

    DOE funding advances project to turn captured CO2 into key chemicals

    The U.S. Department of Energy has selected Southern Research for an award of up to $1.5 million to advance technology for carbon dioxide utilization.

    Sierra Reaches Higher Altitudes, Takes Number Two Spot on List of Fastest Supercomputers

    Sierra, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's newest supercomputer, rose to second place on the list of the world's fastest computing systems, TOP500 List representatives announced Monday at the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis conference (SC18) in Dallas.

    Green energy: Wind energy agreement will provide savings, 50 percent of electricity needs for Kansas State University Manhattan campus

    Kansas State University has signed an agreement with Westar Energy to provide approximately 50 percent of the energy needs for the university's main Manhattan campus from a wind farm in Nemaha County and save the university nearly $200,000 annually.

    INCITE grants awarded to 62 computational research projects

    The U.S. Department of Energy announced new projects for 2019 through its Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program.

    Argonne's Raj Kettimuthu Named ACM Distinguished Member

    Argonne computer scientist Raj Kettimuthu recently was named a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery for his development of tools to analyze and enhance end-to-end data transfer performance.

    Jefferson Lab-Affiliated Researchers Honored as APS Fellows

    The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility now has a few more fellows on campus. The American Physical Society, a professional membership society that works on behalf of the physics community, recently announced its list of 2018 fellowships.

    Jefferson Lab Receives DOE Award for Energy Efficient Upgrade

    On Oct. 23, a team from the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility was honored at the 2018 Federal Energy and Water Management Award Ceremony for upgrades made to the lab's data center, ultimately improving its energy efficiency.

    Free Science Events and Educational Opportunities Expected to Draw Thousands

    The Plasma Sciences Expo--planned as the biggest celebration of plasma physics in the country--presents teachers, students and the public with a free opportunity to explore what scientists call "the fourth state of matter."

    Triad National Security Takes the Helm at Los Alamos National Laboratory

    LOS ALAMOS, N.M., November 1, 2018 -- Los Alamos National Laboratory begins operations today under a new management and operating (M&O) contract between Triad National Security, LLC (Triad) and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA awarded the M&O contract to Triad on June 8, 2018.


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    Diverse Biofeedstocks Have High Ethanol Yields and Offer Biorefineries Flexibility

    Evidence suggests that biorefineries can accept various feedstocks without negatively impacting the amount of ethanol produced per acre.

    Opening Access to Explore the Synthetic Chemistry of Neptunium

    New, easily prepared starting material opens access to learning more about a difficult-to-control element in nuclear waste.

    Tiny Titanium Barrier Halts Big Problem in Fuel-Producing Solar Cells

    New design coats molecular components and dramatically improves stability under tough, oxidizing conditions.

    Turning Wood Scraps into Tape

    A new chemical process converts a component of wasted wood pulp and other biomass into high-value pressure-sensitive adhesives.

    Very Heavy Elements Deliver More Electrons

    Scientists revise understanding of the limits of bonding for very electron-rich heavy elements.

    Probing Water's "No-Man's Land" Temperature Region

    Measuring the physical properties of water at previously unexplored temperatures offers insights into one of the world's essential liquids.

    Novel Soil Bacteria with Unusual Genes Synthesize Unique Antibiotic Precursors

    A large-scale soil project uncovered genetic information from bacteria with the capacity to make specialized molecules that could lead to new pharmaceuticals.

    Warmer Temperatures Lengthen Growing Season, Increase Plants' Vulnerability to Frost

    Experimental warming treatments show how peatland forests may respond to future environmental change.

    Rising Stars Seek to Learn from the Master: Mother Nature

    A trio of scientists was recognized for their early career successes in uncovering how microbes produce fuel, insights that could change our energy portfolio

    How Plant Cells Decide When to Make Oil

    Signaling mechanism details discovered, potentially leading to strategies to engineer plants that make more bio-oil.


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