Energy Security

Better Lithium-ion Batteries

Lithium-ion Battery

“Popcorn” particle pathways promise better lithium-ion batteries

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have confirmed the particle-by-particle mechanism by which lithium ions move in and out of electrodes made of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4, or LFP), findings that could lead to better performance in lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles, medical equipment and aircraft.

The research is reported in an article entitled, “Intercalation Pathway in Many-Particle LiFePO4 Electrode Revealed by Nanoscale State-of-Charge Mapping” in the journal Nano Letters, 2013, 13 (3), pp 866-872. Authors include Sandia physicist Farid El Gabaly and William Chueh of Stanford University.

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Large-scale Algae Cultivation

Large-scale Algae Cultivation

Better monitoring and diagnostics tackle algae biofuel pond crash problem

Sandia National Laboratories is developing a suite of complementary technologies to help the emerging algae industry detect and quickly recover from algal pond crashes, an obstacle to large-scale algae cultivation for future biofuels.

The research, which focuses on monitoring and diagnosing algal pond health, draws upon Sandia’s longstanding expertise in microfluidics technology, its strong bioscience research program and significant internal investments.

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Solar Glitter

Solar Glitter

Microsystem-enabled Photovoltaics

The key enabling technology for this approach to PV is the ability to create, through microsystems technology, very small solar cells made from high-quality crystalline silicon or gallium arsenide semiconductor materials. The cells are so small that, when released from their wafers, they take on the appearance of glitter. The cells are approximately 20 microns thick, 500 microns across, and composed of crystalline silicon. Efficiencies of nearly 15% have been demonstrated, exceeding 20% for single junction cells. Crystalline silicon and gallium arsenide make very good solar cells due to the high quality and performance of the material and semiconductor bandgap characteristics that are well matched to the solar spectrum.

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The Sandia Cooler

Sandia Cooler

The Sandia Cooler: From LDRD to Tech Transfer

The roots of this notion date back to Sandia’s R&D100-winning fiber laser technology, a revolutionary leap in laser efficiency, a project in which Sandia staff member Jeff Koplow participated as team member and principal investigator in its last year. Because of their efficiency, fiber lasers converted much more of their input electrical energy to coherent light and less into waste heat. This meant that the elaborate and bulky water-based cooling systems required for traditional lasers might not be necessary for fiber lasers, thereby rendering them far more portable, particularly if they could be air-cooled.

However as Sandia follow-on projects succeeded in increasing the power of fiber lasers, it became apparent to Koplow that existing air-cooling systems would probably be unable to cope with the quantity of heat transfer that would likely be necessary, thereby defeating one of the great advantages of fiber laser technology. The wheels of his creative ideation began to turn.

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Optimizing Plant Cellulose


Optimizing the Use of Plant Cellulose as a Liquid Transportation Biofuels Precursor

A recent research paper published by Sandia researchers studied—through molecular dynamics simulations—the dissolution (dissolving) of cellulose in ionic liquids. Ionic liquids are salts in liquid form and have the ability to form stronger bonds with individual cellulose molecules than the weaker hydrogen bonds that normally hold individual cellulose molecules together. Chemists have known for some time that ionic liquids effectively dissolve cellulose, and that adding water or some other antisolvent (a liquid in which the cellulose is not soluble) will then precipitate the cellulose molecules into a form that is far more amenable to digestion into its component glucose units. In turn, the glucose is then chemically available for fermentation to ethanol. What has remained in doubt is a detailed understanding of the types of intermolecular chemical bonds that are formed between ionic liquids and cellulose, and then the bonding details that ensue when water or another antisolvent is added to the chemical system.

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Hello to Cheaper Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Cheaper hydrogen fuel cells

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have developed a way to avoid the use of expensive platinum in hydrogen fuel cells, the environmentally friendly devices that might replace current power sources in everything from personal data devices to automobiles.

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Harvesting Energy Out of Thin Air

Planted test of LANL 9-m blades.

How does a modern wind turbine work? Why are turbines becoming so big? How much wind energy is available in the United States? Los Alamos engineer and LDRD researcher Curtt Ammerman is researching ways make wind turbines last longer and increase their power output. Ammerman leads the Laboratory’s intelligent wind turbine program.

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New Center of Mixing Under Extreme Conditions

The picture in the logo is of vortical structures in simulated carbon-carbon burning in supernovae. It will change periodically.

The Extreme Fluids Team, led by Kathy Prestridge of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Physics Division, is expanding its efforts to understand turbulent mixing. The team applies high-resolution diagnostics to study fluid dynamics problems in extreme environments, such as shock-driven mixing, variable-density decaying turbulence, highspeed microfluidics, and wind energy. Now the team has become part of the Laboratory’s new Center of Mixing Under Extreme Conditions, directed by Malcolm Andrews, Group Leader of Methods and Algorithms Codes. The mission of the Center is to lead the Laboratory in its diverse activities in the areas concerning mix and turbulence under extreme conditions as related to stockpile stewardship, weapons, inertial confinement fusion, astrophysics, combustion and any other Laboratory/national application in a manner that promotes practical and scientifically defensible results; and lead the Laboratory in the conclusion of the appropriate Predictive Capability Framework and National Boost Initiative plans through 2020.

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Sandia’s Z Machine

Dan Sinars examines one of the aluminum cylinders used in the Z- experiments. The monitor on the X-ray machine in the background displays a highly magnified, pre-experiment view of the wavering edges purposefully etched into the cylinder’s wall (photo by Randy Montoya).

In the push to take next steps to accomplish energy-efficient, practical nuclear fusion, the multinational ITER Project (European Union, Japan, China, the U.S., South Korea, India, and Russia), its site currently under construction in France, stands out as a leading candidate. In the interim, a number of basic studies —including those involving Sandia National Laboratories’ Z machine — are attempting to clarify key issues. Using sea water as a source of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium (D) and tritium (T), the basic fusion process involves creating a temperature high enough to fuse the two nuclei in a plasma (a cloud of ionized atoms stripped of their electrons) to form a helium nucleus (an alpha particle), and a high-energy neutron. A small amount of lost mass is transformed into liberated energy. At present, the major route to the extremely high temperatures required for the reaction is to rapidly — and symmetrically — compress the D+T plasma within some sort of appropriate container (a tokamak in the case of ITER).

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Isopentanol Potential as an HCCI Fuel

LLNL modeling studies of HCCI combustion based on comparison of model results with experimental results from Sandia’s HCCI engine.

A study of isopentanol funded by Sandia National Laboratories’ LDRD program, showed that this five-carbon, alcohol (C5H12O)— could serve as a fuel for homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) engines, with superior physiochemical properties compared to ethanol and very similar HCCI combustion properties to gasoline. Results from the study suggest that isopentanol has a good potential as an HCCI fuel, either alone or in a blend with gasoline. Sandia’sYi Yang presented the results at the SAE 2010 Powertrains Fuels & Lubricants Meeting in San Diego.

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World’s Smallest Battery Created at CINT

Jianyu Huang inserts a sample into the transmission electron microscope at CINT.

Using an in situ transmission electron microscope at the Center for Integrated technologies (CINT), a joint Los Alamos/Sandia Department of Energy user facility, a research team led by Sandia’s Jianyu Huang has constructed a rechargeable lithium-ion battery whose anode consists of a single nanowire over a thousand times thinner than the average human hair.

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Taking the Salt Out of the Sea

A novel R&D Award–winning membrane technology developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in partnership with Porifera, Inc., in Hayward, California could lead to more cost-effective filtration processes for water desalination and reclamation than are available today. The highly permeable, chemically inert membranes are composed of carbon nanotubes, which are hollow, seamless cylinders. Extremely smooth interior walls allow liquids and gases to rapidly flow through the nanotubes, while rejecting larger molecules. Development of this technology derived early support from LDRD researcher Olgica Bakajin’s “Carbon-Nanotube Permeable Membranes."

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Narrowing Uncertainties

 surface air temperature

For climate modeling and many other fields, understanding uncertainty, or margin of error, is critical. Organizations from around the world have been searching for ways to identify sources of uncertainty to improve the predictive capability of computer models. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's theoretical astrophysicist Richard Klein leads a three-year Laboratory Directed Research and Development Strategic Initiative, ”The Advance of Uncertainty Quantification Science” (10-SI-013), involving more than 20 scientists from four organizations. Experts in software, mathematics, statistics, and physics from these organizations create highly complex models and routinely deal with uncertainty. The goal is to get them speaking the same language and advance the science of uncertainty quantification.

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Understanding Solar Wind Structure

Solar wind plasma

Scientist suggests new approach to measuring flow from the sun

A scientist examining the solar wind suggests that our understanding of its structure may need significant reassessment. The plasma particles flowing from the Sun and blasting past the Earth might be configured more as a network of tubes than a river-like stream, according to Joseph Borovsky of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Space Science and Applications group.

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Using Light to Create Rare Uranium Molecule

For the first time ever, scientists have used light energy to create a rare molecular uranium nitride (U-N) complex containing a discrete terminal U-N unit, where the nitrogen atom is bonded only to the one uranium atom, versus prior work where the nitrogen atom has always been bonded to two or more uranium atoms.

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Extracting More Power From The Wind

wind power

Wind power use in the U.S.—and worldwide—is expanding rapidly. In 2008, more than 40 percent of our nation’s newly installed electricity-producing plants involved wind power. Currently, wind energy plants produce enough electricity on a typical day to power nearly 7 million American homes. The Department of Energy (DOE), which is supporting research at Lawrence Livermore and other facilities to improve the performance and efficiency of wind turbines, calculates that wind power could provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs by 2030, up from about just 1 percent in 2009.

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Refining Pollution Tracking Methods


Working with atmospheric measurements taken at two locations on the northern and southern California coasts, Lab researchers will test and refine their methods to calculate the location and quantity of atmospheric pollution sources, including greenhouse gases.

Lab scientists Philip Cameron-Smith and Donald Lucas will use high-resolution computer models of the atmosphere to analyze the atmospheric measurements, made by their collaborators at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, to trace the measured chemicals back to their sources. This mathematical process is known as inversion.

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Intelligent Wind Turbine


The U.S. Department of Energy has a goal of generating 20% of the U.S. energy using wind resources by 2030. However, there are technical challenges to be overcome before this goal can be reached. Although wind turbines can last for 20 years, the high failure rates of turbine blades, gearboxes, and electronic components, and the resulting unscheduled maintenance diminishes the return on investment for wind farm operators. These high failure rates may be caused by unsteady loading on the turbines from atmospheric turbulence and shear layers.

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Safer Nuclear Reactors

Nuclear Reactor

Self-repairing materials within nuclear reactors may one day become a reality as a result of research by Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists.

In a paper appearing in the March 25, 2010 issue of the Science, Los Alamos researchers report a surprising mechanism that allows nanocrystalline materials to heal themselves after suffering radiation-induced damage. Nanocrystalline materials are those created from nanosized particles, in this case copper particles. A single nanosized particle—called a grain—is the size of a virus or even smaller. Nanocrystalline materials consist of a mixture of grains and the interface between those grains, called grain boundaries. When designing nuclear reactors or the materials that go into them, one of the key challenges is finding materials that can withstand an outrageously extreme environment. In addition to constant bombardment by radiation, reactor materials may be subjected to extremes in temperature, physical stress, and corrosive conditions. Exposure to high radiation alone produces significant damage at the nanoscale.

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Efficient Way To Harness Sun Power

schematic of the GyroSolé™ system

New solar thermal technology is designed to supply residential electric power at nearly half of the current retail price. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist Charles Bennett is developing a solar thermal technology that takes a new approach to storing and using the Sun's energy. Called GyroSolé™, the heat-powered engine and thermal-energy-storage system collects solar energy and stores it as unrefined heat instead of refined electricity. GyroSolé was inspired by a concept for powering an aircraft through the night with solar energy collected during the day. Key issues for the solar-powered aircraft were energy storage and efficiency to ensure that power was available through a 24-hour cycle. The solar aircraft project led to innovations that Bennett adapted for the residential application, which was initially funded by Livermore's Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program as "Persistent Monitoring Platforms)."

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