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U.S. Department of Energy Projects Win 31 R&D 100 Awards for 2014

July 11, 2014 - 3:00pm


Awards recognize innovative research with commercial potential

U.S. Department of Energy researchers have won 31 of the 100 awards given out this year by R&D Magazine for the most outstanding technology developments with promising commercial potential. The R&D 100 awards, sometimes called the “Oscars of Innovation,” are given annually in recognition of exceptional new products or processes that were developed and introduced into the marketplace during the previous year.

“These awards recognize the tremendous value of our National Labs, “ said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “Research and development at the National Labs continues to help our nation address its energy challenges and pursue the scientific and technological innovations necessary to remain globally competitive.”

To be eligible for an award, the technology or process has to be in working and marketable condition -- no proof of concept prototypes are allowed -- and had to be first available for purchase or licensing during 2013.

Since 1962, when the annual competition began, the Energy Department’s National Laboratories have received over 800 R&D 100 awards. The awards are selected by an independent panel of judges based on the technical significance, uniqueness and usefulness of projects and technologies from across industry, government and academia.

The list of corresponding technologies and National Labs follows below. Please note that many of these were developed in collaboration with private companies or academic institutions.

Argonne National Laboratory

  • Sequential infiltration synthesis (SIS) lithography is a new way of creating nanoscale patterns for microelectronics manufacturing that will reduce cost and improve product performance. It reduces the number of steps needed for patterning a number of materials by removing the need for a “hard mask” layer during lithography.
  • Without adequate protection, overcharging a lithium-ion battery can lead to all kinds of problems, perhaps the most significant of which is the risk of a sudden increase in the voltage leads to a rapid increase in temperature in a phenomenon called “thermal runaway,” which can start fires. In order to make sure this doesn’t happen, Argonne chemists have developed a chemical solution to the problem. Known as a redox shuttle additive, the chemical prevents overcharging by electrochemically “locking in” a maximum voltage that is dependent on the chemical structure of the additive and the nature of the battery material.
  • The “NanoFab lab…in a box!” is a shoebox-sized mini-laboratory and “printing press” for growing nanowires. The standard technique to make them requires an expensive “clean room,” a lab with extensive filters to keep out the hundreds of thousands of particles usually floating in the air. Nanowires are a relatively new technology, but scientists believe that they could have applications in fabricating transistors, in sensors, in solar cells and as electronic components.

Read more about these projects at the lab:

Brookhaven National Laboratory

  • Brookhaven Lab’s compact novel radiation detector, GammaScout, provides detailed spectroscopic and imaging information about the presence and distribution of x-ray and gamma-ray radiation in a sample or area. Potential applications include tracking the movement of radioactive materials and imaging radiopharmaceuticals in oncology and cardiology settings.

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Idaho National Laboratory

  • The Advanced Electrolyte Model (AEM) is a powerful tool that analyzes and identifies potential electrolytes for battery systems. It offers significant resource savings by optimizing material combinations for new batteries. AEM predicts and reports key properties underlying electrolyte behavior in the electrochemical cell environment.
  • The Multiphysics Object Oriented Simulation Environment (MOOSE) makes it easier for scientists to predict phenomena ranging from nuclear fuel and reactor performance to groundwater and chemical movement. Such simulations can help speed the pace of scientific discovery but traditionally required more computing resources than most scientists and engineers could readily access.

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National Renewable Energy Laboratory

  • NREL worked with the company Crystal Solar to demonstrate the viability of high-efficiency thin monocrystalline silicon (Si) solar cells and modules that are less than 80 microns thick and to show that they can be grown at low-cost through an epitaxial process. The growth system produces cells at half the cost and 100 times the speed of conventional epitaxial reactors, opening the door to rapid commercialization.
  • The HP Apollo 8000 System, developed by NREL in collaboration with HP, uses component-level warm-water cooling to dissipate heat generated by a supercomputer, thus eliminating the need for expensive and inefficient chillers in the data center. This innovative design allows waste heat from the computer to be captured and used to heat office and laboratory space, achieving even higher efficiency levels.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  • BioSig3D is a computational platform for high-content screening of three-dimensional cell culture models that are imaged in full 3-D volume. It is primarily used for the study of aberrant organization that is typically caused by cancer. It will also enable the evaluation and quantification of the effects of radiation exposures and environmental toxins in a more effective model system.
  • Tissue-Specific Cell-Wall Engineering for Biofuels and Biomaterials is a suite of precision genetic tools that will improve crops bred for production of food, biofuels, industrial polymers, and pharmaceuticals. The technology fine-tunes lignin by manipulating chemical signals that govern plant-cell metabolism. This synthetic biology platform can enhance drought-resistance, make cattle forage more nutritious, and even coax plants or fungi to yield high-value drugs and biomaterials.
  • The Berkeley Lab Multiplex Chemotyping Microarray performs rapid chemical analyses of prospective biofuel crops and microbial communities by combining high-throughput micro-contact printing technology with high-fidelity vibrational spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. Its ability to rapidly identify the chemical composition and biological function in plant and animal cells is unparalleled.

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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

  • The microTLC is a miniaturized, field-portable kit that was originally developed to identify military explosives and has been modified to also identify and determine the purity of illicit drugs, pesticides and other compounds.
  • The Superconducting Tunnel Junction X-ray Spectrometer offers more than 10 times higher energy resolution than current X-ray spectrometers based on silicon or germanium semiconductors.
  • The development of an extreme-power, ultra-low-loss, dispersive element (EXUDE) is a technical innovation that allows spectral beam combining to reach unseen output levels - a novel approach to combine beams from many small lasers to produce a single higher-power beam.
  • Convergent polishing is a new polishing method and system capable of finishing flat and spherical glass optics regardless of the workpieces' initial shape in a single iteration.

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Los Alamos National Laboratory

  • A multiphase flow meter, Safire provides noninvasive, real-time, and accurate estimates of oil production for every well. Safire is based on SFAI, swept frequency acoustic interferometry and it uses frequency-chirp signal propagation (sideband ultrasonic frequency) through a multiphase medium to extract frequency dependent physical properties of said medium. Simple to use, Safire enables continuous measurements in fast-changing oil flows in rod-pumped wells, as well as other wells.
  • Acoustic Wavenumber Spectroscopy (AWS) generates images of hidden structural properties and/or defects. AWS generates such images by taking fast, full-field measurements of a structure’s steady-state response to periodic ultrasonic excitation. AWS’s novelty is in its ability to extract local wave propagation properties by using continuous, periodic ultrasonic excitation and continuous-scan sensing, which enables noninvasive, high-rate and high-resolution ultrasonic imaging.

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory

  • The Continuously Variable Series Reactor (CVSR) is a high power magnetic amplifier that controls power flow in power systems. In operation of power systems, where conditions constantly change, a single CVSR will provide smoothly variable alternating current circuit impedance, while a number of coordinated CVSR’s installed throughout the power system can provide full power system control. CVSR’s unique design helps to ensure full use of power system assets, increased reliability and efficiency and effective use of renewable resources.
  • High Performance Silicon Carbide based Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Battery Charger: This on-board battery charger technology for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles incorporates silicon carbide devices to provide 10 times the power density of current commercial charging systems, while delivering more efficient, higher power throughput for faster charging times. In addition, the charger significantly increases the vehicle’s range and the battery pack can be charged from any available single-phase AC power outlet, allowing for cheaper off-peak hour charging while promoting a decreased dependence on expensive fossil-based fuels.
  • Diagnosis Using the Chaos of Computing Systems (DUCCS): This ultra-lightweight hardware faults in processing units, accelerators, memory elements and interconnects of large-scale high-performance computing systems such as supercomputers, clusters and server farms. The software detects component faults in systems that handle large computational problems such as scientific computations, weather predictions and web data processing. DUCCS software provides critical diagnosis information that contributes to the resilience of computing systems in terms of error-free computations and sustained capacity.
  • Ionic Liquid Anti-wear Additives for Fuel-efficient Engine Lubricants: The technology employs a group of ionic liquids that can be mixed with common lubricating oils to form a nanostructured protective film on bearing surfaces that effectively reduces friction and wear. This ionic lubricant technology has the potential to save the United States millions of barrels of oil each year.
  • iSPM: Intelligent Software for Personalized Modeling of Expert Opinions, Decisions and Errors in Visual Examination Tasks: By combining innovative visual diagrams and pioneering analytic rule sets, iSPM helps analysts perform visual tasks such as making medical diagnoses. The software uses eye-tracking hardware, user-interaction and advanced analysis to predict a person’s perceptual behavior, cognitive response and risk of error for complex decision tasks. This technology could improve patients’ health outcomes and lower medical errors, while providers could pay lower malpractice costs.
  • Portable Aluminum Deposition System (PADS): The aluminum plating advancement is expected to replace hazardous coatings such as cadmium, thereby potentially strengthening the competiveness of United States manufacturing companies worldwide and cutting the cost of aluminum plating by a factor of 50 to 100. By using newly developed ionic liquid electrolytes and a novel electrolyte dispensing mechanism to deposit aluminum, PADS allows manufacturers to safely conduct aluminum deposition in open atmosphere for the first time.
  • The RF-DPF Diesel Particulate Filter Sensor: The RF-DPF is a radio frequency-based sensor and control system used to measure the amount, type, and distribution of contaminants on filters. This technology provides rapid real-time assessment of soot on diesel particulate filters, which allows greater precision in filter control, thereby reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The RF-DPF can be used with light- and heavy-duty diesel vehicles and may enable longer filter life and overall system cost savings.
  • Super-hydro-tunable HiPAS Membranes: This new class of membrane products can selectively separate molecules in the vapor/gas phase and perform liquid-phase separations, which could be especially useful in reducing the price of bio-ethanol, ethanol-gasoline blend fuels and drop-in fuels from bio-oil processing. The membrane acts as an energy-efficient alternative to the distillation process by using a superhydrophobic or superhydrophillic surface to separate molecules.

Read more about these projects at the lab:

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

  • Avegant’s Glyph™ is a headset display that has no screen. Instead, its visor contains a PNNL-developed virtual retinal display, which reflects light onto the back of the viewer’s eyes. Because the display mimics natural vision, it reduces nausea and eye-strain even with extended use. PNNL teamed with Avegant to demonstrate military applications for the headset, such as night-time maneuvers and piloting armored or unmanned vehicles. But the technology has many more applications, including surgery and virtual training.
  • The Solar Thermochemical Advanced Reactor System, or STARS, converts natural gas and sunlight into a more energy-rich fuel called syngas, which power plants can burn to make electricity. The STARS uses a mirrored parabolic dish to concentrate sunlight on a pod about four feet long and two feet wide. The device contains a chemical reactor and several heat exchangers. Concentrated sunlight heats up the natural gas flowing through the reactor's channels, which hold a catalyst that helps turn natural gas into syngas. STARS has set a world record with 69 percent of the solar energy that hit the system's mirrored dish converted into chemical energy contained in the syngas.
  • Many studies rely on precise knowledge of how solids and liquids interact on a molecular level, but liquids evaporate in the vacuum of certain instruments. PNNL developed the System for Analysis at the Liquid Vacuum Interface, or SALVI, that for the first time allows these instruments to image liquid samples in real-time and space. The sample flows through a channel to a window the size of a pinhole, where an ion beam performs analysis. Surface tension keeps the liquid from escaping the window. With SALVI, scientists can gain new insights about nanoparticles, bacteria, batteries and more.

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Sandia National Laboratories

  • The Sandia anthrax detector cartridge, a credit-card sized, inexpensive anthrax detector works much like a pregnancy detector: the presence of certain chemicals causes a positive reaction in antibodies installed inside the detector. The Sandia system achieves the needed sensitivity through an ingenious microculture chamber that encourages a sparse sample of microorganism to grow to a detectable amount. After testing, the detector sterilizes at the push of a button, preventing positive samples from accumulating and falling into the wrong hands.
  • Sandia researchers have developed a new plastic scintillator -- solid, instead of inconvenient liquid -- that gives off more light at less cost, and responds faster than current scintillators to screen cargo at ports of entry for controlled radiological materials. The unique timing response also provides the ability to discriminate threat materials from benign radiation sources. Triplet-harvesting refers to a process that converts energy from an organic polymer matrix to highly luminescent triplet energy states on organometallic dopant complexes.
  • Goma 6.0 is open-source software available to those interested in simulating manufacturing processes. For material-processing problems, such as making flat-panel glass, producing reinforced materials for power lines, and drying polymers, Goma 6.0 efficiently solves the underpinning equations of mass, momentum, energy and chemical species transport. The program has unprecedented flexibility for mixing and matching physical-chemical interactions, for developing specialty physics models, and at solving problems in capillary hydrodynamics, such as coating flows and liquid absorption by a porous material.

Read more about these projects at the lab: