Avoiding the Great Compromise
Protecting public safety without compromising freedom or commerce.
Among the most challenging responsibilities for ORNL's Global Security Directorate (GSD) is applying the laboratory's scientific expertise to critical public safety problems for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) while simultaneously attempting to preserve freedom of movement and avoid the disruption of commerce. ORNL's contributions to the homeland security effort take a variety of forms, including helping to secure the nation's borders against nuclear and radiological threats, combating cyber espionage and cyber terrorism, and developing novel energy sources to provide clean, affordable energy for both military and civilian applications.
Securing America's borders
GSD program manager Tony Turner says when DHS asked for help in screening the cargo that comes into the United States on ships, the task involved determining how the screening could be accomplished without unnecessary delays that would disrupt commerce. The answers provided by the laboratory are primarily technological and involve screening U.S.-bound cargo when it is loaded on ships in foreign ports as well as other forms of screening at different points in the shipping process. "As a result," Turner says, "DHS is investing in technology that provides both the security and the speed necessary to prevent disruption of commerce."
John Doesburg, GSD's head of homeland security programs, notes that his group has been working with ORNL's Global Nuclear Security and Technology Division, which uses similar technology to monitor highway traffic for nuclear or radiological material being transported in vehicles. The system places cameras and radiation detectors on the side of a busy highway and immediately identifies which vehicles contain radiological or nuclear material. Doesberg says DHS has asked if a similar capability can be installed on a ship to screen approaching vessels for nuclear materials.
DHS assigns a priority to America's borders with Canada and Mexico and the possibility that radiological and nuclear material could be brought into the country through a large number of border crossings. GSD program manager Rich Stouder says ORNL is conducting a study of the maritime pathways in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The study draws on the expertise of the laboratory's nuclear scientists who build detection devices, as well as the operational expertise of GSD staff. Researchers survey the region's geography and talk to law enforcement, customs, border patrol and Coast Guard personnel to get an overview of their equipment and techniques. This data is analyzed to determine where gaps and vulnerabilities in border security might exist and to develop the mission needs statements DHS uses to devise specific solutions to these problems. Stouder's team is examining the use of radar, cameras and various kinds of detectors, with a broader goal of developing techniques that can blend a variety of resources into a system capable of recognizing and quickly responding to a unique security situation.
GSD also works closely with other DHS contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corporation to develop solutions to secu rity-related problems. Two of the largest programs they are working on for Lockheed Martin are related to energy and cybersecurity. One of the projects is headed by Justin Beaver of the laboratory's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division, whose research focuses on controlling digital information resources and evaluating cyber attacks.
Tracking the information
Beaver is developing a process that would enable an organization to keep track of vast amounts of information stored in computer documents while the documents are being copied, excerpted, changed and stored in various forms throughout the organization's network. The solution Beaver and his team have designed is called HIVE (Host Information Value Engine). Beaver explains that "in any organization's computer network, there is data that is in some way sensitive—either classified or proprietary—that the organization wishes to protect." Because users often have permission to transfer documents or to copy and paste from one document to another, sensitive information tends to move frequently. "Eventually," Beaver says, "it becomes very difficult to control dissemination of information and still give people access to the information they need to do their work. Not knowing exactly where information is complicates the ability to protect the information adequately. Even worse, if the system has been compromised, knowing precisely what information may have been stolen becomes almost impossible."
HIVE is an effort to provide an automated way of understanding where various categories of data exist on an organization's computer network. Beaver's system focuses specifically on text data. HIVE is a system of software agents sent out from a central location to every computer on the network. Once an agent arrives at a computer, it reviews all of the text files and assigns each to a subject category based on a set of standards supplied by the organization. "For example," Beaver says, "if I want to make a category for biological sciences, I would find documents that are good examples and allow the software agent to analyze them and develop an algorithm—a mathematical description—that recognizes other documents belonging in a similar category. HIVE can also be used to recognize classified documents on an unclassified network."
Category definitions are stored in a central HIVE server, as is the information collected by the software agents. The HIVE system provides a summary and analysis of this data that tells the organization how important information is distributed on the network, regardless of how the data has been moved, copied or modified. "From a cybersecurity standpoint," Beaver notes, "this knowledge is critical in a number of ways. For one thing, HIVE identifies which information should be protected by providing an objective assessment of information on a particular computer based on standards defined by the organization." Using HIVE to conduct the review also saves time. Other tools that could be applied to this problem are manual, making them time-consuming and difficult to update. An automatic system, HIVE can conduct an updated scan as often as necessary. Finally, in the event of a cybersecurity breach, HIVE ensures that the organization knows exactly what kind of information was put at risk.
Beaver says that scanning every machine on a network on a daily or weekly basis would provide adequate oversight for most types of information. Based on early success, HIVE's cutting-edge oversight capabilities have generated considerable interest on the part of numerous government organizations increasingly concerned about cybersecurity threats.
Running hot and cold
Another project GSD is facilitating for Lockheed Martin is the work under way in James Klett's group on Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, or OTEC. Klett and his Materials Science and Technology Division team are working on a system to address the U.S. military's special energy needs in parts of the world where forces currently rely on long supply lines or distant power-generation facilities. According to Klett, OTEC is basically a geothermal energy conversion using the temperature difference of the world's oceans. In the tropics, the water surface temperature is about 25 to 30 degrees C; at about 300 feet deep, the water temperature is about 4 degrees C. Klett says that an ongoing OTEC research project located off the coast of Kona, Hawaii, pumps cold water to the surface using a 3000-foot-long pipe. "They use this water, in conjunction with the warmer surface water, to drive turbines in a Rankine cycle power plant." A Rankine turbine runs warm water through a heat exchanger to boil ammonia, which becomes a vapor and drives the turbine to generate power. The cold water is then used to cool the ammonia, returning it to liquid form. The cycle is then repeated. The novel process produces energy that is both locally generated and cheap.
The downside of OTEC systems is that they are as little as two percent efficient. "A traditional power plant is about 35 percent efficient," says Klett. "However, to achieve that efficiency, we have to burn coal or oil or natural gas and create pollution. With the OTEC system, no pollution is created." Given the state of current OTEC technology, a commercial-scale OTEC power plant would require very large heat exchangers—10 exchangers on the cold-water side and 10 exchangers on the hot-water side measuring 10 feet by 10 feet by 30 feet long. The exchangers would be mounted in the ocean on a floating platform, much like an oil drilling platform. A billion-dollar OTEC power plant would require $200 million in heat exchangers.
To address these efficiency concerns, Klett and his team are developing heat exchangers that they hope will prove to be significantly more efficient. Their goal is to reduce the size of the equipment involved and thus substantially reduce costs. Maintenance and repair expenses, as well as the cost of power to pump the water and ammonia through the system, would also be reduced. Klett's solution involves the design of heat exchangers based on an ORNL-developed graphite foam material, decreasing the size of the units by 30 to 50 percent. "We have already built some subscale heat exchangers that Lockheed Martin is testing," Klett says. "This year we will provide a full-scale heat exchanger three feet in diameter and 20 feet long that will be tested in a pilot plant in Hawaii." If the plant proves to be as efficient as expected, the next step will be construction of a 20-megawatt production plant.
Klett emphasizes that an additional advantage of OTEC is the ability to provide a continuous energy source. "The problem with most alternative energy sources such as wind or solar power is that their power production is intermittent. OTEC has the potential to eliminate that shortcoming—one reason OTEC is attractive to the military."
An expanding role
ORNL possesses a number of capabilities that are increasingly being used to address America's security challenges. These include expertise in nuclear and radiological detection, the ability to leverage computational power to address issues in virtually any area of scientific research, extensive experience in developing and deploying sensing systems that can detect a range of potential threats, and an unmatched portfolio of energy technologies. These abilities suggest that ORNL's role in addressing public safety problems will continue to expand in the years ahead.
As this role expands, the laboratory's Global Security Directorate will take the lead in channeling unique research capabilities into research and development partnerships with DHS. For both the laboratory and the nation, the importance of the mission cannot be overstated.