December 2011 Story Tips
Story ideas from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory. To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications and External Relations staff member identified at the end of each tip.
New supercomputing simulations at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are tackling a major bottleneck to cost-effective biofuel production. Lignin, a major component of plant cell walls, forms problematic clumps during the high-temperature pretreatment of biomass. Until now, it has been unclear how and when the lignin structure changed. ORNL scientists used the Jaguar supercomputer to determine that lignin collapses to form clumps even at high temperatures, rather than only during the cool-down phase as previously believed. "This study provides fundamental knowledge that is required to understand the pretreatment process and rationally improve biofuel production," said ORNL co-author Loukas Petridis. The research is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. [Contact: Morgan McCorkle; 865.574.7308; firstname.lastname@example.org]
Of the top 10 fuel efficient vehicles made in 1984 to the present, half are available for sale in the 2012 model year, according to the latest ratings on www.fueleconomy.gov, a website developed and maintained by Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency. The Chevrolet Volt takes the top spot with 58 miles per gallon in the city and 62 mpg on the highway. "New high technology vehicles are replacing older low-technology vehicles," said Bo Saulsbury of ORNL's National Transportation Research Center. "The auto industry is making headway in vehicle technology, which gives people more fuel efficient options." There's also a best fuel economy list that rates the top 10 all-electric vehicles (1984 to present) and one that rates the top 10 2012 model year vehicles. [Contact: Emma Macmillan; ; ]
Superhydrophobic coatings developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory could be the key to efficiently converting saltwater to freshwater. Small-scale tests have produced encouraging results, according to John Simpson, inventor of the material, which pins a layer of air on the coating's surface. This serves as a barrier that blocks evaporated salt crystals from bonding to and corroding the coated surface. Simpson envisions this technology playing a key role in overcoming the problem created by salt deposits on desalination equipment. With conventional technologies, removal of these deposits requires large amounts of energy and fresh water, rendering the process economically unfeasible. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
Imagine an instrument that collects thousands of diffraction data points in days instead of months with the help of a cylindrical image plate detector and an intense polychromatic neutron beam. IMAGINE is the newest single crystal diffractometer being installed at the High Flux Isotope Reactor, and it will enable scientists to pinpoint individual hydrogen atoms in proteins that are important in bioenergy and biomedical research. This knowledge will help researchers like Flora Meilleur, lead scientist on IMAGINE and North Carolina State University/ORNL joint faculty member, understand how proteins involved in diseases like cancer or Alzheimer's are regulated in the body and how drugs can be designed to control them. IMAGINE commissioning should begin in early 2012. [Contact: Emma Macmillan; ; ]
Lignin-based carbon fiber for heat management of renewable energy systems offers excellent performance at a low cost and is the focus of a project between Oak Ridge National Laboratory and industry. A key challenge is whether the technology can be scaled to meet cost and production needs for industry partners looking at advanced energy efficiency systems. These applications include thermal management and structural reinforcement for materials manufacturing equipment as well as filters in water treatment, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment. "Our target is a 50 percent cost reduction compared to today's commercial grade carbon fibers based on pitch and polyacrylonitrile, or PAN, precursors," said Cliff Eberle of ORNL's Polymer Matrix Composites group. This project will demonstrate manufacturability and provide the data needed for industry to proceed to full-scale commercial development. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; firstname.lastname@example.org]