October 2003 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.
Rand McNally's 2004 Goode's World Atlas will contain the most precise population information ever because of technology recently licensed from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. LandScan, developed by a team of researchers in the lab's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division, boasts population data that are spatially refined to about one square kilometer worldwide. Eddie Bright, director of the LandScan global population project at ORNL, noted that LandScan divides the world into about 900 million cells at the level of one square kilometer or smaller. Rand McNally's Howard Veregin, director of map data, said the data provide an excellent source for updating population density maps at world, continental and national scales. And, on another level, LandScan offers a source of population information that is especially valuable for small unincorporated communities. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
Petroleum refineries are one of potentially several beneficiaries of a patented separation technology developed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Refineries use high-purity hydrogen to convert crude oil into several products, including gasoline for automobiles. During the refining process, called hydrotreating, the hydrogen becomes depleted, and refineries now burn the hydrogen to provide heat for other operations, or they use it for other less value-added operations. ORNL's microporous inorganic membrane can purify or enrich depleted hydrogen streams in a single pass. The ability to recover hydrogen results in significant improvements to process efficiency. Other potential applications include recovering hydrogen from coal-derived synthesis gas and from gas streams in other industrial processes. This membrane operates over a wide range of temperatures and can produce 99.9 percent pure hydrogen for use in fuel cells. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; firstname.lastname@example.org]
Compared to conventional microcantilever-based explosives detectors, the latest from Oak Ridge National Laboratory is more compact and boasts greater specificity to explosives. The new sensor, the subject of a paper that appears in the Oct. 2 issue of Nature, is based on a silicon platform with an integrated piezoresistor, an embedded heating element. Applying a tiny amount of voltage to the piezoresistor causes mini explosions if an explosive such as TNT is present. The microcantilever bending due to nanoexplosions is detected by a piezoelectric coating on the cantilever. The sensor, being developed by a team led by Thomas Thundat of ORNL and Jesse Adams of the University of Nevada at Reno, overcomes a number of limitations associated with conventional microcantilever sensors. "Our new sensing platform uses integrated elements on each cantilever, reduces power requirements by a factor of 10,000 and allows for an array structure that simplifies the simultaneous use of many cantilevers," said ORNL's Lal Pinnaduwage, the lead author of the paper. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
Better ceramic coatings can potentially reduce costly down time for coal-fired power plants, increase the efficiency of the process and decrease emissions. Developing those coatings is the goal of a Department of Energy-funded project headed by Beth Armstrong of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Metals & Ceramics Division. The problem is that the coal burning process creates hostile conditions. In addition to temperatures up to 1,400 degrees Celsius, the environment is laden with sulfur, nitrogen, trace heavy metals, alkali salts, steam, and molten salt and slag deposits -– all highly corrosive to combustion liners, thermocouple elements and other power plant components. Armstrong and colleagues at ORNL are developing protective coatings for silicon-based ceramics that would allow the furnaces to operate at higher temperatures than are possible today. This would increase the efficiency and the life expectancy of the furnaces. Challenges include determining which ceramics work best and developing the best way to apply the coatings. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; firstname.lastname@example.org]