December 2004 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.
Firefighters, first responders and even team mascots and Disney characters could stay comfortable with a cartridge-based integrated cooling system being developed by a team of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Navy's Navair Research Center. The system allows for continuous operation as the cartridge is easily changed -- plus the suit incorporates biometric feedback of the core body temperature to maximize cooling yet prevent chilling. At the heart of the system is a cartridge made from zeolite, a porous material, and water. As the water is exposed to the zeolite under vacuum, the water evaporates and condenses on the zeolite, thus providing the driving force for the cooling system. Lead developer James Klett of ORNL's Metals & Ceramics Division noted that the system also is designed to remove sweat, which is a prime hazard as sweat buildup can produce flash steam and severe burns to firefighters. Each cartridge would provide about 30 to 45 minutes of cooling. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
A quest for superior spark plugs for natural gas engines that help power commercial buildings, schools, restaurants and hotels has ignited an effort between Champion and researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The goal is to develop spark plugs with life expectancies of one year (8,000 hours) instead of today's standard of between 1,000 and 4,000 hours. The big payback is reduced maintenance and improved reliability. Spark plug erosion represents perhaps the biggest challenge, and the situation becomes even more critical as manufacturers of natural gas reciprocating engines consider leaner burning engines and continue to increase cylinder pressures and compression ratios as they strive for higher efficiency and lower emissions. ORNL researchers Tom King, Hua-Tay Lin, Roger Richards and Mike Brady use a number of instruments, including a specially constructed spectroscopic chamber, to analyze erosion and spectral emissions of new and used spark plugs. Through the partnership with Federal Mogul (Champion), researchers hope to develop a prototype spark plug that incorporates new alloys for improved erosion resistance and enhanced spark plug lifetimes. The research is funded by DOE's Office of Distributed Energy. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; firstname.lastname@example.org]
New results from experiments at the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility will lead to improved models and perhaps a better understanding of what happens when stars explode. Dan Bardayan, Jeff Blackmon and Michael Smith of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Physics Division obtained the measurements utilizing unique beams of fluorine-18, a radioactive subatomic nucleus. The researchers were surprised to find a factor of two to three decrease from what was previously thought in the rates of certain nuclear reactions in exploding stars. This is significant because these reactions destroy naturally occurring fluorine-18 and make it difficult to observe its decay. The team performed new computer simulations developed by colleague Raph Hix using the revised reaction rates and found that three times more radioactive fluorine-18 survived to be ejected into space. The decay of this fluorine-18 should be visible to multi-million dollar orbital satellites and provides an important window into the workings of novae. Future research will focus on better defining other fusion reactions that are crucial input to stellar explosion studies. The work is funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Science. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
A system that monitors individual burners and allows operators of coal-fired power plants to make instantaneous adjustments to each burner can mean cleaner air and lower costs for utilities. The Flame Doctor system, which uses algorithms developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Stuart Daw and Charles Finney, can help prevent up to 50 percent of the carbon monoxide and unburned carbon emissions, and 30 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions that result from incomplete combustion. Mathematical formulas derived from chaos analysis detect shifts in each flame's flicker pattern and measure the degree to which each flame deviates from what is optimal. Flame Doctor consists primarily of a data acquisition system to collect flame scanner output and a computer for signal processing and display. Conventional systems rely on global stack data, which leads to non-optimal boiler operation with higher emissions and lower efficiency. Seven utility sites are testing the system, and short demonstrations have been made at numerous other plants. The Babcock & Wilcox Co. has a worldwide license to market the Flame Doctor technology, which could save utilities millions of dollars. Commercial release is expected later this year. This work is sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; firstname.lastname@example.org]