June 2005 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.
Automated spraying of carbon or glass fiber could soon provide the most economical way to create preforms in the manufacture of body panels for automobiles, heavy vehicles and other machinery. Research headed by Bob Norris of the Polymer Matrix Composites Group in Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Metals and Ceramics are testing and advancing development of a programmable powdered preform process. The robotically actuated machine sprays fiber and an adhesive powder binder substance to create fiber preforms. Resin is then injected in the mold and consolidated under pressure to create the final part. The process is the first step in creating polymer composite structural and semi-structural auto panels that reduce the mass of composite automotive structures at a cost competitive with metal parts they are replacing. This results in lighter weight vehicles that are more energy efficient. ORNL is working with the U.S. auto industry and the Automotive Composites Consortium on this technology, which is funded by the Automotive Lightweighting Program in DOE's Office of Fuel Cell Technology. [Contact: Fred Strohl; 865.574.4165; email@example.com]
A recently launched NASA satellite, XSS-11, features a component made of a brand new material: a radiator made of PocoFoam. The carbon-based material was serendipitously discovered by James Klett and colleagues at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and quickly licensed for development. PocoFoam, carbon foam's trademarked name, has superior thermal transfer properties and is lightweight, making it ideal for space applications. Other proposed uses include race cars and computers. One of the remarkable things about PocoFoam is the speed of its development: from the test tube to outer space in just eight years. [Contact: Bill Cabage; 865.574.4399; firstname.lastname@example.org]
Net carbon dioxide emissions from the application of agricultural lime in the United States may be about half of what has been assumed, according to research by Tris West of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Environmental Sciences Division. In a paper published by Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment, West notes that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from agricultural lime actually depends on a number of factors. These include the pathway of dissolution, leaching through the soil and the amount that reaches rivers and the ocean. These factors in turn depend on the application rate of agricultural lime, soil pH, texture and a number of other factors, including the chemistry of coastal ocean areas. Previous calculations incorrectly assumed that all of the carbon dioxide contained in calcium carbonate is eventually released to the atmosphere. With potentially 1.3 million metric tons of bicarbonate from dissolved agricultural lime in the Mississippi Basin reaching the ocean each year, this also raises questions about how this might affect the ocean's pH and its global carbon cycling role. [Contact: Ron Walli; 865.576.0226; email@example.com]
A method for making super-tough, lower-cost containers to transport, protect and store spent nuclear reactor fuel rods has been patented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers Charles Forsberg, Nuclear Science and Technology, and Vinod Sikka, Metals and Ceramics. The method uses a cermet, a metal-ceramic composite traditionally used for tank armor, machine tools and bank vaults. Cermet's strength, weight and radiation shielding properties make it an excellent material for spent nuclear fuel casks. However, welding and fabricating cermet into cask form has proven costly and difficult. The new ORNL method uses a hollow steel mold filled with a mixture of depleted uranium oxide, ceramics and steel powder. The cylinder is sealed, forged and compressed in a procedure that does not require welding of the cermet, avoids traditional manufacturing complications and may greatly lower fabrication costs. The technology could hasten development of a nearly indestructible "super cask" that saves money while improving security of spent nuclear fuel rods. [Contact: Mike Bradley; ; ]