Research Highlights

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Bo Shen works with a prototype window air conditioning unit that cools using propane, which lowers costs, increases efficiency and benefits the environment.
Cooling homes and small office spaces could become less costly and more efficient with new early stage technology developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Researchers designed a window air conditioning unit that uses propane as the refrigerant, cooling the air with 17 percent higher efficiency than the best ENERGY STAR® commercial units. “Propane offers superior thermodynamic properties and creates 700 percent less pollution than standard refrigerants,” said ORNL’s Brian Fricke.
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently worked with Whirlpool Corporation to print and machine a mold used to make refrigerator doors. The process took a single day, unlike the conventional casting process for the tool that can take as long as 14 weeks. 
ORNL is developing a new airport and runway lighting technology to enhance visibility for pilots during takeoffs and landings.
Efforts to bring ORNL’s wireless sensor platform to market are on target and proceeding as planned. In April 2015, ORNL formed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Molex, a premier international electronics manufacturer, to make the low-cost wireless sensors commercially available for buildings applications.
The development of the ultrasonic clothes dryer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a prime example of collaboration among various divisions at the lab—drawing upon the expertise necessary no matter where a scientist sits to transform a well-researched idea into a great invention.
The construction and demonstration of the Additive Manufacturing + Integrated Energy (AMIE) project was a unique opportunity to showcase Oak Ridge National Laboratory expertise and collaboration in many areas, including 3D printing and vehicle and residential technologies. The contributions of the Electrical and Electronics Systems Research (EESR) Division—wireless charging, energy transfer, secondary battery energy storage, and advanced sensors and controls, to name a few—were essential to the project’s innovative functionality.
Madhu Chinthavali wide bandgap
The Electrical and Electronics Systems Research Division’s (EESR’s) Power Electronics and Electric Machinery (PEEM) Group is putting its unique wide bandgap (WBG) evaluation facilities to work in benchmarking components used in devices such as inverters, converters, and onboard vehicle chargers. PEEM’s WBG facility can autonomously evaluate any WBG device, in any package or in bare semiconductor form, for any power level. Results covering a variety of performance and efficiency metrics are available to research partners, academia, and industry through the PEEM website.
Grid monitoring
In August 2003, an alarm system failed to warn workers at an Ohio electric utility of a minor problem with a single high-voltage power line, so the workers didn’t respond immediately. This combination of human error and equipment failure had a cascading effect on the electric grid that led to a massive blackout in the Northeastern United States and Canada—affecting some 50 million people, costing an estimated $6 billion, and contributing to at least 11 deaths.
The term “grid modernization” means different things to different people. A power systems engineer may think of updating and upgrading measuring devices with sensing capabilities, whereas someone interested in renewables may picture wind farms, solar panels, and battery storage. Both viewpoints are accurate but represent only part of the picture. Grid modernization also may mean bringing new sensing capabilities to components of the nation’s installed grid.
When it comes to a challenging application for embedded instrumentation and control, none quite beats an environment of molten salt at 700 degrees Celsius. But that is just the application chosen by scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to demonstrate the advantage of embedding controls—or systems that drive moment-by-moment adjustments to a machine or process to improve efficiency and reliability.
When asked to assist with the evaluation of first responder equipment, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Technical Testing and Analysis Center (TTAC) brought in special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team members from across the country to assist in the project—a task that presented unique challenges in preparation and coordination.
Under a collaborative partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), a new automated measurement system developed at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will ensure quality production of plutonium-238 while reducing handling by workers. 
In the quest to better understand and cure childhood diseases, scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital accumulate enormous amounts of data from powerful video microscopes. To help St. Jude scientists mine that trove of data, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created custom algorithms that can provide a deeper understanding of the images and quicken the pace of research.
Ways to give homeowners more centralized control over how much electricity their home uses—from the air conditioning unit to the heat pump water heater—are being developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
With a fiber-optic network that provides Chattanooga residents and businesses with exceptional high-speed communications, the city’s Electric Power Board (EPB) provides the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with an ideal testbed for smart grid research.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers in multiple disciplines recently paid a field visit to exploration and production company Pioneer Natural Resources as part of a new Technologist in Residence (TIR) program.
ORNL’s Frank Combs and Michael Starr of the U.S. Armed Forces (driver) work in ORNL’s Vehicle Security Laboratory to evaluate a prototype device that can detect network intrusions in all modern vehicles. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy
A new Oak Ridge National Laboratory-developed method promises to protect connected and autonomous vehicles from possible network intrusion. Researchers built a prototype plug-in device designed to alert drivers of vehicle cyberattacks. The prototype is coded to learn regular timing of signals in the communications network of an individual vehicle and detect abnormalities in timing frequency that could indicate a network intrusion or malicious software. Initial prototype testing in ORNL’s Vehicle Security Laboratory demonstrated near-perfect intrusion detection rates.
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have released the largest-ever single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) dataset of genetic variations in poplar trees, information useful to plant scientists as well as researchers in the fields of biofuels, materials science, and secondary plant metabolism.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently conducted a study to quantify the required logistical resources to support the development of a corn stover bioeconomy. Corn stover was selected as it is the most abundant biomass residue in the USA due to the massive production of corn grain in the country. It is currently the primary feedstock for cellulosic ethanol (i.e. ethanol from corn stalks) production in the USA.
Hybrid sedan
It’s common knowledge that driving aggressively can dent gas mileage, but it’s difficult to determine exactly how much gas drivers waste. A new study by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has quantified the impact speeding and slamming on the brakes has on fuel economy and consumption.  They found that aggressive behavior behind the wheel can lower gas mileage in light-duty vehicles by about 10 to 40 percent in stop-and-go traffic and roughly 15 to 30 percent at highway speeds. This can equate to losing about $0.25 to $1 per gallon.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) provided significant contributions and coordination in the development of the Nuclear Energy Agency’s (NEA’s) recently released Spent Fuel Isotopic Composition (SFCOMPO) 2.0—the world’s largest open database for spent nuclear fuel assay data.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are examining the diverse supercomputing workflow management systems in use in the United States and around the world to help supercomputers work together more effectively and efficiently. Because supercomputers have largely developed in isolation from each other, existing modeling and simulation, grid/data analysis, and optimization workflows meet highly specific needs and therefore cannot easily be transferred from one computing environment to another.
A cross-disciplinary research team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is using supercomputing to create an unprecedented view of the 3D interactions among components of the cellular machinery in Populus trichocarpa (black cottonwood), a fast-growing perennial tree that shows promise as a low-cost sustainable feedstock for biofuels production.
map of California EV stations
Officials responsible for anticipating the demand for electric vehicle charging stations could get help through a sophisticated new method developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The method considers electric vehicle volume and the random timing of vehicles arriving at charging stations to determine an optimal number of chargers needed in the near and long term.
To improve models for drilling, hydraulic fracturing and underground storage of carbon dioxide, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists used neutrons to understand how water flows through fractured rock. Researchers used neutrons bouncing off the hydrogen in water molecules to see inside the rock’s microstructure without destroying it and quantify water uptake in real time.  
A new process to identify certain microbes in women could be used to diagnose endometriosis without invasive surgery, even before symptoms start. A collaborative research team analyzed bacteria from a small sample of premenopausal women undergoing laparoscopic surgery for suspected endometriosis. Endometriosis occurs when the uterus’ lining grows outside the uterus, resulting in painful lesions and possible infertility.
Emissions Infographic
Global carbon emissions are on the rise again after three years of little growth. Emissions from fossil fuels are projected to rise 2% in 2017 to an all-time high driven largely by increased fossil fuel consumption in China and India according to the recently released Global Carbon Budget. The upward trend represents a return to the growth rates seen during 2004-2013.
A precision approach to treating snow- and ice-covered roads, developed by an Oak Ridge National Laboratory-led research team, aims to help cities effectively allocate resources and expand coverage on roadways. The combined software and hardware technology analyzes existing city data and uses high-resolution modeling to identify areas most vulnerable to drivers during hazardous weather conditions.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Juergen Rapp has been elected fellow of the American Physical Society.
The American Physical Society (APS) has elected the Fusion and Materials for Nuclear Systems Division's Juergen Rapp a fellow. The APS fellowships recognize scientists for their exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise in outstanding research, applications and leadership in or service to physics and physics education. 
Alan Icenhour, associate laboratory director for NSED
North Carolina State University’s (NCSU's) College of Engineering recognized Alan Icenhour, associate laboratory director for the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate (NSED), as a Distinguished Engineering Alumnus.
The Ultra-Trace Forensic Science Center (UFSC) at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently completed the installation of one of DOE’s most powerful microprobes that will allow for high-resolution analysis of nuclear fuel cycle materials.
Kurt Terrani
Popular Mechanics recently announced the 2017 Breakthrough Awards, naming NSED's Kurt Terrani as one of the winners. This year's nominations highlight early career scientists that have made dramatic impacts through science, technology, and engineering.  For more information about the work Kurt and the other Breakthrough Award winners are doing, click here.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) named Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory as an International Centre based on Research Reactors. The recognition encourages designees to collaborate in ways that maximize the use of research reactors in all IAEA member states. 
Clarice Phelps
The Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division's Clarice Phelps was the winner in the YWCA Knoxville Tribute to Women technology, research, and innovation category. Phelps was part of the team that discovered the superheavy element tennessine. She volunteers her time through the Alpha Pi Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority where she helped establish a robotics program for inner city youth. Phelps also serves on the ORNL Educational Outreach Committee as its diversity chair for Knox County Schools.
Diesel engine maker Cummins, Inc., is working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop a material to repair heavy-duty vehicle engines damaged by a million miles of extreme conditions under the hood. Rather than replacing an engine’s cylinder head, the research team “scooped out” the worn section and used additive manufacturing to deposit a high-performance alloy better than the original casting. The goal of the process, developed at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, is to save energy while extending the life of the engine and making it stronger.
Ways to give homeowners more centralized control over how much electricity their home uses—from the air conditioning unit to the heat pump water heater—are being developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. An ORNL team is working with Southern Company and Alabama Power on its Smart Neighborhood, a research project that will implement state-of-the-art
Directing energy flows and syncing a home’s electricity generation sources like solar power with the utility grid would get a lot easier with a single, easy-to-use platform that is the aim of a recent research and development agreement between Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Woodland Hills, California’s Flex Power Control. Under the agreement, researchers at ORNL will develop power conversion hardware for Flex Power’s home energy router, dubbed the Smart Power Integrated Node, or SPIN.
Jerry Tuskan - ORNL Greenhouse
Developing the next generation of biofuels and plant-based alternatives to petroleum-based plastics is happening at the new Center for Bioenergy Innovation in Oak Ridge. The new center will be housed in the existing greenhouse and lab area of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. ORNL is of one of four locations chosen for the new five-year research project beginning October 1. CBI CEO Jerry Tuskan explained that poplar trees and switchgrass are the two plants most likely to create the material needed for the new generation of fuels and manufacturing materials.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 23, 2017 – New mapping methods developed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory can help urban planners minimize the environmental impacts of cities’ water and energy demands on surrounding stream ecologies.
With more volts than ever before in electric vehicles (EVs) and on solar-paneled rooftops, first responder and electrical worker safety is a growing concern. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are addressing the challenge with the development of a probe to accurately detect direct-current (DC) energy.
ORNL Environmental Sciences Division (ESD) researchers have been leading the data management component for the Multi-Scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project (MsTMIP) project since 2010.  This team made contributions by working with the project team to provide a structurally and physically consistent set of environmental and meteorological input data that drove the 20+ terrestrial biosphere models participating in the MsTMIP.
A major source of uncertainty in global gross primary production (GPP), and associated carbon cycle dynamics, is the calculation of maximum photosynthetic carboxylation rate (Vcmax) which is one of two plant traits that closely determines photosnthetic rate.  Various methods are used in terrestrial biosphere models to calculate these traits; each representing a different theory about how these traits scale but the resultant errors have not yet been quantified.
In a first-of-a-kind experiment, researchers used neutrons to investigate the performance of a new aluminum alloy in a gasoline-powered engine—while the engine was running. A team from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory worked with industry partners to perform the test, which looked at whether a high-performance alloy that is promising for automotive applications held up under the heat and stress of an internal combustion engine. 
With a growing volume of wood pellets being produced and shipped from the Southeast United States to Europe as a renewable energy source, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers recently took a look at the state of the industry and examined data on environmental impacts.
A new manufacturing method created by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Rice University combines 3D printing with traditional casting to produce damage-tolerant components composed of multiple materials. Composite components made by pouring an aluminum alloy over a printed steel lattice showed an order of magnitude greater damage tolerance than aluminum alone.
A new tool developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory can help homeowners and builders calculate energy loss when air leaks through a building’s envelope, the physical barrier separating the interior and exterior. Starting with specific building metrics, the calculator analyzes multizone airflow and ventilation and then determines the associated energy loss through a whole building energy simulation tool. “Air leaks are responsible for over four percent of all energy used in the United States,” ORNL’s Som Shrestha said.
Switchgrass bales
A new grant sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) will support an environmental research network designed to identify transdisciplinary research opportunities and collaborations for scientists in the United States and China working to achieve sustainable use of natural resources for food, energy and water systems.
A second large-volume 3D printer recently installed at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) will be modified to print two different materials on one object, significantly advancing the materials research being performed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists.
Alex Kholodov (University of Alaska, Fairbanks) uses an electric auger to prepare holes for water wells at NGEE Arctic Sites in Barrow, Alaska
To enhance Earth system models, researchers are examining how and why permafrost thaws and melts. Snowy peaks rise up in one direction; boggy tundra spreads across the other. Fuzzy heads of long-stemmed plants sway in the wind, interspersed with bog blueberries. This is Alaska's Eight Mile Lake, where the nearest town has a population of just over a thousand people.