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ORNL-developed technology means business for Lambda

An award-winning technology developed at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is heating things up for a thriving new company in North Carolina.

The Vari-Wave microwave heating system, which won an R&D 100 Award this year, provides controlled and selective heating features not possible with conventional heating or with traditional microwave techniques. Lambda Technologies, located in the Research Triangle area, produces the Vari-Wave for research, process development and manufacturing applications. Since it was established in 1994, the company's employment has increased to 20 and Lambda Technologies management expects additional growth as demand for the Vari-Wave and future products increases.

"Our microwave system allows researchers and manufacturers to uniformly control energy distribution throughout a large workpiece or a large batch of individual workpieces," said Richard Garard, president and chief executive officer of Lambda Technologies. "That's important because in advanced materials applications, hot spots generated in a conventional microwave will ruin the part."

The Vari-Wave, developed by Robert Lauf and Don Bible of ORNL and Lambda's Zak Fathi, Mike Hampton and Ralph Stephens, is the only variable frequency microwave processing system on the market. Other products use fixed-frequency systems intended for very specific applications.

"With the Vari-Wave, researchers can tune - or select - the frequency or frequency range to study effects on targeted areas of composite assemblies, specific molecules in blood samples or pharmaceutical products," said Lauf, a member of the Metals and Ceramics Division. "Fixed-frequency microwave technology simply doesn't have this flexibility."

Lambda Technologies expects major users of its product to include materials research and biomedical laboratories, universities teaching fundamental electromagnetic classes, and electronics manufacturers.

Already, researchers are using the Vari-Wave for chemical synthesis, in waste remediation studies and to cure polymer materials and process biomedical samples. Another application of the Vari-Wave is for curing adhesives used in bonding dissimilar materials such as silicon or metal to composite or glass at cure rates 10 to 20 times faster than conventional heat cure. It is also being used to cure advanced polymer materials and to perform chemical synthesis without overheating adjacent, heat-sensitive parts.

"This work could lead to better materials used in a variety of consumer electronic products such as laptop computers, cellular phones and pagers," Garard said. "It could also permit new material combinations for advanced designs in automotive and aerospace products and enhance many time-consuming processes in the chemical and biomedical fields.

The R&D 100 Awards are presented annually by R&D Magazine in recognition of the year's most significant technological innovations.

Research that led to the Vari-Wave was jointly supported by the DOE Office of Industrial Technology (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy) and the DOE Laboratory Technology Research Program (Office of Energy Research).

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.