Livermore researchers collect three awards among the top 100 industrial inventions

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LLNL physicist Du Nguyen inspects a tiny flower vase printed using Tailored Glass by Direct Ink Writing technology, where the flow rate of two different glass-forming inks is adjusted to control the material composition emerging from the nozzle during the build. The vase is later converted to fully dense glass through a series of heat treatments. A team of Lab researchers, led by Rebecca Dylla-Spears and including Nguyen, won an R&D 100 award for their work. Photo by Jason Laurea/LLNL.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists and engineers have garnered three awards among the top 100 industrial inventions worldwide.

The trade journal R&D World Magazine recently announced the winners of the awards, often called the “Oscars of invention,” recognizing new commercial products, technologies and materials that are available for sale or license for their technological significance.

With this year’s results, the Laboratory has now collected a total of 176 R&D 100 awards since 1978. The awards will be showcased at the 60th anniversary R&D 100 awards gala, which will be held Nov. 17 in San Diego.

This year’s LLNL R&D 100 awards include an additive manufacturing process called Tailored Glass by Direct Ink Writing that prints silica-based optics and glass components into customizable forms, novel compression gratings that enable a new class of high-energy laser systems and a three-dimensional printing feedstock known as Energy Inks that can print a functioning battery.

Two of LLNL’s three R&D 100 awards — for Energy Inks and Tailored Glass by Direct Ink Writing — received internal “seed money” from the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) program. This funding enables undertaking high-risk, potentially high-payoff projects at the forefront of science and technology.

"It is a great tribute to the innovative spirit of our scientists and engineers to be selected for an R&D 100 award," Lab Director Kim Budil said. "Teaming with industrial collaborators is an important element in ensuring that the transformative technologies developed at LLNL will benefit the nation."

Producing glass components

A multi-disciplinary team of Lab researchers won their R&D 100 award for developing an additive manufacturing process — called Tailored Glass Using Direct Ink Writing Technology — to print silica-based optics and glass components with customizable forms and spatially varying material properties.

As a part of the process, the flow of multiple glass-forming inks is finely controlled to achieve the desired structure and optical properties. Subsequent heat treatment renders a dense, transparent glass product.

The technology enables fabrication of new kinds of optics and may reduce the need for small-tool finishing or joining processes for specialized optics. Similarly, the process allows cost benefits for low-volume custom glass manufacturing as new structures can be produced by the same equipment rather than requiring expensive custom molds, which can be cost prohibitive.

In addition, costs for power consumption and specialized work safety requirements may be reduced by allowing work at lower temperatures than those used for melting glass.

Some of the possible applications for the technology are producing flat custom lenses, lighter weight optics, custom containers, new support structures for catalysts, chemically tuned microfluidics and art, such as glass sculptures.

The Tailored Glass team is led by chemical engineer Rebecca Dylla-Spears and includes physicists Du Nguyen and Michael Johnson; materials scientists Jungmin Ha, Timothy Yee and Becca Walton; chemists Koroush Sasan and Tyler Fears; chemical engineer Nikola Dudukovic; mechanical engineer Megan Ellis; and optical engineer Oscar Herrera.        

Paving the way for much higher power lasers

Mechanical technologist Candis Jackson performs atomic force microscopy of a High Energy Low-Dispersion grating to characterize the grating profiles. Jackson is part of a five-member team from the Lab’s Diffractive Optics Group that won an R&D 100 award. Photo by Hoang Nguyen/LLNL.

LLNL laser researchers received an R&D 100 award for High Energy Low-Dispersion (HELD) gratings, a novel design of multilayer dielectric pulse compression gratings.

These unique gratings enable a new class of high-energy, 10-petawatt ultrafast laser systems for extremely high and unprecedented peak power. Meter-scale HELD gratings have the potential to facilitate future multiple tens of petawatt-class ultrafast laser systems.   

HELD’s multilayer dielectric gratings are composed of a base substrate upon which layers of dielectric mirrors with varying refractive indices are stacked, finally topped by a layer of ion-etched photoresist that is fine-tuned to the desired diffraction specifications.

The gratings developed by LLNL laser scientists, in collaboration with Spectra Physics-Newport, are able to deliver 3.4 times more total energy than the current state-of-the-art technology.

“This new grating configuration allows for significantly higher laser outputs and permits us to access new regimes of science,” said Hoang Nguyen, leader of the Lab’s Diffractive Optics Group. “We now can study science we couldn’t study before.”

With the new gratings and higher power lasers, some of the new physics areas that can be studied are gamma-ray flashes, generation of electron-positron pairs, radiation-friction force and Unruh physics.

In addition to Nguyen, the team is comprised of senior engineering associate Brad Hickman, mechanical technologist Candis Jackson, engineering technical associate James Nissen and mechanical technologist Sean Tardif.

3D printing to make functioning batteries

Swetha Chandrasekaran
Lab materials scientist Swetha Chandrasekaran is shown using a 3D printing process, or direct ink writing, of high concentration graphene oxide ink. After post-processing, free-standing 3D-printed graphene aerogel electrodes are used in supercapacitors that have resulted in record-breaking electric charge storage and “remarkable” energy density. Chandrasekaran and Marcus Worsley led a team of researchers that captured an R&D 100 award. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL.

Lab scientists and engineers have developed Energy Inks, a three-dimensional (3D) printer feedstock that allows the production of a functioning battery and other devices.

3D printing with polymers allows a newer and more efficient method of prototyping. Now Energy Inks, which have functional properties, are optimized to enable next-generation, high-performance 3D-printed devices for energy storage, catalysis, filtration, sensors and more uses.

Although 3D-printing offers control and reproducibility to efficiently create optimized solid-state electrode architectures on a large scale, the inks required to make functioning components have not been available until now. Energy Inks not only enable the printing of battery and supercapacitor components but optimize their functional properties.

Since LLNL scientists and engineers developed Energy Inks, they have worked with researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz and St. Louis-based MilliporeSigma, a global chemical and materials supplier. In 2021, MilliporeSigma introduced Energy Inks products to users for applications in consumer electronics, transportation and medical devices.

Based on LLNL technology, MilliporeSigma has three products — 3D printable graphene oxide ink for batteries, supercapacitors and electrocatalysis; yttria-stabilized zirconium oxide ink for membranes, catalysis and reactors; and ultra-high temperature boron carbide ink for high wear components and heat exchanges.

The LLNL team that developed Energy Inks received funding through a Department of Energy Technology Commercialization Fund grant. It is led by materials scientist Swetha Chandrasekaran and chemical engineer Marcus Worsley. Other LLNL researchers involved in the Energy Inks development are chemists Patrick Campbell, Maira Ceron-Hernandez and Alyssa Troksa, along with materials scientists Josh Kuntz, Wyatt Du Frane and James Cahill.

Researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz also contributed to developing the graphene ink through electrochemical characterization and demonstration of the ink’s utility as a supercapacitor electrode.