Lab Report

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The Lab Report is a weekly compendium of media reports on science and technology achievements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though the Laboratory reviews items for overall accuracy, the reporting organizations are responsible for the content in the links below.

Oct. 09, 2015

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) engineers Eric Duoss (left) and Tom Wilson use an additive manufacturing process called direct ink writing to develop an engineered “foam” cushion. Photo by George Kitrinos/LLNL

A head start

Autodesk is joining forces with engineers at Lawrence Livermore Lab to design and print objects out of sophisticated materials, never possible before. Their first task: Build a better helmet.

"We're able to print things that have feature sizes on the order of a human hair and we can also shrink the feature size actually to a 10th the size of a human hair," said Eric Duoss, an LLNL research engineer.

He says those tiny strands are formed into thousands of micro-structures to create unique materials, designed to behave in a specific way. The team is now working with Autodesk to design a super shock-absorbing helmet.

"So for a low speed impact, you may need one type of micro-structure, and for a high-speed you may need a different architecture," LLNL engineer Dan White said.


This photograph of the rotifer Euchlanis shows all the internal organs. Rotifers are multi-celled animals, with very few cells, less than 1,000. Lawrence Livermore researchers are working on research that would prevent rotifers from eating algal crops. Image courtesy of Microscopy UK

Carbon neutral fuel

Despite the ups and downs in the past, algae used as a fuel source is seeing its renaissance today, with funding (more than $18 million spread across national labs, universities and industrial companies from the DOE and more from private sources) and more interest from companies in its potential.

This carbon-neutral fuel source is making some progress in the gasoline-powered world. However, algal biofuels aren’t quite economically viable to compete with gasoline.

But “they are getting there,” says Rhona Stuart, a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore. “And there’s research being conducted in all different pipelines, not just in the growth of algae, but also the production and conversion of algal biofuels to get it to the point where it competes with gasoline at a cost per gallon.”

Lawrence Livermore employees Kye Lee, Angela Tooker, Sarah Felix and Vanessa Tolosa hold a silicon wafer containing micromachined implantable neural devices. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

Money on the brain

As part of President Barack Obama’s high-profile BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, the Kavli Foundation and several university partners announced $100 million in new funding for neuroscience research.

Joining the groups of research centers and universities late last year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has received funds from the National Institutes of Health to develop an electrode array system that will enable researchers to better understand how the brain works through unprecedented resolution and scale.

The goal is to develop a system that will allow scientists to simultaneously study how thousands of neuronal cells in various brain regions work together during complex tasks such as decision making and learning. The biologically compatible neural system will be the first of its kind to have large-scale network recording capabilities that are designed to continuously record neural activities for months to years.

Lawrence Livermore researchers are working to protect solar panels from moisture buildup.

Keep on the sunny side

A Lawrence Livermore National Lab engineer has been awarded $570,000 through the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to explore spectroscopic technology as a means of detecting moisture buildup in solar photovoltaic (PV) cells.

Over the next two years, Mihail Bora and his colleagues will try to prove that spectral imaging can be used to evaluate the moisture content of PV modules and to create two-dimensional maps and models of water concentration. Bora will then use these results as a screening tool to help protect the modules from water damage. Water ingress can cause corrosion of metal parts, delamination and decrease the efficiency of solar cells.

Partners in the research included two solar manufacturers, MiaSolé HiTech Corp. and Prism Solar Technologies Inc.

The 2011 world energy flow chart, put together by Lawrence Livermore researchers, shows that people around the globe waste more energy than they use.

What a waste

The world wastes almost as much energy as it uses. Looking at the big picture is the best way to understand what's going on.

That's definitely the case for figuring out where the world's energy comes from and goes. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory makes energy flow maps showing where energy comes from and how this energy is used for each country and the world as a whole.

In 2011, the world used 534,000 petajoules (PJ) of energy, and the biggest source of that energy was oil, at 60 percent. For context, the average American home used 39 billion joules of electricity in 2013; a petajoule is equal to 1,000 trillion joules.

But in 2011, more energy was wasted than used. The "rejected energy," at 290,000 PJ, is what was lost because we can't use energy sources with 100 percent efficiency. A lot of this energy was lost as heat during the fuel-burning process. The transportation sector, for example, is only 25 percent efficient.