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.

Mar. 20, 2015

Microcapsules containing sodium carbonate solution are suspended on a mesh during carbon dioxide absorption testing. The mesh allows many capsules to be tested at one time while keeping them separated, exposing more of their surface area. Photo by John Vericella/LLNL.

Tiny bubbles to the rescue

The U.S. energy system puts 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year and it's just too much, according to Roger Aines, the Lab's head of carbon capture programs.

"It exceeds the capacity of the earth to absorb it and it's changing the climate of the planet," he said in a recent interview with Bloomberg News. "The trick is we have to try and keep the CO2 from the atmosphere without giving up all the energy that we love. The idea is to capture all the carbon dioxide before we dump it into the atmosphere."

Lab researchers developed a new type of carbon capture media composed of core-shell microcapsules, which consist of a highly permeable polymer shell and a fluid (made up of sodium carbonate solution) that reacts with and absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2). Sodium carbonate is typically known as the main ingredient in baking soda. The capsules keep the liquid contained inside the core, and allow the CO2 gas to pass back and forth through the capsule shell.

The new process is designed to work with coal or natural gas-fired power plants, as well as in industrial processes like steel and cement production. After filling, the capsules are removed from the flue gas and heated to remove the now-pure carbon dioxide gas. At that point the capsule can be reused for enhanced oil recovery, or compressed and stored underground.

LLNL physical chemist George Farquar, who led a Lab team that invented DNATrax, demonstrates how the product can be applied to food to identify it down the food chain. If the food turns out to be tainted, DNATrax can trace it back to the source.

Tracking foodborne illnesses

A DNA tracker that gets sprayed directly on food may be the key to tracing contaminated food back to its source.

The method, developed by Lawrence Livermore researchers in collaboration with startup company DNATrek, would be able to trace food contamination back to its source within hours instead of weeks.

Lawrence Livermore originally designed the technology, known as DNATrax, to safely track indoor and outdoor airflow patterns.

The spray-on trackers is expected to be used on cantaloupe and cherries this spring to test its effectiveness and safety.

To drive the laser diode arrays, LLNL needed to develop a completely new type of pulsed-power system, which supplies the arrays with electrical power by drawing energy from the grid and converting it to extremely high-current, precisely shaped electrical pulses. Photo by Damien Jemison.

Reaching the highest peak

Lawrence Livermore has installed and commissioned the highest peak power laser diode arrays in the world, representing total peak power of 3.2 megawatts for the High-Repetition-Rate Advanced Petawatt Laser System (HAPLS) under construction in the Czech Republic.

The key component to this instrument -- the laser "pump" -- will be a set of solid-state laser diode arrays. At peak power, this electronic assemblage develops 3.2 million watts of power and is the most powerful laser diode arrays ever built.

HAPLS is designed to generate peak powers greater than one petawatt (1 quadrillion watts) at a repetition rate of 10 Hertz, with each pulse lasting 30 femtoseconds (30 quadrillionths of a second). This very high repetition rate will be a major advancement over current petawatt system technologies, which rely on flashlamps as the primary pump source and can fire a maximum of once per second.

This artist’s illustration shows a planetary scale impact on the moon.

What a smash-up

Iron vapor from cosmic impacts during the early days of Earth could have triggered "metal rain" to fall on the newborn planet, according to new research by LLNL shock physicist Richard Kraus.

This new finding could help solve mysteries concerning the formation and evolution of the Earth and moon.

Cosmic impacts have played a critical role in the evolution of the solar system. The moon was likely born from the wreckage of a collision 4.5 billion years ago between Earth and a Mars-size object called Theia.

Lawrence Livermore engineers are teaming with Masten Space Systems — one of three companies leading teams working on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program.

Back in the rocket business

After a gap of about 20 years, Lawrence Livermore is getting back into the rocket design game.

Under two contracts from the Defense Department worth $1.5 million, the Lab is helping to develop advanced rocket propulsion and reusable space launch vehicles using high-performance computing.

With a $750,000 "seedling" contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Next Generation Rocket project, scientists are using the Lab's advanced computing power and model simulations to tackle rocket chamber combustion, in an effort to reduce the time and cost necessary for the design, manufacture and testing of rocket engines.

"For the first time, as far as we know, we've applied these simulation codes to this problem and we're hopeful we can help the country resolve some of the (issues) we've had with rocket engine design," said Bill Bruner, the Lab's NASA/commercial space relationship manager.