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.

May. 26, 2017

Petra Nova is the first commercial-scale coal-fired power plant to remove carbon dioxide emissions from its facility.

The future of clean coal

NRG Energy's Petra Nova facility just outside of Houston, which began operations in January, represents the first commercial-scale system to remove carbon dioxide from emissions of a coal-fired power plant.

It's a concept called "clean coal," where the coal industry is looking to carbon capture to reduce emissions that are far higher than other fossil fuels.

Right now, the United States is considered the global leader on carbon capture technology, between the Petra Nova facility and Kemper in Colorado, which is expected to be fully operational before the end of the year.

But the Chinese government already has announced seven commercial-scale carbon capture projects, the first of which is under construction and should be completed next year, said Julio Friedmann, senior adviser for energy innovation at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. "China does things fast and they spend real money," he said. "They've made a substantial long-term investment in technology they can sell around the world."

The “heart-on-a-chip” technology models a human heart on an engineered chip and measures the effects of compound exposure using microelectrodes. Image by Ryan Chen/LLNL

Take it to heart

Lawrence Livermore scientists have successfully recorded both electrical signals and cellular beating from normal human heart cells grown on a multi-electrode array developed at the Lab.

It's part of "heart-on-a-chip" technology -- modeling a human heart on an engineered chip and measuring the effects of compound exposure on functions of heart tissue using microelectrodes. The LLNL researchers hope to decrease the time needed for new drug trials and ensure potentially lifesaving drugs are safe and effective while reducing the need for human and animal testing.

The research is part of the Lab's iCHIP (in-vitro Chip-Based Human Investigational Platform) project, which replicates human systems on engineered platforms to test the effects of toxic chemical and biological compounds.

Daniel McCartt, a Lawrence Livermore postdoc, helped build the laser-based tabletop device to measure radiocarbon. Photos by Kate Hunts/LLNL

Caught in its track

Lawrence Livermore researchers have a new tool to track new drugs, nutrients or toxins through the body.

They developed a laser-based tabletop device to measure carbon-14 (radiocarbon). In biological systems, carbon-14 (14C ) can be used as a biochemical tracer to track microdoses of nutrients, toxins and therapeutics in humans and animals. For example, the 14C can be tacked on to a vitamin. When a human ingests the vitamin, researchers can track how much of the vitamin metabolizes and how much is excreted through urine analysis.

In the past, this was typically done with accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). AMS opened new regimes of experimentation such as human phase drug trials using subtherapeutic doses. However, AMS' complexity and cost have limited this measurement method and other derivative techniques. Because of AMS' limitations, Livermore researchers developed a new device for biological tracer studies.

This image depicts a simulation of pressure applied to felt used to absorb water in a paper drying process. Photo courtesy of David Trebotich/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Paper trail leads to production savings

Papermaking ranks third behind petroleum refining and chemical production in terms of energy consumption. Simulations by the U.S. Department of Energy's HPC4Mfg program helped a group of paper companies develop a strategy likely to cut energy costs by 10-20 percent.

The effort was run jointly with the companies and Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories. Simulations were run on the National Energy Research Supercomputing Center's Edison system. The first phase targeted "wet pressing" -- an energy-intensive process in which water is removed by mechanical pressure from the wood pulp into press felts that help absorb water from the system like a sponge before it is sent through a drying process.

"The major purpose is to leverage our advanced simulation capabilities, high performance computing resources and industry paper press data to help develop integrated models to accurately simulate the water papering process," said Yue Hao, an LLNL scientist and co-principal investigator.

A new 3D printing technique, developed at Lawrence Livermore, could allow scientists to print glass that incorporates different refractive indices in a single flat optic, making finishing cheaper and easier. Photos by Jason Laurea/LLNL

3D research is smooth as glass

To really open up the world of additive manufacturing for glass, techniques need to print with better resolution, precision and detail, which is hard to achieve with molten glass.

A team of scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, the University of Minnesota and Oklahoma State University has developed a technique to 3D print precise glass structures with sub-millimeter features, this time using direct ink writing.

The direct ink writing method also prints a silica-powder-infused liquid ink at room temperature, using a subsequent drying and sintering step "at temperatures well below the silica melting point."

"This is the first step to being able to print compositionally graded glass optics," Rebecca Dylla-Spears, LLNL chemical engineer and project lead.