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.

Jul. 24, 2015

Lawrence Livermore researchers are designing more cores that simulate the power of the human brain.

The brains behind the computer

People used to compute. But in the mid-20th century, machines began to take on the bulk of computing work, and the definition of “computer” changed.

In 70 or so years, a computer went from being a room-sized monstrosity to a four-ounce touchscreen.. Now, leading computer scientists and technologists say the definition of “computer” is changing again.

“It’s like the move from simple adding machines to automated computing,” said James Brase, the deputy associate director for data science at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “Because we’re making an architectural change, not just a technology change. The new kinds of capabilities - it won’t be a linear scale - this will be a major leap.”

The architectural change he’s talking about has to do with efforts to build a computer that can act - and, crucially, learn - the way a human brain does.

Wind turbines are becoming a more common sight all over the world.

The answer is blowing in the wind

About 2.3 percent of America’s power is generated by wind. But wind power is becoming wildly popular all over the world. What would happen if a company put up so many wind turbines that they actually changed the climate on Earth?

Wind turbines are being built all over the world. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, in 2014 all the wind-power harnessing devices in the world could generate 369,597 megawatts.

All of this is dwarfed by global power consumption, which is about 18 terawatts, or, 18 million megawatts. In other words, humans use about 50 times the total wind power capacity of all the wind turbines in the entire world.

Lawrence Livermore Lab researcher Kate Marvel and her team used climate models to look at just how much wind energy we could take out of the atmosphere before we’d start to have problems. The good news: It’s a lot of wind. About 1,800 terawatts. Global power consumption is 18 terawatts so the chances of taking 100 times the amount of energy neded using just wind turbines is very, very slim.

Corrugated tractor trailers decrease fuel economy by as much as 10 percent.

Corrugated tractor trailers are a drag

According to testing by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, containers with corrugated sides have a significantly higher aerodynamic drag that makes for a rather large fuel economy deficit. Livermore researchers have reported about a 10 percent fuel economy loss when comparing these types of containers to smooth-sided 53-foot dry trucks. 

Intermodal cargo-carrying trucks can have a very large tractor to container chassis gap. Over-the-road fleets have been working hard to minimize this gap and keep the air flowing alongside their tractors and trailers. With large gaps, the truck engine is basically pulling the entire cross section of the tractor trailer through the air twice, meaning at least a  5 percent deficit in fuel efficiency.

Low rolling resistance tires are not robust enough for the type of hauling tractor trailers do, resulting in a 5 percent penalty for the more robust tires.

Former 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. Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL.

Foiling food fraud

Food fraud is on the rise. It means that food and beverage producers need to be more vigilant when it comes to protecting the authenticity of their products for the safety of their customers as well as their own economic viability.

Food fraud is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the “intentional substitution or addition of a substance in a product for the purpose of increasing the apparent value of the product or reducing the cost of its production, i.e., for economic gain.” Bottom line: What’s on the packaging label is not what’s in the product.

But DNATrax can be the answer to ensuring food safety. DNATrek’s DNATrax is a sugar-based invisible barcode that uses technology invented at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It is an FDA-approved coating that is sprayed directly on to fresh produce and other food products, or can be mixed with liquids or dry goods.

BMW is testing a hydrogen powered car using fuel cells and Lawrence Livermore’s cryo-compressed technology.

Heading down the hydrogen highway

A German company recently opened the first public filling station at which the two pumps dispense hydrogen using two different types of refueling technology: industry-standard 700-bar hydrogen storage technology and cryo-compressed hydrogen storage technology.

Lawrence Livermore has a long history in cryo-compressed hydrogen storage systems. In fact, BMW is using some of the Livermore technology in a fuel-cell demonstration car.

The term “cryo-compressed” was coined by Salvador Aceves and colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and refers to their concept of storing hydrogen at cryogenic temperatures but within a pressure-capable vessel, in contrast to liquid (or cryogenic) vessels that store hydrogen at low pressures.