Lawrence Livermore wins six R&D Awards for science, technological innovation

Jun. 20, 2012

Lawrence Livermore wins six R&D Awards for science, technological innovation

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have won six awards for their efforts in developing breakthrough technologies with commercial potential. See video .

R&D Magazine announced the winners of its annual R&D 100 Awards, sometimes called the "Oscars of Invention" on Wednesday. The awards will be presented Nov. 1 during a black-tie dinner at the SeaWorld Conference Center in Orlando, Fla.

The Laboratory served as the principal developer in four of the awards, while the other two were joint submissions. This year's awards bring the Lab's total to 143 since it began competing in 1978. The U.S. Department of Energy labs received a total of 36 awards this year.

"I am proud that the Laboratory continues to receive outstanding recognition through the R&D 100 awards," said Tomas Diaz de la Rubia, the Lab's deputy director of Science and Technology. "Once again, our scientists and engineers have succeeded in winning acclaim in a wide range of research areas. These teams are using their world-class capabilities and external partnerships to help solve difficult challenges in the global interest."

The R&D 100 Awards have long been a benchmark of excellence for industry sectors as diverse as telecommunications, high-energy physics, software, manufacturing and biotechnology. For industry leaders, government labs and academic institutions, the awards can be vital for gauging their efforts at commercialization of emerging technologies. In winning an R&D 100 Award, developers often find the push their product needs to find success in the marketplace.

"Congratulations to this year's R&D 100 award winners," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "The research and development at the Department of Energy's laboratories continues to help the nation meet our energy challenges, strengthen our national security and improve our economic competitiveness."

This year's winners include:

High-performance coatings via HVLAD

High Velocity Laser Accelerated Deposition (known as HVLAD) is a new photonic method for producing protective coatings with ultra-high-strength, explosively bonded interfaces. These coatings prevent corrosion, wear and other modes of degradation in extreme environments.

The integrity of the interfacial bond achieved with HVLAD enables industrial systems to achieve exceptional reliability and service life. This could be highly valuable for protecting the nation's industrial infrastructure from degradation caused by prolonged exposure to extreme environments.

The HVLAD process, developed by Lab researchers Joseph Farmer and Alexander Rubenchik with help from Livermore-based Metal Improvement Company, is based on one of Laboratory's earlier commercial successes, laser peening. Laser peening is used to dramatically extend the fatigue life of fan blades in jet engines, steam and gas turbines, as well as the frame and wings of aircraft.

HVLAD uses high-power pulsed lasers to produce coatings from materials that are difficult to deposit by other means, at room temperature and pressure, and with exceptional bond strength. Unlike some competing processes, the HVLAD process can be conducted in open production areas, including factory floors, shipyards and aircraft hangars.

HVLAD can be used to clad high-temperature, high-strength structural materials such as ODS steel with special corrosion-resistant coatings to protect them from attack by high-temperature coolants. Such coatings and materials will be crucial to future fusion reactors, while other important uses include bearings and shafts for wind turbines, corrosion-resistant structures of offshore platforms, better pipelines for oil and gas transmission, and ultra-hard corrosion-resistant surfaces for naval ships.

Lasers look to LEOPARD

The world's most energetic lasers greatly benefit from operating at the maximum energy that can be safely extracted from their laser amplifiers. Such is the case at the Lab's National Ignition Facility (NIF), which houses the world's most energetic laser.

NIF was constructed to study the fusion processes that occur inside stars. It is the only such facility that can create the conditions required to ignite controlled fusion reactions that may someday serve as a virtually inexhaustible energy source for electricity.

To enhance the operability of these laser facilities, as well as meet the requirements of future laser-driven fusion power plants now under conceptual design, LLNL engineer John Heebner has developed LEOPARD -- Laser Energy Optimization by Precision Adjustments to the Radiant Distribution. LEOPARD precisely adjusts a laser beam's radiant distribution or intensity profile, enabling the beam to extract the maximum amount of energy from the laser amplifiers while preserving a high degree of reliability among the optical components.

The system is now fully operational on NIF, where it saves $5 million annually. Many other high-power lasers worldwide (Gemini, Vulcan, Janus, OMEGA EP) would benefit from LEOPARD. The system also may find use in laser-based machining, surgery, lithography and defense applications.

Plastic scintillators for neutron and gamma ray detection

Ensuring the United States remains safe from a nuclear or radiological attack has motivated the search for more definitive radiation detection and identification technologies. Detecting neutrons and gamma rays, and distinguishing one from the other, are key to identifying nuclear substances such as uranium and plutonium and differentiating them from benign radioactive sources.

A team of LLNL researchers, led by Natalia Zaitseva and Steve Payne, has developed the first plastic material capable of efficiently distinguishing neutrons from gamma rays, something not thought possible for the past five decades or so.

With this major technology advance, pulse-shape discrimination using plastic scintillators can offer the same or even better resolution compared to standard commercial liquid scintillators, but without the associated and well-known hazards of liquids. Efficient pulse-shape discrimination combined with easy fabrication and advantages in deployment of plastics over liquids may lead to widespread use of the new materials as large-volume and low-cost detectors.

With the material's low cost, huge plastic sheets could be formed easily into larger surface areas than other neutron detectors currently used and could aid in the protection of ports, stadiums and other large facilities.

Snowflake Power Divertor for nuclear fusion reactors

Moving away from a fossil-fuel-based electricity supply is critical to sustain natural resources, reduce carbon emissions and stability. Magnetic fusion energy sources, such as doughnut-shaped tokamaks, could be a replacement.

A remaining key problem for a commercial tokamak is distributing the hot plasma exhaust of hundreds of megawatts over a sufficiently large wall surface area. Existing techniques magnetically divert the heat flux to specially designed plates, yet the projected power density is well beyond the capability of any material.

The Snowflake Power Divertor, developed by LLNL researcher Dmitri Ryutov along with researchers at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Center for Research in Plasma Physics in Switzerland, uses a previously unknown configuration of the divertor magnetic field whose shape is reminiscent of a snowflake. The resulting magnetic field lines spread the exhaust over a larger wall area and reduce the exhaust heat flux to manageable levels.

Installing the Snowflake in a newly built fusion facility does not lead to any cost increase. The Snowflake Divertor already has demonstrated large heat-flux reduction in tokamaks in Princeton, NJ, and Lausanne, Switzerland and will be installed in several facilities under design.

Multiplexed Photonic Doppler Velocimeter

The Multiplexed Photonic Doppler Velocimeter (MPDV) is a portable optical velocimetry system that simultaneously measures up to 32 discrete surface velocities onto a single digitizer by multiplexing signals in frequency and time.

As recently as one year ago, scientists measuring shock wave surface velocities typically collected four channels of velocimetry data, and used extrapolation, assumptions and models to determine what was occurring in regions of the experiment that were not observed directly.

Thanks to advances in probes, digitizers and technology in telecommunications, scientists Ed Daykin and a team from National Security Technologies, LLC, with assistance from Lawrence Livermore researcher Ted Strand, were recently able to record 96 channels of data for a fraction of the original cost, using MPDV.

MPDV has been used at the Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Nevada National Security Site to gather velocimetry data on key national security work at unprecedented density and comprehensiveness.

NanoSHIELD coating strengthens components
A new coating material called NanoSHIELD extends the life by more than 20 percent for costly tool steel components used in high wear applications, such as tunnel boring, construction, drilling and industrial rock crushing.

The NanoSHIELD coating, short for Nano Super Hard InExpensive Laser Deposited Coatings, is created by using lasers to fuse glassy iron-based powders with high carbon and boron content onto the metal components.

The new coating, developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, LLNL, Carpenter Technology Corp. of Bridgeville, Pa., and the Colorado School of Mines, is as hard as tungsten carbide-cobalt composites -- at half the price.

In full-scale field tests at the Combined Sewer Overflow Tunnel Project in Atlanta, Ga., several disc cutters on the tunnel boring machine (TBM) were replaced with NanoSHIELD-coated discs. Normally, disc cutters on TBMs only survive one five-foot advance, also called a "push." The NanoSHIELD-coated discs survived 13 pushes without cracking or spalling.

According to the Colorado School of Mines, in 25 years of testing, and research and development on disc cutter coatings, the NanoSHIELD-coated cutters were the first ones where the coating did not spall or fracture after one pass during actual rock cutting.