LLNL researchers capture three tech transfer awards, more than any other federal lab

Feb. 5, 2009

LLNL researchers capture three tech transfer awards, more than any other federal lab

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists and engineers have captured three awards for excellence in technology transfer from the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC).

LLNL's three awards represent the most won this year by any laboratory among the more than 250 federal government laboratories and research centers that comprise the consortium.

Four other laboratories or research centers - Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest national laboratories, the National Energy Technology Laboratory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - each won two awards.

This year's awards will be presented May 7 during the FLC's four-day national technology transfer meeting in Charlotte, N.C.

Livermore won its awards for a process that removes silica from geothermal waters, for a pneumothorax detector, and for a unique technology transfer effort that could strengthen U.S. maritime security.

Removing silica from geothermal waters
A team of LLNL scientists developed a technology that filters out silica from geothermal waters, allowing geothermal electrical plants to work more efficiently and to market a byproduct, silica.

While the United States leads the world in geothermal electrical production, one problem faced in geothermal turbine facilities is that silica clogs the pipes, filters and heat exchangers.

Still, the silica can be recovered and sold to manufacturers of products such as paint, paper, toothpaste, tires, dehumidifiers and even solar photovoltaic cells.

Although energy companies are normally focused on power generation and regard the geothermal brines as a troublesome waste product, the LLNL technology can not only solve the silica clogging problem, it can help mine out silica and other valuable minerals such as lithium (used in electric car batteries), manganese, zinc and tungsten.

The Livermore scientists conducted a field demonstration at Mammoth Pacific L.P.'s geothermal power facility near Mammoth Lakes, Calif. to show how the combination of their silica extraction process and reverse osmosis could improve plant efficiency and extract valuable metals.

Pleasanton-based Simbol Mining is bringing the technology to the marketplace. In March of 2008, Simbol's president presented the firm's business plan to the San Francisco Clean Tech Conference, and it was voted to be the most promising technology presented at the conference.

Those receiving awards for the silica mining effort are: former LLNL researchers Bill Bourcier and Carol Bruton (now at Simbol); LLNL Business Development Executive Leah Rogers; LLNL patent attorney Eddie Scott; Cindy Atkins-Duffin of LLNL's Global Security Program; and Simbol President Luka Erceg.

Pneumothorax detector could save lives
LLNL researchers have developed a new medical diagnostic instrument to detect pneumothorax, a condition caused by air trapped in the space between the wall of the chest cavity and the lung.

The technology has been licensed to ElectroSonics Medical Inc. (EMI), a Cleveland, Ohio-based company. Collaborating under a work-for-others contract, two Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and two commercial licenses, the Lab and EMI have developed a prototype based on a handheld personal digital assistant with a graphical user interface.

Known as the "Noninvasive Pneumothorax Detector," the handheld instrument uses ultra-wideband radar technology pioneered in the 1990s by LLNL researchers who had worked on the Nova laser.

The medical condition of pneumothorax often results in reduced lung capacity or a collapsed lung. If it is not properly diagnosed and promptly treated, pneumothorax can cause death within minutes.

Current methods to definitively diagnose pneumothorax involve the use of chest X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans. In some cases, however, there may not be sufficient time to use X-rays or CT scans, or the patient may be in a remote location where these methods aren't available.

Medical response teams in the field use the less conclusive method of looking for respiratory distress, listening for unusual sounds in the lungs and feeling for broken ribs.

A portable, lightweight, battery-operated device, the Noninvasive Pneumothorax Detector can accurately diagnose pneumothorax in real time, and can be used in a hospital setting and in the field.

Recipients of the FLC award for the pneumothorax detector are: LLNL employees John Chang and Maria Strain; LLNL Business Development Executive Genaro Mempin and Robert Purcell III, the president and chief operating officer of EMI. In its early stages, the pneumothorax detector received funding from LLNL's Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program.

Maritime test bed aids security
A maritime test bed, set up in conjunction with the Monterey, Calif.-based Naval Postgraduate School, allows maritime security exercises to be conducted based on real-life scenarios.

This excellence in technology transfer award was shared by the Laboratory, the Naval Postgraduate School, two companies (Goleta, Calif.-based Textron Systems and Mill Valley, Calif.-based SecureBox Corp.) and an Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher.

"We have used this test bed to familiarize our licensees with the needs of first responders and other governmental users of technologies," said Annemarie Meike, a business development executive in LLNL's Industrial Partnerships Office.

The team has focused on the need for improved internal cargo security and radiation detection, emphasizing tests with real end-users to identify, develop, field test and mature a series of technologies targeted toward maritime applications with a low false alarm rate.

One of the technologies studied under the test bed and now headed into the marketplace is a cargo intrusion detector, designed to improve the security of cargo containers during shipping. The detector is a low-cost, reliable, reusable system that detects intrusions through any of the container's six walls.

Another maritime security technology that has become commercially available is Textron Systems' Adaptable Radiation Area Monitor (ARAM), a radiation detector that can identify nuclear materials. The firm's ARAM Radboat became available in 2007.

Those receiving the award are: LLNL employees Bill Dunlop, Arden Dougan, Dave Trombino, Kique Romero and Peter Haugen; retired LLNL employee Norm Madden; LLNL Business Development Executive Annemarie Meike; Frank Swanson and Brian Adlawan of Textron Systems; former LLNL employee Dan Archer of Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Douglas Franco and Dirk Langeveld of SecureBox Corp.; and Alex Bordetsky of the Naval Postgraduate School.

Started in 1974, the Federal Laboratory Consortium assists the U.S. public and private sectors in utilizing technologies developed by federal government research laboratories.