Alternative fuel tank gets Lab assist

Lawrence Livermore researchers are assisting in the development of a sturdy, ultralight fuel tank for use in alternative hydrogen-powered transportation.
The Laboratory is working with the Advanced Technology Center for IMPCO Technologies Inc. of Irvine, California. The Department of Energy has awarded IMPCO a $2.6-million contract to produce a set of tanks for colorless, odorless, pollution-free hydrogen, one of several alternative fuels competing for mass commercialization. Hydrogen gas can be used to fuel an internal combustion engine similar to conventional engines, or it can be combined with oxygen to generate electricity for fuel-cell-powered vehicles.
Fred Mitlitsky, program manager for Energy Storage and Propulsion Systems at Livermore, says that the Laboratory has studied hydrogen storage and propulsion systems for about eight years and "is close to being able to deliver certified tanks at the specified weight limits." According to Mitlitsky, tank weight is one of the many critical factors in the marketability of hydrogen gas as a fuel source for cars. He adds that tanks to be produced by the Laboratory-private sector partnership will probably be made from a lightweight carbon-fiber material with plastic liners.
The goal of the year-long partnership is to build prototype tanks in which the hydrogen gas within the tank contributes just 7.5 to 8.5 percent of the weight of the filled tank.
Neel Strosh, director of fuel storage for IMPCO, says that hydrogen gas "has very low energy compared with gasoline," and a challenge in designing tanks is to compress more gas into the tanks.
Because hydrogen gas is flammable, the safety standards for the tanks are extremely high. According to Strosh, conventional gasoline tanks are thin and flimsy compared with the robust hydrogen fuel tanks being developed. Strosh also notes that the cost of hydrogen fuel is high now but could become competitive with gasoline if hydrogen becomes more widely used.
Contact: Fred Mitlitsky (925) 423-4852 (mitlitsky1@llnl.gov).

Nuclear smuggling prevention system tested

Two Laboratory researchers recently traveled to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in eastern Washington State to join colleagues from Department of Energy headquarters, other DOE laboratories, the U.S. State Department, and Russia in developing methods and equipment to prevent nuclear material from being smuggled on trains. The effort was part of DOE's Second Line of Defense program, which helps Russia combat illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and technology across its nearly 20,000 kilometers of land border.
Arden Dougan and Dan Archer from the Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and International Security Directorate represented Lawrence Livermore. Russian agencies included the Customs Service and Aspect, an organization affiliated with the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research at Dubna.
The researchers evaluated a Russian detector system developed by Aspect. The detector serves a function similar to that of an airport metal detector. It is designed to find the telltale radiation signals of fissile nuclear material in standing and moving trains.
As a deployed system, this detection equipment must be technically reliable and capable of finding nuclear materials wherever they may be on a train moving at varying speeds. The system must be able to detect radiation from materials that may be shielded by ordinary metal parts on the train and to distinguish between sometimes faint radioactivity signals and naturally occurring background radioactivity that can vary with elevation and geology. The detector and its software must also function in the Russian environment, where temperatures can range from -60 to +120 degrees F. And they must be user-friendly.
Livermore scientists have already helped install radiation detectors in key locations such as Astrakhan, the principal Russian gateway to Iran, and Sheremetyevo, the main international airport in Moscow. They also joined in surveying and establishing priorities for future sites for similar detectors and helped train and certify Russian inspectors in the use of these detector systems.
These Second Line of Defense efforts dovetail with DOE's many other programs to help reduce the threat of proliferation worldwide.
Contact: Arden Dougan (925) 422-5549 (dougan1@llnl.gov).
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