By Patti Koning
Hydrogen may be the lightest element, but it’s a heavy hitter when it comes to clean energy.
President George W. Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have both sung its praises as a potential energy carrier. “Hydrogen highways” are planned worldwide, in Japan, Canada, Scandinavia, and naturally, California.
For all its promise, the use of hydrogen as an energy source still poses technical hurdles. Hydrogen diffuses readily into many structural materials. When this happens, the hydrogen alters the properties of the material, which can lead to degradation and, ultimately, fracturing.
Unique aspect of hydrogen
“This is a unique aspect of hydrogen,” says materials scientist Brian Somerday (8758). “Because of its small size, it can readily diffuse into materials at room temperature. Other gas species can promote embrittlement of structural materials, but the mobility of hydrogen at room temperature makes it unique as an embrittling agent.”
This easy absorption is a good thing when the goal is to store hydrogen in a metal hydride for onboard fuel storage. But when looking at the fuel tank or anything else that might contain hydrogen, such as storage tanks and piping, embrittlement increases the potential for leaks.
Materials scientists have been working on hydrogen embrittlement since long before the term “hydrogen highway” joined the vernacular. “This is not a new phenomenon, but one that has been studied for decades,” says Brian.
Brian, in fact, was hired by Sandia 10 years ago to work on hydrogen embrittlement in relation to gas transfer systems. While his work now also supports the presidential Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, the basic science hasn’t changed.
“By measuring the structural properties of the materials, quantifying the degree by which they will degrade when stressed in hydrogen, and simulating the cracks that occur in the structural material, we can minimize the impact of embrittlement through proper design” says Brian. “The ultimate goal is to eliminate the possibility of embrittlement altogether.”
Guidance for storing hydrogen
This level of understanding will help provide guidance for storing hydrogen for automotive purposes — whether in an onboard fuel tank, storage tank at a refueling station, or piping that hydrogen might flow through between the two. As Brian explains, the program is interested in anything that might come in contact with high-pressure hydrogen. The results of Sandia’s research will facilitate decisions such as what structural materials to use for hydrogen storage and the lifespan of such materials.
The research Brian is leading focuses on low-cost steels, aluminum alloys, and stainless steel. “Materials have to fit the structural requirements, as well as other design constraints such as cost and weight,” he says. “There is a lot of interest in low-cost, high-strength materials.”
In the lab, various materials, in a range of specimen geometries, are subjected to high-pressure hydrogen in situ. A key aspect is looking at what happens to preexisting cracks in the materials. “An important interaction happens between hydrogen gas and cracks that are under stress, as the hydrogen concentrates in areas of high stress,” says Brian.
“The important combination of features in this system is the ability to subject material specimens to dynamic loads in hydrogen gas pressures up to 138 MPa (20,000 psi). There are other systems that can apply dynamic loading on material specimens exposed to hydrogen gas, but only three with this pressure capacity,” Brian says. Only two other laboratories in the world have this capability, one in Japan and the other in the United Kingdom.
Brian’s expertise on the subject has not gone unnoticed. This summer, Brian will serve on the faculty of European Summer School on Hydrogen Safety, held at the University of Ulster (Belfast, UK). He’ll teach a two-part course on “Hydrogen Effects in Materials.”
Brian will be joined by Jeff LaChance (6761), who will teach a course on quantitative risk assessment (QRA) for the hydrogen infrastructure. His course will cover the basic concepts of risk and the requirement and process for performing QRAs on different types of hydrogen facilities. For Jeff, this is a case of “teach what you know,” as he leads Sandia’s work on QRAs for the hydrogen infrastructure.
“In addition to performing QRAs, we also use the results to risk-inform the requirements of hydrogen codes and standards. The concept of risk-informing utilizes risk information, along with deterministic considerations and other factors deemed important by the code developers when they establish the code requirements. It also helps focus the requirements on factors important to safety, and in some cases, identifies new requirements that may not have been considered using other code development approaches. The public can be assured that a facility that meets existing and future risk-informed code and standards requirements is safe,” he explains.
Brian is in for a busy summer, as he’s also co-organizing the 7th International Hydrogen Conference, scheduled to take place in September at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The conference, which began in 1973, will emphasize the effects of hydrogen on structural materials with a specific focus on its use as fuel. -- Patti Koning
Many of the things you use at Sandia to do your job and the benefits you receive to improve your life came to Sandia using a new process — dynamic bidding events, better known as reverse auctions.
In a dynamic bidding event, a proposal for a good or service is set up for bid starting with a maximum target price. Vendors bid down on price until the last bid (and usually the lowest price) results in a winner at the event’s expiration time.
“This process heightens competition by making the process exciting,’’ says procurement manager Doug Otts (10242). And anything procured competitively, he says, could be procured this way. The process allows Sandia to have “a near-perfect assessment of the market for our business,” he says. “True dynamic bidding events such as ours get us as close to pure competition as possible by giving us a solid understanding of what prices the market will truly bear for the goods and services Sandia needs.”
To prepare vendors for this new bidding process, Doug holds mandatory training sessions for potential vendors via live “test events” prior to the actual event. During these test events, vendors practice submitting price proposals and bids using a fictional product or service.
In preparation for a dynamic bidding event, vendors are first given a technical proposal that explains in detail the item or service being requested by Sandia. In the case of services, sometimes those proposals can be lengthy. The proposal ensures that each vendor will provide a homogeneous product or service with similar benefits.
Sandia places a request for goods or services up on a website in advance of the set bid event time. On the day of the event, vendors log in at a preappointed time. The event opens, and bidders offer progressively lower rates for similar products until the auction times out and the final prices submitted by each bidder are locked in. Each event typically lasts a half an hour but can be scheduled to run for much longer depending on the complexity of the product or service being procured.
When the event closes, the vendor providing the “best value” bid wins the contract. “The lowest-priced bid doesn’t always win,” Doug notes, “because the lowest price is not always the best value.”
Since this is a relatively new process at Sandia, procurement has trained all of Sandia’s contracting representatives (SCRs) in the specifics of conducting an auction. SCRs practice submitting proposals to repair a Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots game that Doug keeps on his desk. Each participant submits a repair proposal and goes through a mock Rock ’em Sock ’em Robot repair proposal process.
Doug believes that dynamic bidding events shorten bidding time, which “makes it exciting for vendors, gives all a true assessment of the marketplace, and heightens competition for Sandia’s business.” This process, Doug says, typically shaves between 8-20 percent off Sandia’s costs for items and services procured via this tool.
The first dynamic bidding event successfully completed at Sandia was for Sandia’s copier fleet, which was for millions of dollars and was completed in the early 1990s. The 10 events completed so far have saved Sandia nearly $10 million. Most recently, Sandia has set up dynamic bidding events for some of its benefits plans, including the recently completed procurement for administrative services of Sandia’s Vision Plan, which was won by Davis Vision. An event was also recently completed for the acquisition of the Labs’ Microsoft Product Enterprise licenses, which is worth an estimated $12.5 million over five years.
Sandia is also participating actively in the Supply Chain Management Center, an NNSA complex-wide transformation group, whose focus is on creating efficiencies across the Supply Chain.
Doug is a second-generation Sandian. His father, John Otts, oversaw the building of Sandia’s Solar Tower in the 1970s. Doug often went to work with his father as the tower was being built, and he now has a picture hanging on his wall of the tower’s first test. The melted metal plate from that first test also sits in his office.
After completing his MBA more than 14 years ago, Doug was excited to come to work at Sandia, but he “didn’t know what procurement meant.” Now he embraces the dynamic bidding process as an efficient way to procure products and services and help keep Sandia’s costs down. — Stephanie Holinka
While Sandia spends a large portion of its funding within New Mexico, its economic footprint is much larger than the actual dollars it pays out. In fact, economic impact models have suggested that the effect Sandia has on the state’s economy is about three times the total amount the Labs spends on purchases and salaries.
That’s according to a recently released Sandia economic impact brochure that details total laboratory expenditures and the Labs’ effect on New Mexico’s economy.
“We decided to put out this brochure to let the public know how much Sandia contributes to the state’s economy in both dollars and community efforts,” says Don Devoti, manager of Sandia’s Small Business Utilization Dept. 10222. “And it’s significant.”
Sandia employs about 9,400 regular and temporary employees, of whom about 8,250 work at the New Mexico site. At the New Mexico site, the workforce is composed of 68 percent men, 32 percent women, and 30 percent minorities. And in 2007, out of 975 new hires, 294 graduated from a New Mexico university.
Last year Sandia spent $1,016,403,000 on labor and non-contract-related payments, $72,633,000 on procurement card purchases, $62,575,000 on the New Mexico corporate tax, and $1,013,672,000 on contract-related payments.
Other facts found in the brochure include:
For more information about Sandia’s economic impact on New Mexico, to obtain an economic impact brochure, or learn how to do business with Sandia, email email@example.com or call 1-800-765-1678.. -- Chris Burroughs