By Neal Singer
Improved energy extraction from sun, wind and other renewable resources could take decades if researchers had to rely solely on physical testing. Instead, Sandia and DOE’s National Renewal Energy Laboratory (NREL) on April 7 formally dedicated the 180-teraflop, highly efficient Red Mesa supercomputer to simulate and model a number of these problems.
Welcoming 40 visitors to the ribbon-cutting event in Tech Area 1, Joe Polito, VP of Enterprise Transformation Div. 9000, congratulated Golden, Colo.,-based NREL, Sandia, Sun/Oracle, Intel, and DOE/Sandia Site Office on creating “a state-of-the-art computing platform to address pressing energy problems for the country, using the most energy-efficient supercomputer in the country.”
Red Mesa, when combined with Red Sky, its architecturally similar Sandia parent, reaches a LINPAC speed of 500 teraflops, making it the 10th fastest computer in the world.
In just six weeks, NREL researchers solved a cornstalk-to-energy problem on Red Mesa that formerly would have taken six months.
“We need supercomputing,” said Steve Hammond, director of NREL’s Computational Science Center, “to help us learn to transform forestry and agricultural by-products into fuels and energy more rapidly and economically. We also need to better understand the fuel-injection atomization process, and thermochemical conversion technologies in general. And we need to learn how to minimize waste products like tar, which are expensive to clean up in the biomass gasification process and that we shouldn’t be creating in the first place.”
“Let’s get the job done”
“The country faces great energy challenges,” NREL Director Dan Arvizu said. “Their complexity and long-term nature will require huge private and public investments. Helping that happen is part of the mission of NREL. Meanwhile, lab partnerships are difficult; we know that. But we’ve progressed [in aligning the respective expertise of the two labs] because of a feeling of ‘Let’s get the job done.’ With good researchers, you don’t have to force a collaboration. It happens naturally.”
Said Rob Leland, director of Computation, Computers, Information, and Mathematics Center 1400, “We’re at the end of the machine-development stage and at the early states of starting the science-and-discovery journey for this partnership we’ve put together. That’s exciting to me.”
The congressional directive to DOE put the situation clearly: “The Department is directed to use $12,000,000 . . . to execute an existing memorandum of agreement with Sandia National Laboratories for supercomputing equipment and capacity to support the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy-based mission needs. Numerical simulations on high-performance computers enable the study of complex engineering systems and natural phenomena that would be too expensive, or even impossible, to study by direct experimentation. This resource will be located at Sandia to take advantage of the [Labs’] more than 20 years of experience with high-performance computing hardware and software development. The Committee expects both laboratories to contribute in their respective areas to science and energy excellence.”
The commission’s decision was seconded in a dedication speech by former Sandian and current Intel chief technology officer for high-performance computing Bill Camp, who led the design of Sandia’s Red Storm supercomputer, the most oft-copied supercomputer in the world.
“Even though other labs may have more money to spend on computing,” he said, “when [leaders] in our industry chose an innovative national lab to work with, they consistently chose Sandia Labs.”
Sandia worked with Caltech and N-Cube, Camp recalled, to develop the first parallel processing computer. Sandia also designed the first teraflop computer, ASCI Red. “This is an area where you have to eat your own product,” he said. That is, “you can’t grow high-performance computing without using previous high-performance computing.” Red Mesa, he implied, was in that tradition.
Operational innovations make Red Mesa a kind of “green” machine, said John Zepper (9326). “Typically at a supercomputer,” he said, “standing on one side on it, you need to wear a bathing suit due to the hot air, and on the other, a parka due to the cold air.” Because rectifying huge cooling inequities produce huge power bills, an innovation used on Red Mesa produced the Glacial Door — a door capping each cabinet that keeps cooling mechanisms within a few inches of the heat source. Witnesses to the ribbon cutting, test-strolling the aisles of the supercomputer, detected no change in temperature. With the new improved airflow system, air exiting the array of supercomputer cabinets is actually slightly cooler than when it came in.
Changes save millions of dollars
Other improvements included a better electrical power distribution system that allowed for easier installation and removal of electrical wiring. The Red Mesa machine is configured with an all-optical, connector-based Infiniband network.
“Our changes, both in software and hardware, will save millions of dollars over the life of this machine,” John told the group.
These changes only came about, noted Rob Leland, because “vendors were willing to take technical and economic risks that permitted us to deploy a dozen significant innovations. This [off-the-shelf computer and its accompanying innovations] represented quite a big risk and vendors were willing to go on this journey with us because they saw strategic value to their business. And so we got price points that were remarkable, which means value to the taxpayer.”
Mark Hamilton of Oracle concurred. “We made a complete solution out of off-the-shelf but best-of-breed components integrated from multiple sources,” he said, “creating one of the fastest computers in its hardware, cable, switching, storage, and software.”
The benefit to Oracle: The company, having proven out the innovations on Red Mesa, is introducing the same innovations in smaller Oracle machines.
Said Margie Tatro, director of Energy Systems Center 6200, “Dan Arvizu and Rick Stulen signed an MOU to bring high-performance computing to the renewable energy mission. I want to thank DOE, as well as the urgency and relevancy of our partners in the private sector, for helping Sandia and NREL overcome obstacles and make this happen.”
Capturing hearts and minds
Megan McCluer, DOE program manager for wind and hydropower technologies, brought up another subject to model: energy transmission. “When the source isn’t at the load center, how do you get supply to demand when it comes at different frequencies, voltages, phases, meanwhile avoiding congestion issues and optimized to lowest cost?
“We have to capture the public’s hearts and minds by investing in resources that make a difference to the consumer,” she said.
“We look forward to many years of productive collaboration working together on nationally important energy supply problems,” said Joe Polito, summarizing the partnership.
NREL is DOE’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC. -- Neal Singer
Dennis Salazar discovered a burst attic pipe had caused thousands of dollars of damage to the walls and floors of his house about a decade ago. The disaster inspired Salazar, now chief executive of ICE-LOC®, to invent a dense sponge-like tube that can be inserted into pipes to prevent them from rupturing in cold weather.
But getting customers to buy the product proved difficult, so the Bosque Farms company turned to Sandia for help. Kevin Fleming (5434), Chris Colburn, and Rosa Montoya, who all worked for Explosives Projects/Diagnostics Dept. 2554 at the time, created a video that showed ICE-LOC’s elastomer core prevented ruptures in subzero temperatures, while a pipe without the core exploded.
ICE-LOC was one of 320 small businesses in 25 New Mexico counties that received help to solve technical challenges in 2009 under the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program (NMSBA Program).
A partnership of Sandia, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the state of New Mexico, the program connects scientists and engineers with New Mexico businesses in exchange for a state gross receipts tax credit. In 2009, the tax credit was nearly $4.3 million — about $2.4 million for Sandia and $1.9 million for Los Alamos.
“We are proud of our partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the state of New Mexico in support of small businesses throughout New Mexico,” says Steve Rottler, VP and chief technology officer (1000). “Most small companies do not have access to the world-class technology and expertise available at the labs, and the NMSBA Program provides them that access.”
ICE-LOC was one of nine companies honored this month at the NMSBA Program’s annual Innovation Celebration, attended by more than 200 people — the largest attendance the event has had to date — at Bishop’s Lodge in Tesuque. The companies lined the conference room with displays of their products or posters and computer presentations explaining their work.
ICE-LOC’s product is an environmentally safe, Food and Drug Administration-approved core that is inserted into pipes. When water freezes, it expands and can form ice plugs that exert several thousand pounds of pressure per square inch on pipe walls. The core inside the pipe can compress and allow the ice inside to expand as needed, preventing the pipes from bursting. The core returns to its initial diameter when the ice thaws, ICE-LOC president Louis Herrera says.
To better demonstrate the product’s effectiveness, Kevin, Chris, and Rosa tested ICE-LOC’s product in a controlled environment at minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a high-speed camera, they videotaped a side-by-side comparison of two pipes. The pipe without ICE-LOC exploded, while a pipe fitted with the protective core remained intact.
ICE-LOC used the videotape to show prospective clients the product’s performance under extreme cold. With the help of the tape, the company landed a state contract and is in the final stages of being approved for a federal contract so ICE-LOC can be used in schools, government buildings, military installations, municipal sprinkler systems, and a host of other structures, Herrera says.
“The visual presentation produced by Sandia has enabled us to show our product’s performance to the market and find a distributor,” Herrera says.
Kevin says the labs have super-talented people with good technical ideas, and outside companies know how to develop those ideas into products and market them, a combination that makes for a great partnership.
“I feel Sandia would be remiss in not trying to help those small companies, since they pay income taxes that fund us,” Kevin says. “I had a feeling this company had something that potentially could be good for the country.”
ICE-LOC is not the only company that has been put on a path to marketability by the NMSBA. Since the program began at Sandia in 2000, it has helped 1,597 small businesses and created or retained 1,020 small business jobs through the end of 2008 that paid an average annual salary of $39,063. The companies’ revenue increased by nearly $39.7 million and operating costs fell by more than $28 million during the same nine-year period. LANL joined the program in 2007.
Companies participating in the program must be for-profit small businesses located in New Mexico. The assistance provided cannot be available in the private sector at a reasonable cost. Individual companies in urban Bernalillo County are eligible for up to $10,000 in assistance measured in lab staff hours. Companies located in rural counties are eligible for up to $20,000.
The NMSBA Program also contracts with the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NM MEP), the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, and New Mexico Tech to provide assistance to companies.
Now that Herrera can show his product’s effectiveness using the video from Sandia, he’s also thinking about new ways to market ICE-LOC’s pipe protector.
“Thank you for believing in us,” he says.
The Industrial Partnerships Annual Report highlights the Labs’ technology transfer work with these companies and others during fiscal year 2009. The National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989 made tech transfer and partnering with industry a formal part of Sandia’s mission.
The foundation of these industrial partnerships is the long-term relationships — some lasting more than 15 years — that Sandia has maintained with companies, says Hal Morgan, senior manager for Industrial Partnerships and Strategy Dept. 1930.
Many of Sandia’s partners are well-known companies. They include Boeing Co., IBM, Procter & Gamble Co., Intel Corp., Raytheon Co., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and General Motors Corp.
During the past year, Sandia completed a prototype hydrogen storage system for GM vehicles. Sandia researchers designed and demonstrated key features and performance of the storage system, which uses a complex metal hydride material. Sandia’s design tools now allow the 100-year-old worldwide auto manufacturer to save significant costs and time when developing hydrogen storage systems for vehicles.
And, the two partners collaborated on the 90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study, which found that plant and forestry waste, along with dedicated energy crops, could sustainably replace nearly a third of US gasoline use by 2030, assuming continued investment in technical and scientific progress.
The long-term partnership began when GM executives visited the Labs in the mid-1970s, after they heard about the Labs’ concept for the Combustion Research Facility (CRF) at the Livermore site. The alliance operates through various cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs), Work for Others (WFO) agreements, and government funding through programs conducted
primarily at the CRF.
A two-way street
Industrial partnerships enhance Sandia’s ability to execute the Labs’ core national security missions in nuclear weapons, supporting the warfighter, energy security, and homeland security. At the same time, they enrich the technology and research and development base of the partner companies and strengthen them financially, according to the annual report.
In a partnership that started in 1996 and grew in 2008, Sandia and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) are now exploring ways to improve the Lynx® synthetic aperture radar (SAR). Future upgrades could allow the radar to image seaborne targets, to conduct three-dimensional imaging and for radio-frequency tagging — both for combat identification and precision strike applications. The partnership bolsters the US economy and national security.
Sandia’s partnership with General Atomics and its affiliate GA-ASI began in 1996, when the San Diego-based company set out to develop an advanced, lightweight SAR system. At that time, GA-ASI was producing the MQ-1 Predator UAV for the Air Force, equipped with an older, less capable non-Sandia SAR radar.
Under a WFO agreement, Sandia and GA-ASI focused on building a SAR that could be integrated better with the Predator’s sensor systems and provide higher-resolution images.
The Lynx SAR provides unmatched performance for reconnaissance and surveillance in adverse weather conditions, enhancing the surveillance capability of the Predator and other reconnaissance aircraft, according to the annual report.
Each year, Sandia enters into 30 new industrial partnerships on average and some of these partnerships evolve into long-term collaborations. In fiscal year 2009, Sandia’s new partnerships included: Air Products of Allentown, Pa.; NG Electronic Systems Division of Linthicum, Md.; Forest City Residential Group of Cleveland, Ohio; Ultramet, Inc. of Pacoima, Calif.; and Verdant Power, Inc., of Burlington, Vt.
One of these new partnerships was with eSolar of Pasadena, Calif. On the company’s executive management team are Craig Tyner and Jim Pacheco, who spent a combined 33 years at
Sandia designing, building, and testing concentrating solar power (CSP) systems at Sandia’s state-of-the-art National Solar Thermal Test Facility. Tyner retired from Sandia and Pacheco left the Labs through the Entrepreneurial Separation to Transfer Technology program to join eSolar.
Last June, El Paso Electric signed a power purchase agreement for the full capacity of a 92-megawatt CSP plant to be developed in southern New Mexico by NRG Energy, a national Fortune 500 energy provider, and eSolar. When fully operational, the plant is expected to be the first commercial-scale solar thermal project in New Mexico.
The project is part of NRG and eSolar’s plans to develop up to 500 megawatts of solar thermal power in California and across the Southwest. eSolar also has development partnerships with other companies to build large-scale plants in India and China. The company is also pursuing agreements in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and South Africa.
Notable accomplishments in 2009
“I’m pleased that we’re managing to maintain this level of agreement activity given the economy. I consider it a real compliment to Sandia’s technical organizations delivering critical value because industry is making incredibly hard financial resource decisions right now,” says Deborah Payne, manager of WFO/CRADA Agreements Dept. 10012.
Deborah believes the economic recession has meant that Sandia’s principal investigators and tech transfer professionals have had to work faster to reach agreements to respond to the changing needs of companies that work with the Labs.
“It appears that because of the economic situation, there’s a heightened sense of urgency, of being agile and quick,” she says.
Deborah also works on international partnerships that help the US fulfill its national security missions.
“There’s certainly an acknowledgement — not only at Sandia, but also at the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy — that global security is a critical component of national security,” she says.
One successful international partnership has been Sandia’s work with the Singapore Water Resources Management Organization (PUB) and the Energy Market Authority (EMA) that provides expertise, software tools, and educational components to address future energy strategies.
Sandia has helped develop a water quality monitoring system called CANARY for Singapore to test for accidental introduction of poor quality water into municipal water systems, as well as intentional injection of chemical, biological, or radiological agents. The software package was first made publicly available in May 2009.
With EMA, Sandia is working to develop dynamic simulation models to determine the trade-offs between cost and greenhouse gas emissions for future electrical generating options for Singapore.
The annual report reflects the traditional technology transfer role for industry partnerships, in which industry comes to the Labs for technical help to be more competitive or for the opportunity to commercialize technology from the Labs, Hal says.
However, from another perspective industrial partnerships play an even bigger role in mission success.
“The national security problems that Sandia is addressing are so complex that one institution or national laboratory cannot solve them on its own. Partnering with other labs and industry is required,” Hal says.
Industry is ultimately responsible for delivering products originating from research and technology at the Labs to the government or consumer, and industry also owns the infrastructure for delivering the products, Hal says. Thus, partnering with industry early on can help set the direction for research and provide insights on what it takes for Sandia’s technology to have the greatest impact, he says.
This broader role is becoming more and more prevalent in new research models. These include: the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a partnership of three national laboratories, including Sandia, and three research universities in the San Francisco Bay Area; energy innovation hubs; and the National Institute for Nano Engineering (NINE), a national hub for nanoscale engineering and education, which will all be reported in future annual reports, Hal says. -- Heather Clark