skip to: onlinetools | mainnavigation | content | footer
[an error occurred while processing this directive]


Lab News -- May 12, 2006

May 12 , 2006

LabNews 05/12/2006PDF (650KB)

Bird flu concerns prompt Sandia pandemic preparations

By John German

Experts don’t yet know whether the bird flu will prove to be another doomsday false alarm or develop into a merciless worldwide epidemic, or pandemic.

Either way, preparing for a major public health threat is a worthwhile endeavor, says Warren Cox (10312), who coordinates the activities of a small multi-organizational Sandia team that is planning for a range of possible avian flu outcomes.

Think about business continuity

“Preparing for an avian flu pandemic forces us to think about how the Labs would continue to operate, and how it would communicate with employees, contractors, retirees, and their families, if America awoke tomorrow to the rapid spread of a virus or other biological threat within its borders,” he says. (See “Why Sandia is preparing” on page 4.)

The team’s work complements other business continuity planning projects in recent years to prepare the Labs for terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other crises.

“We tend to be less sensitive in the US to biological threats than in other parts of the world where infectious diseases, like TB and HIV, affect people’s lives more profoundly,” says Dr. Larry Clevenger (3300), director of Sandia’s Health, Benefits, and Employee Services Center, who leads the planning team.

False assumptions

“Western civilization’s assumption is we can whip it with antibiotics and technology,” he says. “But because there is no natural immunity to avian flu in the human population, our experience is more likely to be like centuries-old phenomena.”

Pandemics occur in varying severities on average four times per century. The most recent, the Hong Kong flu of 1968-1969, killed approximately 28,000 Americans. The most deadly 20th-century pandemic was the Spanish influenza of 1918-1919, which killed some 500,000 Americans and 21 million people worldwide.

But the emerging avian flu virus, technically the H5N1 variant, comes with many unknowns, says Larry (see “About the avian flu” at right). It might remain primarily in the bird population. It might combine with a common flu virus and begin to transmit among people. Mutations might render it more or less efficient (virulent) or more or less deadly (pathogenic). Worldwide precautions might blunt its spread. Global air travel might enhance its spread.

“There simply is too much we don’t know to determine the likelihood of a pandemic,” says Larry. But the consequences of one are too severe to ignore, he says.

Localized response

“The worry is that it could emerge in such a way that it quickly becomes pervasive across the country, or it could spread from several areas,” he says. “A widespread emergence could limit city, state, and federal governments’ collective abilities to respond,” he says.

That is to say, in some scenarios community governments and individuals might need to implement federal recommendations and respond to local threats without direct federal support or intervention.

In fact, careful hygiene practices, social distancing, local school and workplace closures, quarantines, and selective administration of existing flu vaccines would likely be the prevalent tools in blunting the spread of a pandemic virus, Larry says.

What this tells us, he says, is now is a good time to develop and hone regional, institutional, family, and personal emergency plans with public health events in mind (see “Pandemic to-do list” at right).

National preparations

Sandia’s preparations include business continuity planning for such possible flu-related events as travel restrictions, high employee absentee rates over a several-week period, imposed telecommuting, and, in a worst-case scenario, shutdown of all but the most essential Sandia systems and infrastructures for days or weeks.

Sandia is not alone. All US federal government agencies are required to develop pandemic influenza contingency plans. Most companies with a global presence have been planning for avian flu outbreaks since 1998, when the virus emerged in Asia. Many more companies are beginning their planning now.

Sandia’s effort is coordinated with parallel efforts at both DOE and Lockheed Martin, Warren says.

“Planning for the spectrum of possibilities is a daunting task, but it is critical that Sandia has a continuity plan specific to public health threats,” he says. “We need Sandians to make themselves aware of national readiness efforts and be ready for something other than business as usual should a serious threat emerge,” he says.

Watch the Lab News, the online avian flu portal ( flu/index.html), and other Sandia publications during the coming months for information about avian flu preparations and other related efforts, including being prepared to work from home, as well as common-sense hygiene tips that can help Sandians and their families stay healthy.

Pandemic to-do list

Sandia employees, contractors, and retirees are urged to prepare in the following ways:

  1. Learn about the avian flu. The avian flu portal now available on Sandia’s external web ( flu/index.html) contains the latest avian flu informat ion from authoritative sources. The portal will become the primary source of Sandia news and information for employees in a pandemic-related crisis.
  2. Understand how a public health event might affect your work. As a Labs-wide plan develops, the Sandia avian flu portal will include continually updated information useful for organizational and individual business continuity planning. Managers also will receive instructions for conducting a public health threat organizational self-assessment.
  3. Find out how you and your family can prepare. A personal readiness plan specific to a public health crisis is available at (click on Individual Planning).

About the avian flu

The H5N1 variant, known informally as the avian flu or bird flu, so far has been contained primarily among bird populations in parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It has not acquired the ability to spread efficiently from human to human, nor has the virus been reported in the US among birds or humans.

Of the approximately 200 people known to have contracted the virus worldwide since 2003, about half have died. (For comparison, the 1918 Spanish flu had a 3 percent mortality rate.) The vast majority of those who contracted the virus, however, are believed to have contracted it through close contact with infected birds, not from other people.

US federal government responses are tied to World Health Organization pandemic alert levels, which are in turn tied to current avian flu-related developments around the world.

Sandia’s avian flu portal ( resources/emp-ret/flu/index.html), now available on Sandia’s external web, provides the latest avian flu information from authoritative sources.

Why Sandia is preparing

Sandia has several good reasons to plan for an avian flu pandemic, says Dr. Larry Clevenger, director of Health, Benefits, and Employee Services Center 3300:

  1. As an employer Sandia has an obligation to help protect employees, retirees, and their families, he says.
  2. As a national security lab, Sandia must be able to continue to support its government, industry, and academic partners in a national crisis.
  3. Sandia should be ready to complement local and regional responses to an avian flu outbreak in New Mexico, California, and other host communities.
  4. And as a high-tech lab, Sandia has an unusual ability to talk about and focus on possible technical contributions. (More about this in a future Lab News.)

-- John German

Top of page

Desalination roadmap seeks technological solutions to make brackish water drinkable

By Chris Burroughs

After one last meeting in San Antonio April 17, Sandia researchers Pat Brady and Tom Hinkebein (6118) are now ready to write a final Desalination and Water Purification Roadmap that should result in more fresh water in parts of the world where potable water is scarce.

The roadmap is the result of three previous meetings — two in San Diego and one in Tampa — and the last held this month where many government agency, national laboratory, university, and private partners gathered to discuss the future of desalination in the US. The first roadmap identified overall goals and areas of desalination research. It was submitted to Congress in 2003.

Pat expects the second roadmap to be completed this month when the Joint Water Reuse & Desalination Task Force will submit it to Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and Congress and eventually the water user and research communities. The task force consists of the Bureau of Reclamation, the WaterReuse Foundation, the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, and Sandia.

The roadmap will recommend specific areas of potential water desalination research and development that may lead to technological solutions to water shortage problems.

“Population growth in the US is expected to increase 13.6 percent per decade [over the next two decades],” says Tom, manager of Geochemistry Dept. 6118 and head of

Sandia’s Advanced Concepts Desalination Group. “There will be 29 percent more of us in 20 years. Put that together with an unequal distribution of people — more moving to Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico where fresh water is limited — and it is easy to see we are facing a challenging water future.”

According to the 2003 Desalination and Water Purification Technology Roadmap, only

5 percent of the earth’s water is directly suitable for human consumption. The other 99.5 percent is saltwater or locked up in glaciers and icecaps. As the world’s population grows, the increased water demand will have to come from someplace. Brackish water — water with a salt content — seems to be a natural source, Tom says.

The new roadmap, Roadmap 2, will be a coherent plan outlining the specific research needed in high-impact areas to create more fresh water from currently undrinkable brackish water. It will ensure that different organizations are not duplicating research.

Water desalination is not a new concept. In the US the largest plants are in El Paso and Tampa. It is also commonplace in other parts of the world. Except for the Middle East, most desalination is done through reverse osmosis.

Pat says 43 research areas have been tentatively identified and some projects are already underway, jumpstarted with $2 million made available for the preliminary research through a matching grant from the California Department of Water Resources. California provided $1 million and members of the Joint Water Reuse and Desalination Task Force each contributed $250,000.

Another $4 million in fiscal years 2004, 2005, and 2006 through federal Energy and Water Development Appropriations bills secured by Sen. Domenici has also funded desalination research at Sandia.

“The task force will be the entity deciding which of the 45 projects get to the top of the research pile,” Pat says. “As more money is made available, universities, research groups, national labs, and private companies will bid on projects.”

Among the 43 research areas included in Roadmap 2 will be:

Much of the research is expected to be conducted at the soon-to-be-completed Tularosa Basin National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo, N.M.

Sandia’s long-range R&D seeks novel solutions

Solving the tough issues of desalination may take solutions that don’t exist — yet.

That’s where Tom Mayer (6118) comes in. He leads a long-range R&D effort that takes fledgling ideas and helps them grow into rigorous research projects. Some pan out, others don’t.

Tom calls it high-risk/high-reward research.

“We recognize some of the research may provide just the answers we are looking for,” Tom says. “But we may not see the results for five or ten years.”

Tom has the job of identifying researchers with knowledge in different fields and matching them up with new types of research that may lead to better desalination methods. Most people doing research on projects in the long-range R&D program never before worked in water treatment.

One example of bringing together people from different fields — which Tom says was done before he took the job — was teaming Jeff Brinker (1002), a chemist who works at the nanoscale, and Susan Rempe (8333), who does computer modeling, to try to make a high-efficiency membrane for the reverse osmosis process that mimics the process in biological cells.

Susan’s job is to do modeling to understand the function of the biological system and identify necessary functions that a synthetic membrane would need. Jeff’s job is to make a synthetic structure that does those functions.

If they succeed, Tom says, they may have a membrane that works at least 10 times better than commercial membranes.

In another instance, Tom tapped Chris Cornelius, who has been developing membranes for hydrogen fuel cells, to build a better electrodialysis membrane. (Electrodialysis removes salts or ions from water with an electric field and special ion-exchange membranes.) Also working with Chris are Michael Hibbs and Cy Fujimoto (both 6245).

“Chris’ work is farther along that Susan and Jeff’s,” Tom says. “Electrodialysis is well-known but not popular in the US. But there are real possibilities for its use. If we develop a better membrane, it may make the technology more attractive.”

Labs water research looks at all aspects of multifaceted issue

Byproduct cleanup

Even though there is more water to be had in the form of brackish water throughout the world, it will come at a price because of cleanup costs, says Richard Kottenstette (6118), who heads up the Jumpstart R&D portion of Sandia’s Advanced Concepts Desalination program. His goal is to identify and pursue technologies nearly ready for commercialization that can tackle this problem.

The problem of cleanup — what to do with the concentrate resulting from reverse osmosis — is at the top of his list. Concentrate is the salty residual liquid byproduct of desalination.

On the coasts the solution is simple — return the salt and minerals to the ocean. But inland, getting rid of the residual becomes problematic.

Richard and his team are involved in projects that deal with this, as well as related issues. Some include:


The next step after developing a better desalination method is commercialization.

That responsibility falls to Sue Collins (6118), who works closely with Sandia’s licensing department.

“Our customers and advocates have said repeatedly that the success of commercialization efforts will be measured in gallons of new water produced,” Sue says. “That means accelerating the lab-scale success to pilot-scale and then to the manufacturer and end-user.”

The advantage of having a desalination roadmap, she says, is that it gives her the opportunity to work closely with the end-user and meet their needs.

The successes of the previous year have attracted local advocates to the commercialization efforts. For example, the City of Alamogordo — with funding from the State of New Mexico — is doing complementary testing on a reverse osmosis project at the Tularosa Basin facility. The Alamogordo tests will confirm the economic potential of the mineral byproducts resulting from the Sandia tests on the system.

Also, the State of New Mexico is matching Sandia-funded work at New Mexico Tech. Last year, researchers from the university and Sandia identified enzyme treatments that remove slimy biological buildup from reverse osmosis membranes. These natural cleaners could replace the harsh acid and caustic cleaners used today.

This year Sandia will fund studies at Sandia and New Mexico Tech to determine what small-scale processes can cause the best enzyme treatments. The state will fund New Mexico Tech to perform large-scale tests of enzyme treatment using a typical reverse osmosis unit with produced water from the San Juan area.

“End-user interest is growing steadily and that is important to our work with the manufacturing community,” Sue says. -- Chris Burroughs

Top of page

The future is now for nuclear power, say lab directors

By Will Keener


Sandia President and Director Tom Hunter joined eight other national laboratory directors or their personal representatives, several key members of Congress, and DOE officials last week in Washington to send a message to Congress and the public about President Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

The message: GNEP is important at home and abroad, it’s urgent that the US begin a long-range effort now, and the power of the national laboratory system, working as a team under DOE direction, is available to support the effort.

Sandia President and Director Tom Hunter joined eight other national laboratory directors or their personal representatives, several key members of Congress, and DOE officials last week in Washington to send a message to Congress and the public about President Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

The message: GNEP is important at home and abroad, it’s urgent that the US begin a long-range effort now, and the power of the national laboratory system, working as a team under DOE direction, is available to support the effort.

“We see this as a start,” said Tom in an interview with the Lab News. “It’s the beginning of a dialog to address [public and congressional] questions and to demonstrate that we are working together as a team on this.”

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell both praised the potential the national laboratory complex brings to nuclear energy research. “DOE and its national laboratories exist to develop technology options for our most challenging national problems,” Domenici said. “US energy security is one of our most significant challenges.”

“GNEP demonstrates the enormous role advanced nuclear science and technology can play in making the world a better, cleaner, safer place to live,” said Sell. “The national labs are charged with realizing this vision.”

GNEP (see Lab News, March 17, 2006) grew out of a larger plan by the Bush administration, recognizing that there is no single “silver bullet” to resolve US energy problems. Instead, a number of energy options — including nuclear power — need to be explored.

Bush elaborated on his plans for nuclear power in his 2006 State of the Union address, announcing the Advanced Energy Initiative. GNEP is one element of the initiative. It calls for:

The May 2 assembly of directors (only three were unable to attend and sent stand-ins) gave the leadership group opportunities to present their case to a key group of congressional staff members and the news media, and to conduct a series of other meetings.

Tom, introduced by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, moderated the congressional staff forum. Tom told the group, “Moving forward with the research and technology development proposed by GNEP is of great importance to all Americans. The partnership is a bold new initiative by the government to put the US in a leadership role with the future of nuclear power.”

GNEP allows the US to address the primary issues of energy and energy supply, an improved climate and environment from energy production without harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and nonproliferation concerns about better control of nuclear materials, Tom said.

The effort will begin with preparation of a technology roadmap to determine what needs to be done, followed by a process to match the skills and capabilities of universities, industry, and the national laboratories against the roadmap. At the start of the road, Congress is already evaluating a $250 million FY07 budget proposal for nuclear power research that would lead to technology demonstrations in FY08 in the areas of:

Commercial-scale production of power with this newly demonstrated “closed nuclear fuel cycle” would be the final step, a decade or more away.

Action now

The lab directors, who have worked for a couple of years to support DOE in this initiative, recognize that although GNEP is long-range and would have impact largely after a couple of decades, it should be started now. “We need to make this long-term commitment,” said Tom.

In what he called “spirited” questioning from congressional staff, Tom and other directors emphasized that GNEP is consistent with plans to move forward with the Yucca Mountain repository licensing and to work toward the addition of more light-water or advanced-generation reactors to the current inventory. “It does not in any way detract from those two things,” he said.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Robert Kuckuck and Argonne National Laboratory Director Bob Rosner also presented with Tom at the briefing.

“The audience was very engaged, they asked a lot of questions . . .We ran out of time before they ran out of questions,” said Tom. Questions focused on priorities and balance of current nuclear programs as opposed to future concepts, about the waste situation with Yucca Mountain, and about the interest of other countries in participating. (India recently became the first nation to agree to join the partnership.)

“Each of the committees or delegations there had some very informed, significant issues that they wanted to understand better. We see this as the beginning of a dialog,” said Tom.

A news conference later in the day, hosted by Idaho National Laboratory Director John Grossenbacher, sounded many of the same themes. Sen. Domenici and Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., opened with comments, followed by Deputy Secretary Sell and Dennis Spurgeon, DOE Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy.

“In the short term our role now is to maintain the discussions so that the Congress gets its questions answered sufficiently to deal with the president’s proposal in the budget,” Tom said.

Others participating in the day’s events included directors or representatives from Oak Ridge, Savannah River, Pacific Northwest, Lawrence Livermore, and Brookhaven laboratories.

-- Will Keener

Top of page

DHS turns to Sandia for tech transfer help

By Mike Janes


When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) realized at its launch that it needed to establish a consistent and productive technology transfer mechanism, it sought guidance from the laboratory with a track record.

Whether one measures intellectual property generation, numbers of CRADAs, revenue generated through business partnerships, or numbers of licenses, DHS found that Sandia is a top performer among the national laboratories.

Specific examples bolster Sandia’s reputation of excellence in partnerships with industry: the Labs’ longstanding relationships with Goodyear and Intel; its role in establishing and delivering on the largest CRADA ever (the Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography CRADA with a microelectronics consortium); the extensive licensing of risk assessment methodologies that enable public utilities to assess vulnerabilities and protect critical infrastructures; and the commercialization and deployment of various homeland security technologies.

Now, nearly two years after DHS first asked Sandia for assistance, the Labs is playing an ever-greater hands-on role in helping shape the department’s commercialization planning and technology transition efforts, particularly as they relate to federal laboratories.

The aim is to get homeland security technologies developed by the DOE labs deployed in products supplied by industry and available to end users who need them the most, while at the same time ensuring that technology transition strategies are developed at the outset when new technologies are conceived.

“Our goal has been to provide information analysis, ideas, and alternatives to DHS,” says Denise Koker (8529), business development manager at Sandia’s California site and the commercialization lead for the Labs’ Homeland Security and Defense (HSD) strategic management unit. “They can then use that information to create appropriate processes and mechanisms for achieving technology transfer.”

Adds Ellen Stechel (6220), who is assigned to the DHS Office of Research and Development after being rehired by Sandia after working in industry for nearly seven years: “In the past, the labs and their funding partners may have been quick to develop a technology without considering the technology lifecycle, which needs to take into account whether there is a customer, or whether it might eventually run into issues of affordability, reliability, manufacturability, usability, or serviceability. That’s where technology transition strategy and planning comes in.”

DHS, says Denise, has an unusually challenging responsibility to not only direct research and development through its Science and Technology directorate, but also to ensure that products from specific technologies are rapidly available for deployment to emergency responders, border agents, airport personnel, and other end users.

Whereas the federal government creates a market through large procurements, industry is more likely to adopt new technologies that meet the product requirements. However, for many products with homeland security applications, the federal government is not the purchaser or the end user.

“The Department of Defense is often its own consumer of products adopting R&D it funded,” Denise points out. “DHS, on the other hand, has to worry about promoting adoption by manufacturers and end users after developing the technologies. It’s of vital importance but it’s an additional burden for them, and one with which we are lending a helping hand.”

Commercialization is an element of a broader effort in which Sandia is helping DHS’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) establish technology transition processes for the lifecycle of technology development, from basic research through deployment. Ellen is assigned to DHS/ORD, working within the Office of Science and Technology to provide options for making technology transition planning integral to all program execution plans.

“Commercialization should not be a disconnected task or an afterthought, but rather part of an overall transition strategy that is consistently wrapped into to program development from the start,” says Ellen.

To this end, DHS has funded Sandia to aid them with several tasks. First, beginning last June, Jill Micheau (8529) went on temporary assignment to DHS, which Denise calls a “critical effort that put her directly on the front lines.” She and Denise conducted a benchmarking study, now documented in a report to DHS, comparing how other agencies conduct technology transfer and analyzing how alternative mechanisms and solutions might meet DHS needs.

DHS will soon be making decisions and implementing various technology transfer policies and processes. Ellen is serving as a consultant to a Science and Technology-wide team that will be finalizing technology transition guides, assessment tools, and policies and procedures.

Sandia’s BROOM among technologies to serve as pilot project

The Sandia DHS liaison team has been immersed in aiding DHS with exercising tech transfer processes and mechanisms by carrying out specific commercialization projects. In November, Denise Koker (8529) and Jill Micheau (8529) helped DHS develop the broad strategy for the pilot program, which focuses on three key homeland security technologies important to the department.

Denise and Jill’s contributions included a detailed process for selecting the most appropriate technologies, a step-by-step commercialization planning model to be used throughout the pilot project, and the identification of clear objectives and outcomes.

Jill’s briefings to various DHS executives on the plan have been well received. “We’re anxious to test new paths to commercialization, which may include the use of new contract types, penetrating new markets, and working across several federal agencies to leverage investments and meet multiple goals,” she says.

One of the three technologies selected by DHS for the Commercialization Pilot Program was Sandia’s own BROOM (Building Restoration Operations Optimization Model), with Sandia’s Jane Ann Lamph (8750) now leading the commercialization effort. (Lennie Klebanoff had been the key BROOM technology transition figure until returning to his technical position in Dept. 8757.) Jill, meanwhile, is taking on the other two pilots — Idaho Explosive Detection System, and a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine from the USDA being tested and further developed at DHS’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

Denise says commercialization plans for the three pilot technologies should be completed by May. Development of the plans involves extensive interaction with stakeholder agencies, end users, and potential industry partners. Therefore, some implementation is conducted in parallel with development and refinement of plans. Transition to DHS for continued implementation should be completed by June.

For her part, Jane Ann is excited about the challenges ahead with BROOM’s commercialization. At a recent Bio-Restoration Technology Demonstration event held at San Francisco International Airport, Sandians met potential BROOM user representatives from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Los Angeles International Airport, and Bay Area Rapid Transit. Jane Ann says she hopes to capitalize on the relationships that were forged.

“Commercialization is a ‘contact sport’ that, by definition, involves a lot of briefings, demonstrations, and a great deal of personal contact with potential business partners,” she says. “Hopefully, that plays into my strengths.”

Denise and Ellen Stechel agree that the long-range goal is to contribute to making technology transition second nature for DHS/Science & Technology whenever it conceives of new projects and Technology needs.

“It needs to be a normal, funded component of the way DHS conducts business,” Denise says, “rather than an afterthought.”

“The challenge for a technology transition manager or champion is to convey to DHS program managers and their principal investigators in the field an understanding of the business and operational issues relevant to technology development and implementation to complement what they already well understand about the technical issues,” Ellen adds. -- Mike Janes

Top of page