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Lab News -- March 28, 2008

March 28 , 2008

LabNews 03/28/2008PDF (500 kb)

Sandia researchers purposely damage batteries to see how much abuse they can take

By Chris Burroughs

Researchers in Sandia’s Power Sources R&D group have been driving nails into batteries, heating them to extreme temperatures, overcharging them, and putting them into some of the most adverse conditions possible to see how much abuse they can take before they blow up.

And for certain types of lithium-ion batteries the answer is a lot.

The research is part of the DOE-funded FreedomCAR program that is looking at lithium-ion batteries to be part of hybrid electric-gasoline powered vehicles and eventually plug-in hybrids.

Current hybrid vehicles run on gasoline and use nickel-metal hydride batteries as the energy storage device for the electric motor. The intent of the battery portion of the FreedomCAR program is to replace the older type batteries with safe lithium-ion batteries that have six times the energy density of lead-acid batteries and two to three times the energy density of nickel-metal hydride batteries.

“Lithium-ion batteries, generally found in laptop computers and power tools, have greatly improved over the past few years,” says Peter Roth (2546), lead researcher for Sandia’s FreedomCAR battery efforts. “In fact, they have improved so much that we expect to see them in hybrids later this year and possibly even in short-range plug-in hybrids within two years.”

He notes the battery industry has made great strides in manufacturing safe, long-lasting, and affordable batteries. Sandia has played a role in assuring that the lithium-ion batteries are indeed safe and can operate for long periods of time.

One way Sandia researchers have helped determine how safe and long-lasting batteries are is by testing them in adverse situations to determine when and how they can fail or leak their electrolyte.

The Sandia research group obtains batteries and battery materials from research laboratories, like Argonne National Laboratory, and companies that manufacture and sell batteries. They then study the stability of the materials, their flame-retardant performance, high-temperature integrity of separators between the cathode and anode, and general thermophysical properties.

“We look at fundamental chemistry, wanting to discover the kinds of gases they emit when they are heated and explode,” Peter says. “We also build smaller prototype batteries that once we get the chemistry right may eventually be built full size to go into vehicles.”

Peter says that some of the newer batteries, like the new lithium/iron phosphate ones used in handheld power tools, are extremely resilient and less reactive when subjected to extreme conditions, unlike other types of batteries.

These are the type of batteries the FreedomCAR program is seeking, particularly for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). A PHEV is a regular hybrid that operates both on gas and a battery but has an extension cord. It can be filled with gas at the gas station and also can be plugged into any 120-volt outlet for all-electric driving. It’s almost like having a second fuel tank that is used first — only it is filled up at home.

Industry experts predict that plug-ins that can run 10 miles on all electric are two to three years away while plug-ins that can run 40 miles on all electric are three to four years away.

Plug-in hybrids make it essential that batteries be completely safe since they will be sitting in people’s garages while they recharge.

Lithium-ion batteries that will go into vehicles will be similar to computer laptop batteries. One main difference is there will be “a lot of them,” Peter says.

The first hybrids using lithium-ion batteries will be on the market later this year. Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will shortly launch the S400 BlueHybrid. After that, it will launch the S300 Bluetec Hybrid, a diesel car that is combined with a lithium-ion battery. Also,

General Motors plans to introduce a 40-mile plug-in hybrid with lithium-ion batteries in 2010.

Lithium-ion team members: Peter Roth, Dave Johnson, Craig Carmignani, Lorie Davis, Jill Langendorf (all 2546). -- Chris Burroughs

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BioWatch Indoor Reachback Center contributing to DHS effort

By Mike Janes

Say you’re an emergency response manager for a high-profile transportation facility. Among other responsibilities, you’re charged with overseeing the biodetection system at your facility and knowing how to respond if a detector goes off.

What if said detectors do, indeed, sound an alarm, suggesting something may be amiss? What’s your next move?

Well, if the BioWatch Indoor Reachback Center (BIRC) continues to develop at its current pace, you might just pick up the phone and speak with a Sandian.

Since August of 2007, a small group of Sandia/California researchers have been operating BIRC. It’s part of the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, an early-warning system designed to rapidly detect trace amounts of biological materials at various public facilities across the United States. BioWatch assists public health experts to determine the presence and geographic extent of a biological agent release, allowing federal, state, and local officials to more quickly determine emergency response, medical care, and consequence management needs.

BIRC’s role, says principal investigator Nate Gleason (8114), is to provide scientific modeling support to decision makers responding to a public release of a biohazard agent. “Our goal is have a positive impact on the first response to such an attack,” says Nate.

The BIRC is prepared to deliver information to decision makers (typically, the emergency response personnel at high-traffic transportation facilities) within two hours of notification a biohazard release. The information includes important issues such the size and location of the release and recommendations as to where sampling efforts should be focused. The BIRC can also offer insight into whether the release is merely environmental in nature, or intentional, for example a terrorist attack.

A key component of BIRC is a database that contains hundreds of thousands of possible attack scenarios. When facility managers contact Sandia to report a biohazard release, researchers immediately tap into the software’s vast library to help determine the most likely scenarios. As additional information from the event becomes available — from sampling, for example — predictions can be refined after taking the new data into account. Nate wrote the code that serves as the software’s framework, while computer scientist Ann Yoshimura (8116) developed the visualization software.

Sandia’s BIRC is staffed by members of 8114, 8116, and 8125. Those researchers involved in the program have access to detailed models, plans, and schematics for a handful of major transportation facilities (BioWatch involves some 30 facilities from across the country). These materials, combined with decades of research and collaborative efforts with such venues as San Francisco International Airport, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, and other high-profile transportation hubs, help Sandia researchers make accurate predictions for facility owners that can help secure and protect their buildings.

“When a biohazard event occurs and a detector alarms, the response by facility managers is dependent upon a number of factors and key pieces of information,” says Nate. “They need to know the source and intensity of the contamination. They need to know which parts of the facilities are likely contaminated, and which ones aren’t. The BIRC is able to provide this kind of information.”

In addition, Nate said, BIRC makes it easier for facility managers to determine whether released organisms are infectious or not. Though BIRC does not provide public health advice or information on specific organisms, it can specify where in the facility samples of the organism can be located for testing.

Sandia’s unique understanding of facilities, says Nate, and the fast and accurate reconstruction of the event can help managers make more informed decisions about what to do.

A recently added component of BIRC is Sandia’s own Building Restoration Operations Optimization Model (BROOM) technology. BROOM is a handheld, software-based restoration and decontamination tool that contains building maps and other information to simplify tracking and sample collection in a contaminated area. Surface sampling results transmitted to the BIRC can be input into BROOM, an approach that leads to more accurate contamination maps and more certain predictions.

BIRC’s resources are also available to regional BioWatch jurisdictions to support planning and exercise activities.

Among BIRC’s future goals is to develop an electronic “playbook” of sorts following a biohazard event that gives participating facilities even more useful information, such as step-by-step advice and recommendations on how facilities might respond appropriately or integrate BIRC information with their own response plans. — Mike Janes

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Sandia part of DOE project to provide clean energy in Hawaii

By Michael Padilla

With Sandia’s help Hawaii will be greener than ever in a few years.

Sandia is part of a DOE-led effort to move the 50th state away from its reliance on fossil fuels and into a new era built around green technologies.

Recently DOE and the state of Hawaii signed an agreement to implement clean energy technologies that will increase energy efficiency and maximize use of the state’s vast and abundant renewable resources.

The agreement establishes the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), a long-term partnership designed to transform Hawaii’s energy system to one that utilizes renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies for a significant portion of its energy needs.

The aim of HCEI is to put Hawaii on a path to supply 70 percent of its energy needs using clean energy by 2030, which could reduce Hawaii’s current crude oil consumption by 72 percent. This type of clean energy transformation will continue to help sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Juan Torres (6332), Sandia lead for the initiative, says Sandia’s role in HCEI is to provide technical advisement, analysis, and engineering support for clean energy projects, policy, and regulations.

“Sandia is serving as a bridge to help bring clean energy solutions to Hawaii,” Juan says. “We are defining projects to make immediate impacts.”

In the nearterm, Sandia will be leading a project to help the island of Lanai achieve its goal of using 100 percent renewables for all of its energy needs, Juan says.

Sandia also plans to help the island of Kauai incorporate renewables as part of its generation portfolio. In addition, Sandia will assist privatized military housing communities with the implementation of renewables to reduce their energy costs.

Hawaii currently meets about 90 percent of its energy needs through imported oil refined into gasoline for transportation and diesel for electricity. Because of its location, Hawaii’s gasoline and electricity prices are typically the highest in the nation, says Juan.

Alexander Karsner, DOE assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and Kevin Kolevar, DOE assistant secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, have committed DOE technical and policy expertise and capabilities to help demonstrate reliable, affordable, and clean energy technologies in Hawaii.

“With an abundance of natural resources and environmental treasures, Hawaii is the ideal location to showcase the broad benefits of renewable energy at work on an unprecedented scale,” says Karsner. “Hawaii’s success will serve as an integrated model and demonstration test bed for the United States and other island communities globally, many of which are just beginning the transition to a clean energy economy.”

DOE will work with Hawaii to further the potential of its natural resources, including wind, sun, and bioenergy resources. DOE will engage experts in clean energy technology development to help Hawaii to launch several projects with public and private-sector partners that target early opportunities and critical needs for Hawaii’s transition to a clean energy economy. Projects include designing cost-effective approaches for the exclusive use of renewable energy on smaller islands and designing systems to improve stability of electric grids operating with variable generating sources, such as wind power plants on the islands of Hawaii and Maui.

Other DOE-led projects that are part of this agreement include expanding Hawaii’s capability to use locally grown crops and byproducts for producing fuel and electricity and assisting in the development of comprehensive energy regulatory and policy frameworks for promoting clean energy technology use. -- Michael Padilla

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Sandia researchers propose faster method for destroying recovered chemical munitions

By Mike Janes

In a development that could significantly speed up the process of destroying old chemical munitions,

Sandia engineers have proposed an enhanced version of the Explosive Destruction System, a transportable device widely used by the US Army to safely neutralize and discard large quantities of chemical warfare material recovered from test ranges, burial sites, and other locations.

A Sandia white paper describes the High Throughput Explosive Destruction System (HTEDS) and addresses a vital need for remediation systems to destroy recovered munitions at a substantially faster rate than can be done with current methods. This need was highlighted in a recent report by the National Research Council.

The HTEDS, say Sandia engineers, could also be used at sites such as the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond, Ky., to treat some stockpile munitions that require special handling, particularly those that have started leaking and are now stored in secondary overpack containers.

EDS: proven, effective technology

Sandia’s HTEDS concept builds upon the Army’s Explosive Destruction System (EDS), which was designed by Sandia in the late 1990s to provide a self-contained, transportable capability to remediate small volumes of nonstockpile chemical munitions at recovery sites. The EDS has proven to be a flexible, capable, effective system and has achieved wide acceptance by public and regulatory agencies. Among other successes, the EDS destroyed sarin nerve agent-filled bomblets at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver and mustard-filled 75-mm projectiles at Spring Valley in Washington, DC.

A 2005 study by Sandia also confirmed EDS’ ability to safely destroy biological agents.

The Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel Project’s current inventory of remediation systems, says Brent Haroldsen (8125), includes the EDS and other technologies. Though the systems have performed well, they were all designed to handle only very few items at a time.

Sandia’s proposed HTEDS promises to optimize already proven EDS technology to process up to 60 munitions daily, increase the size of the munitions that can be treated, and make improvements to instrumentation and automation. The transportability of the EDS, as well as its proven explosives access and treatment processes that have achieved public and regulatory acceptance, would be maintained with the HTEDS. The proposed HTEDS, says Brent, could be at the prototype stage and ready for testing as early as 2010.

HTEDS could play a role

The EDS was designed for recovered nonstockpile munitions but is also well suited for handling unusual stockpile munitions. Although these munitions constitute only a small fraction of the stockpile, they require special handling, which can slow the operation of the treatment facility.

HTEDS would integrate well with the large-scale pilot plants that are being built under the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) program, said Sandia’s Bill Replogle, manager of the lab’s Advanced Systems Deployment department. “It uses similar non-incineration treatment technology and is specifically designed to handle off-normal munitions that would be the most difficult to handle in the pilot facility,” he said. “The HTEDS would be particularly effective at treating leaking M55 rockets since both the chemical agent and the rocket motor can be destroyed without first removing the rocket from the secondary container,” said Haroldsen. A separate Sandia white paper addresses treatment of these particular munitions.

A high-throughput EDS, Sandia engineers say, could be designed, built, and ready for testing in roughly two years. -- Mike Janes

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