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Lab News --July 30, 2010

July 30, 2010

LabNews07/30/2010PDF (1.5 Mb)

Sandia/USNORTHCOM project designed to help international law enforcement spot illicit drug labs

By Mike Janes

TTim Shepodd (8223) liked the moniker and agreed to call it the “chili cookoff.” But there was no chili involved, and the only “cooking” had to do with the kind of chemicals not usually found on Sandia grounds. The “chili cookoff” — a controlled airborne release of chemicals in support of a project funded by the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) — took place June 29-July 2 on Sandia/California grounds (outside MANTL, the Micro and Nano Technologies Laboratory).

USNORTHCOM was established in 2002 to provide command and control of DoD homeland defense efforts and to coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

STRANGE BREW — LeRoy Whinnery, left, and Greg O’Bryan mix up a batch of chemicals used to make crystal methamphetamine during field tests to determine the ability of various sensors — including airborne sensors — to detect an effluent signature or mix of chemicals that might suggest illegal drug manufacturing. The project was funded by US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM). (Photo by Randy Wong)

The agency routinely works with non-US law enforcement authorities.

For the experiment, Tim, a team of Sandia chemists, and other staff members essentially created a crystal methamphetamine laboratory to test a number of sensors that could be used by international law enforcement agencies. USNORTHCOM officials stress that, due to domestic privacy laws, such surveillance activities are only conducted internationally.

The common industrial chemicals used in the experiment, Tim says, are those most often used for illicit drug manufacturing and are those that law enforcement typically finds in illegal drug labs. Sandia chemists LeRoy Whinnery and Greg O’Bryan (both 8223) prepared three “cooks” of chemicals made up of common chemical “recipes.”

The objective, Tim says, was to successfully detect an effluent signature or mix of chemicals that might suggest illegal drug manufacturing. Eight sensors, including one used aboard an airborne platform, were used, with various wavelengths and sensitivities in play. The sensors were those typically used in government and industrial applications, including common pollution detectors, natural gas leak detectors, and sensors used by the Army during wartime.

Each piece of detection equipment used in the experiment was successful at detecting the chemicals, says Tim. Some of the sensors detected at a near-real time six-second refresh rate, while others — such as the airborne sensor — required post-processing.

The next step in the project, says Tim, will be to develop “ground truth” calibrations that will allow USNORTHCOM to better understand whether detection systems can be a long-term solution for shutting down illicit drug manufacturing outside the US. “Ground truth” data is collected on location, which is important since it relates image data to genuine features and materials on the ground.

“It’s one thing to detect a cloud,” as Tim puts it, “but quite another to detect 26 parts-per-million of species x.” The collection of ground truth data enables calibration of remote-sensing data and aids in the interpretation and analysis of what is being sensed.

Once USNORTHCOM determines the ability of the detection system to be successfully deployed in a realistic situation, more Sandia experiments will likely occur. “We would then look at different chemical concentrations, different ingredients, and different recipes,” says Tim.

“This was an important first step,” he says. “It was definitely a success.” -- Mike Janes

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Sandia co-submitter on fifth R&D 100 Award; is winner for improved superconducting wire

By Neal Singer

 Short notice to press time led to an abbreviated mention in the July 16 Lab News of Sandia’s fifth R&D100 Award, a joint achievement of Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) of an improved superconducting wire manufacturing process.

The advance seeks to reduce production costs of superconducting wire while supporting significantly higher power densities. To do this, the crystalline structure of the superconductor must be aligned over long distances.

Four other awards won by Sandia were described at some length .

For the fifth award, the Sandia team of Cynthia Edney (1816), Jon Ihlefeld (1816), and Paul Clem (1815) developed the chemistry, process conditions, and optimization of a reel-to-reel method of Ångstrom-scale planarization coating, while LANL developed a scale-up method and subsequent processes for the ion-beam-deposited template and superconductor layers.

The winning submission, submitted by LANL and titled “Solution Deposition Planarization,” was “a team effort that relied on both labs’ strengths: Sandia’s Materials and Process Sciences Center 1800 and LANL’s Superconducting Technologies Center Research Park,” Paul says.

The SDP process prepares atomically smooth superconducting substrates by dip-coating rough metal tapes in a liquid precursor mixture and then annealing the coating to reduce roughness. The planarized coating then enables kilometer-length deposition of ion-beam textured templates and biaxially oriented superconductor films at high speeds and low production cost. The SDP process eliminates toxic waste and three expensive processing steps to achieve high-performance superconducting wires.

Two industrial partners are said to be implementing production of the low-cost superconducting wire, expected to make more efficient and compact large industrial electric motors, lighter and smaller megawatt-scale wind turbines, and long-length DC energy transmission lines with nearly zero energy loss. -- Neal Singer

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Explosive Destruction System completes major milestone at Pine Bluff Arsenal

By Patti Koning

In April, Sandia’s Explosive Destruction System (EDS) was used in the completion of a major milestone at the US Army’s Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas — destroying the largest inventory of recovered chemical warfare materiel to date, more than 1,200 munitions that included 450 German Traktor rockets.

With this milestone, the Army completed its mission to destroy all nonstockpile materiel declared when the United States entered into the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty mandating the destruction of chemical warfare agents and munitions.

Sandia’s Explosive Destruction System is designed to be transportable to remote locations to destroy aging munitions..

 “This goes far beyond the original purpose of EDS,” says Brent Haroldsen (8123). “EDS was created to destroy small numbers of chemical munitions at the recovery site. But because it is robust and flexible, it was the right tool for this job.”

Sandia designed EDS for the Army after construction workers in 1993 unearthed an explosively configured chemical munition in Spring Valley, an upscale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., that during World War I was a chemical weapons research site. The public location prevented the Army from destroying the munition by open detonation. An Army survey identified more than 100 possible sites for buried munitions across the country, indicating an even greater need for a safe and environmentally sound method to destroy munitions.

‘Basic high school chemistry’

The core of EDS is a leak-tight vessel in which munitions are placed. An explosive shaped charge opens the munition’s metal shell, exposing the chemical agent and burster, a small explosive that disperses the agent. The burster explodes or deflagrates safely inside the EDS vessel. A reagent is then pumped into the chamber to neutralize the chemical agent. The chamber is heated and turned to mix the chemicals and facilitate the reaction.

“It’s basic high school chemistry,” says John Didlake (8136). “Heat and mix.”

The entire process takes two days, as heating thousands of pounds of steel takes time. “EDS was never designed to be fast,” says Brent. “Pine Bluff was a shift in perspective.”

Army had planned to build a facility

The Army originally planned to build a fixed facility to dispose of the Pine Bluff nonstockpile arsenal, but the plan ran into technical problems because of the varied condition of nonstockpile munitions. “With stockpile weapons, you are dealing with an arsenal that is mostly uniform. They’ve been stored in reasonable condition, and you know what is inside,” says John. “Recovered munitions have been lying underground for 70 or 80 years, so they are in varying degrees of decay. Some munitions are encircled by tree roots, while others have been in the ocean and are covered with sea scum. Many of these munitions were experimental; however, each one is a special case and is not suited for a production-type facility.”

After considering different options, the Army proposed using two large EDS systems running simultaneously with a smaller system in reserve. First, however, Sandia had to increase the throughput of EDS to meet the Army’s requirement of destroying six rounds every two days. Originally, EDS was intended to treat one munition at a time, but with changes in the configuration of the shaped charges and fragment suppression system, the capacity was increased. Testing at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, England, in 2003 showed that the larger EDS could destroy three smaller munitions at once. Further explosive testing by the Explosive and Firing Systems group (5434) demonstrated that the larger EDS had the capacity for six munitions and the smaller EDS could handle three.

The biggest challenge at Pine Bluff was destroying approximately 450 German Traktor rockets containing a variety of different chemical agents that had been stored at the site for 60 or more years. Because they were foreign rounds, some of the chemical agents were different from what is found in US rounds. A particular challenge for the Army was developing a reagent for lewisite, an arsenic-based chemical agent.

The German Traktor rockets at Pine Bluff were in poor condition and the contents were not well-characterized. In the 1950s, after the Army had finished research on the German Traktor Rockets, an unsuccessful attempt was made to destroy them using the traditional method — placing the munitions in a pit with jet fuel and lighting them on fire.
 “German Traktor rockets have the propellant at the front and the warhead at the back, hence the name Traktor, because the propellant pulls rather than pushes,” John explains. “Consequently they did not behave as expected. Rockets were ejected from the pit and scattered around the site.”

Many were damaged and had to be placed in secondary containers. While the bursters on some of the munitions were destroyed, others still had complete or partial bursters, and in some cases the burster wells were filled with mud and debris, making it difficult to determine if there was a burster. “The amount of explosives determines the quantity of munitions that can be treated in each batch, so we were dealing with many different scenarios,” Brent says.

A special challenge

About 50 German Traktor rockets still had propellant in the motors. These rockets, which were the last to be processed, presented a special challenge.

“The Army’s original plan was to cut off the motors from the rockets and treat just the warheads in EDS,” explains Brent. “But as the time to begin processing them drew near, the base commander became concerned that the propellant could be contaminated with the chemical agent. He insisted that the motors be processed with the warheads.”

With both the propellant and the burster, those German Traktor rockets contained nearly 17 pounds of energetic material — more than three times the 4.8 pound approved rating of the EDS explosive containment vessel.

In September 2008, Sandia began an intense six-month program to demonstrate that EDS could safely destroy a German Traktor rocket with propellant. The first step was to demonstrate that a properly chosen shaped charge could open the rocket motor without causing the propellant to detonate. This was difficult because the propellant used in the German Traktor rockets is no longer available and the condition of the explosive after 60 years was not known. Sandia’s explosives engineers used their understanding of the physics and chemistry of propellants to select a suitable surrogate for testing that would be more sensitive than the actual propellant.

The next step was to demonstrate that even if the propellant detonated, the vessel would still contain the detonation. In Albuquerque, researchers performed destructive tests on the original EDS vessel using 15 pounds of TNT, the equivalent of more than 45 pounds in the larger EDS. The vessel deformed substantially, as was expected, but the test allowed the researchers to quantify the failure mechanisms. The test results were supported with extensive computer modeling.

Containing the explosion

Next, they took one of the larger EDS vessels out of service at Pine Bluff and tested it with the equivalent of a German Traktor rocket with full propellant, 17 pounds, and an overtest with 21 pounds of explosive. “The Army was willing to accept that the vessel could be damaged and no longer usable as long as it contained the worst-case explosion,” Brent says. “We demonstrated that the explosion would be contained and the EDS would be able to complete the operation. We also showed that the failure mechanism for the vessel is not catastrophic but a leak that would stay within the vapor containment structure. So there were three levels of defense.”

At Pine Bluff, the second and third levels of defense were never employed, as the EDS destroyed the last 57 German Traktor rockets without a single one detonating.

 “With large detonations, we were also concerned with protecting the vessel from high-velocity fragments,” says Brent. The traditional EDS fragment suppression system of two large steel half cylinders placed around the munition would not be sufficient.

Fortunately, Sandia researchers already were developing an improved fragment suppression system. “For each type of weapon, you needed a different fragment suppression system, so it became logistically difficult,” says Brent. “We were looking for something more universal.”

Double layer of steel rods

They came up with a new design consisting of a staggered double layer of steel rods lining the vessel walls that block any line of sight to the vessel walls. The rods are easier to fabricate and handle, and reusable, unlike the half cylinders that can only be used once, resulting in a solid waste reduction of up to 80 percent. The new design also protected the vessel from much larger

The timing of the advanced fragment suppression system was fortuitous for Pine Bluff. Without it, Brent says EDS never could have handled the challenge of the German Traktor rockets with propellant in the motor.

Since completion of operations at Pine Bluff, the EDS has returned to its original mission of destroying small amounts of munitions at sites such as Camp Sibert in Alabama and Spring Valley in Washington, D.C. Sandia is now developing ways to speed up the EDS. One idea is to inject steam into the vessel to accelerate the heating process. Another tactic would use a MicroChemLab-based device to continuously monitor the liquid inside the vessel, rather than taking a sample at the end of the operation and sending it to a lab for analysis.

 “We’re not really sure what the future holds, as Pine Bluff was the last large repository of nonstockpile munitions,” says Brent. “There are plenty of potential applications, like stockpile weapons with leakage issues or munitions sitting on the ocean floor in coastal waters. We don’t know how EDS would tie into these problems, but its flexibility makes it an obvious choice.” -- Patti Koning

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