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[Sandia Lab News]

Vol. 56, No. 10           May 14, 2004
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

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Labs selected as virtual Center of Excellence for metal hydride-based hydrogen storage Secretary Abraham helps launch new JCEL facility

Labs selected as virtual Center of Excellence for metal hydride-based hydrogen storage

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By Mike Janes

The Department of Energy has selected Sandia to lead a virtual Center of Excellence for the development of reversible metal hydrides materials. A key objective will be to develop a class of materials capable of storing hydrogen safely and economically aboard a vehicle that can run for at least 300 miles before refueling.

The virtual center consists of eight universities, four other national laboratories, and three industrial companies, with Sandia serving as laboratory lead and coordinator of research and development. It will undertake $30 million of research and development over the next five years.

Sandia takes the lead

Sandia's winning proposal is in response to a "Grand Challenge" issued by the DOE last year. The center will be established at Sandia's California site in October. Jim Wang, Manager of Analytical Materials Science Dept. 8773, will serve as director.

The study of a promising class of hydrides, complex metal hydrides, is a key stepping stone in clearing the hydrogen storage riddle, says

Jay Keller, Manager of Hydrogen and Combustion Technology Dept. 8367. Currently, no material exists that can be used to construct a fuel tank

to safely and efficiently store hydrogen fuel.

Hydrides are metallic alloys that absorb and then release hydrogen. These operate at pressures and temperatures close to ambient conditions, making them highly promising for future on-board hydrogen storage systems.

The laboratory's 40 years of hydrogen science and engineering expertise leave the group well positioned to lead the research effort, says Jim.

"Achieving or exceeding"

"Our approach will be to focus on achieving or exceeding the DOE's hydrogen storage targets through novel materials development, supported by our strengths in fundamental and applied materials science," says Jim.

"Our plan is to coordinate, support, stimulate, and focus complementary expertise in chemistry, materials sciences, modeling, and synthesis and characterization with other national lab partners, universities, and industries to achieve the DOE's hydrogen storage goals."

The FreedomCAR initiative, announced by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in 2001, seeks to promote the use of hydrogen as a primary fuel. The effort targets initial hydrogen storage in a vehicle to accommodate roughly a 300-mile driving range per fill-up.

"No material provides that yet," says Jim. "Our research for the past few years has been on the leading edge of hydride development," however, and has identified the class of material that appears to come the closest to that goal.

Hydrogen's advantages over fossil fuels include its lack of polluting emissions and the fact that it can be produced anywhere from renewable energy resources, such as solar electricity or biomass. Proponents of an energy economy that emphasizes hydrogen point to the potential to improve urban air quality, decrease greenhouse gases (released by burning fossil fuels), and gain independence from foreign oil.

Meanwhile, Sandia researchers in the Labs' Combustion Research Facility (CRF) in California have also been building on Sandia's long-standing strengths in the study of metal-hydrogen interactions and engine studies to explore hydrogen use for electrical production by stationary power sources -- turbines in particular.

CRF researchers are also involved in the International Energy Agency's efforts to create next-generation models for turbines that can burn hydrogen. The CRF is also seeking funding to demonstrate use of hydrogen fuel, with its near-zero emissions of smog-producing oxides of nitrogen, in an internal combustion engine.

Although one of the biggest impacts of switching to hydrogen from fossil fuel will be seen in transportation, its use in stationary power generation will also help to develop an infrastructure for its distribution and use.

The virtual center, says Jim, will bring together scientists and institutions with strong and focused capabilities in several research areas.

Partnering with Sandia are: Brookhaven National Laboratory, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology; the University of Hawaii, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Nevada-Reno, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, University of Utah, California Institute of Technology, and Stanford University; and General Electric Company-Global Research, HRL Laboratories, and Intematix.

-- Will Keener

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Secretary Abraham helps launch new JCEL facility

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By Bill Murphy

DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham joined members of the Sandia Corp. Board of Directors, senior Labs management, and other Sandians on April 28 to officially mark the opening of the new Joint

Computational Engineering Lab building (Lab News, April 30).

JCEL, as it is called, will house some 175 researchers and support staff in its 60,000-plus square feet of space. The $30.8 million JCEL facility was funded by DOE/NNSA's Advanced Simulation and Computing program and represents an integral part of the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) project.

In prepared remarks before a standing-room-only audience of Sandians, Abraham said the new facility is emblematic of DOE's commitment to keep the nuclear weapons complex infrastructure at the cutting edge of technology.

JCEL, Abraham said, represents a significant upgrade, consolidation, and enlargement of Sandia's computational capabilities, which is extremely important in DOE/NNSA's stockpile stewardship mission.

Abraham said that when the current administration assumed office in 2001, "The President and I agreed that modernizing [the nuclear weapons complex infrastructure] was urgent. . . . Three years and $1.8 billion worth of investment later, we are rapidly achieving that."

In another area, Abraham took a moment to acknowledge Sandia Board member James Schlesinger, who was in the audience, noting that Schlesinger served as the first secretary of DOE in the 1970s.

Abraham also congratulated Sandia on its selection as a research "Center of Excellence" in the administration's national hydrogen initiative (see "Labs selected as virtual Center of Excellence" on page 1), the goal of which is to begin the transformation to a hydrogen-based economy (as opposed to the current fossil-fuel based economy).

Sandia, he noted, will work "on probably the most challenging issue in hydrogen vehicle viability," the ability to store enough hydrogen to be able to provide a vehicle with a 300-mile range that American drivers demand.

Abraham expressed his confidence that Sandia and its research partners will "use their tremendous creative skills to solve this problem."

Labs Director C. Paul Robinson, preceding Abraham at the speaker's podium, said, "My key word for the day is 'connections.'"

JCEL, he said, will facilitate and enable connections among the best minds in the nuclear weapons SMU, across the Labs, and at other sites within the weapons complex. The facility also will provide new levels of connection with industrial and university research partners.

Paul also lauded the new JCEL facility -- both in its construction process and in its subsequent use as a laboratory -- for its "green" qualities, taking special note of the building's designed-in indoor environmental air quality.

Senior VP Tom Hunter, master of ceremonies for the JCEL dedication, thanked DOE, the NNSA, and the Sandia Site Office for their on-going support of the JCEL project and for the larger MESA project to which it is integrally linked. He thanked Congress, and especially the New Mexico congressional delegation, for their commitment to MESA and JCEL.

"This [facility] is one more tangible piece of a vision" of how the Labs will move into the future, Tom said. In JCEL, he said, "the engineer of today will get a glimpse of the engineer of the future."

Abraham extended his "heartfelt thanks and good luck" to the Sandians who brought JCEL to fruition and extended that appreciation to all Sandians -- and colleagues in Los Alamos -- when he said, "New Mexico may have been the 47th state to join the union, but in many ways you are first in helping secure the nation's freedom. . . . The research you do has a direct and dramatic impact . . . providing hands-on benefits in the real world."

Abraham, who noted at the beginning of his remarks that the sound of aircraft overhead during the dedication ceremony always reminded him of the adage "the sound of freedom," concluded on a similar theme: "That freedom is well-protected because of what you do every day." -- Bill Murphy

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