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INL National University Consortium

1. Headline
By Corey Taule
History is rife with stories about unexpected opportunities:

Teddy Roosevelt’s reformation presidency came about after an anarchist assassinated President William McKinley.

Lou Gehrig’s 2,130 game streak resulted from a poor start to the season by the New York Yankees and the benching of first baseman Wally Pipp.

And the Indiana Jones movies would have looked far different had Tom Selleck, the first choice, accepted the lead role.

Though their ascensions could be considered accidental, Roosevelt, Gehrig and Harrison Ford were prepared when their moment arrived. They were the right men, in the right place, at the right time. As H. Jackson Brown Jr. wrote, “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”

INL’s Dr. David Petti has spent nearly 40 years on the dance floor.

Petti’s notable career began with an internship at INEL in 1980. Today, he finds himself at the center of the nuclear energy world – as the executive director on a high-profile Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study: “The Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World.”

Petti earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. from MIT. Following a long career at Idaho National Laboratory, opportunity arrived unexpectedly. Petti returned to his alma mater two years ago on a joint appointment, splitting his time between INL and MIT so he could lead the report.

The MIT report

In 2003, MIT, led by Ernest Moniz, who would later become U.S. Secretary of Energy under President Obama, released “The Future of Nuclear Power.” It was the first of MIT’s renowned “Future of” studies aimed at addressing complex issues involving energy and the environment.

Future MIT studies addressed geothermal energy (2006), coal (2007), an update on nuclear power (2009), natural gas (2011), the nuclear fuel cycle (2011), the electric grid (2011), and solar energy (2015).

Petti became involved in MIT’s ninth study after one of the original co-chairs died and another was promoted. When MIT’s Energy Initiative looked around, it discovered the right man, in the right place, at the right time.

MIT released the report this month and Petti and his colleagues will discuss their findings at events in London, Paris, Brussels and Washington, D.C.  An event in Tokyo will follow on Oct. 9.

In the nuclear energy world, this is a big deal.

“I can’t overstate the importance of the MIT reports in advancing the dialogue on nuclear energy,” said INL Director Mark Peters, who served as one of seven reviewers of the study. “INL is proud to have been a part of the process that resulted in this study, and we’re also very proud of Dave Petti’s work and distinguished career.”

Past, present, future

Thirty-eight years ago, INL was INEL, Mount St. Helens erupted, CNN launched, John Lennon was murdered, the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice,” the Reagan era was soon to begin, and Dave Petti began what would become his life’s work.

Petti interned at INL for several summers before joining full time in 1986, embarking upon a professional journey that would see him become expert in many aspects of nuclear energy research and development, and leave him well prepared for his unexpected assignment at MIT.

Petti studied severe accidents, focusing on Three Mile Island not long after it took place, gas reactors, fusion safety and nuclear fuel. He was co-National Technical Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Program.

It all added up to Petti becoming one of the few people to begin their careers at INL as an intern and earn the status of INL Laboratory Fellow.

“He is a very big figure in all this,” said John Wagner, Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear Science and Technology. “Think about his contributions, what a force he’s been. He’s one of those guys, when he talks, people stop and listen.”

Like everyone involved in nuclear energy, Petti has experienced highs and lows –  the inevitable recession lurking behind the anticipated renaissance.

The MIT study, and the work involved in making it possible, offered Petti an opportunity to impact the future, address issues impeding an expansion of low-carbon nuclear energy, and offer recommendations to policymakers and industry.

The bottom line, Petti said, is the need for greater awareness that demand for energy will increase an estimated 40 percent by 2050, and the only way to meet it and reduce carbon emissions is to build thousands of advanced nuclear reactors around the world.

“To decarbonize, we’re going to need a lot of reactors,” Petti said. “One of the big reasons to do nuclear is decarbonization.”

Petti said recent bankruptcies and shuttering of nuclear power plant projects in Georgia and South Carolina caused the MIT group to focus even more on cost, and deliver recommendations centered upon reducing them.

Those include two of potential interest to INL: establishment of reactor sites “where companies can deploy prototype reactors for testing and operations orientated to regulatory licensing;” and establishment of funding programs “around prototype testing and commercial deployment of advanced reactor designs …”

One of the most enlightening aspects of the study looked at decarbonization models, and the belief that the world can meet future energy demands and carbon-reduction goals using a combination of solar, wind and battery storage.

Petti and his colleagues looked at models centered in Texas and New England, factoring in anticipated weather conditions for an entire year.

What did they find? “The answer is ‘maybe,”’ Petti said about the wind, solar and storage question, “but the cost would be astronomical. Bring nuclear into the mix and the costs go down.”

Petti said he is proud of the nearly 300-page document he and his team produced, and hopes it will inspire serious discussions at statehouses around the country and on Capitol Hill.

“I see it as a capstone,” Petti said. “What an opportunity to effect the nuclear debate on the international level.”
9/30/2018October 2018
2. Research
By Kortny Rolston-Duce
On September 18 at 5:05 p.m., the Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) pulsed for a few seconds, subjecting a small capsule of light water reactor fuel to radiation and heat. The test marked the return of a capability that is critical to the United States’ role in the development of nuclear fuels, for both the existing fleet and a new generation of advanced reactors under design.

“Restoring this capability in the U.S. keeps our nation in a leading role to develop advanced nuclear fuels and reactor technologies,” said INL Laboratory Director Mark Peters. “Because of that, INL’s TREAT facility will once again enable systems that serve the U.S. economy, environment and national security.”
While other transient test reactors exist in other countries, the United States had been without the capability since 1994, when TREAT was placed on operational standby. Many of the nuclear fuel types currently used in reactors operating in the United States and around the world were tested in TREAT.

The goal of transient testing of nuclear fuels is similar to high-impact car crash testing, which has helped the automobile industry make crucial advancements in safety technologies. Exposing fuels to extreme conditions in TREAT helps the nuclear industry develop more resilient and longer lasting fuels.

The experiment performed today is part of a series that will culminate in testing of new fuels being developed by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy’s Accident Tolerant Fuels (ATF) program for use in light water reactors.

Data gathered from the experiment will be compared to tests previously conducted at TREAT and other historic research facilities to verify modern experiment protocols and demonstrate performance of instrumentation. This experiment commissioned TREAT’s fuel safety research capabilities and paved the way for upcoming tests over the next few weeks in which fuel samples will be exposed to increasing energy levels ramping up to sample melting point.

Finally, today’s experiment will enable an enhanced understanding and lay the foundation for the next ATF experimental campaign in 2019 that will focus on water-environment testing.

TREAT came back online in November when the reactor went critical at low power. INL workers have been making final preparation for the first fuel experiment in the months since.

“We weren’t going to claim TREAT restart success until we ran the first experiment,” said INL’s Dan Wachs, who serves as DOE’s national technical lead for fuel safety research.

INL is one of the U.S. DOE’s national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.
9/30/2018October 2018
2. Research
​By Nicole Stricker
Industrial hydrogen is closer to being produced more efficiently, thanks to findings outlined in a new paper published by Idaho National Laboratory researchers. In the paper, Dr. Dong Ding and his colleagues detailed advances in the production of hydrogen, which is used in oil refining, petrochemical manufacturing and as an eco-friendly fuel for transportation.

The researchers demonstrated high-performance electrochemical hydrogen production at a lower temperature than had been possible before. This was due to a key advance: a ceramic steam electrode that self-assembles from a woven mat.

“We invented a 3D self-assembled steam electrode which can be scalable,” said Ding. “The ultrahigh porosity and the 3D structure can make the mass/charge transfer much better, so the performance was better.”

In a paper published by the journal Advanced Science (DOI: 10.1002/advs.201800360), the researchers reported on the design, fabrication and characterization of highly efficient proton-conducting solid oxide electrolysis cells (P-SOECs) with a novel 3D self-assembled steam electrode. The cells operated below 600o C. They produced hydrogen at a high sustained rate continuously for days during testing.

Hydrogen is an eco-friendly fuel in part because when it burns, the result is water. However, there are no convenient suitable natural sources for pure hydrogen. Today, hydrogen is obtained by steam reforming (or “cracking”) hydrocarbons, such as natural gas. This process, though, requires fossil fuels and creates carbon byproducts, which makes it less suited for sustainable production.

Steam electrolysis, by contrast, needs only water and electricity to split water molecules, thereby generating hydrogen and oxygen. The electricity can come from any source, including wind, solar, nuclear and other emission-free sources. Being able to do electrolysis efficiently at as low a temperature as possible minimizes the energy needed.

A P-SOEC has a porous steam electrode, a hydrogen electrode and a proton-conducting electrolyte. When voltage is applied, steam travels through the porous steam electrode and turns into oxygen and hydrogen at the electrolyte boundary. Due to differing charges, the two gases separate and are collected at their respective electrodes.

So, the construction of the porous steam electrode is critical, which is why the researchers used an innovative way to make it. They started with a woven textile template, put it into a precursor solution containing elements they wanted to use, and then fired it to remove the fabric and leave behind the ceramic. The result was a ceramic version of the original textile.

They put the ceramic textile in the electrode and noticed that in operation, bridging occurred between strands. This should improve both mass and charge transfer and the stability of the electrode, according to Dr. Wei Wu, the primary contributor to this work.

The electrode and the use of proton conduction enabled high hydrogen production below 600o C. That is cooler by hundreds of degrees than is the case with conventional high-temperature steam electrolysis methods. The lower temperature makes the hydrogen production process more durable, and also requires fewer costly, heat-resistant materials in the electrolysis cell.

Although hydrogen is already used to power vehicles, for energy storage and as portable energy, this approach could offer a more efficient alternative for high-volume production.

Idaho National Laboratory is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.
9/30/2018October 2018
4. University Highlight
From cooking to phonons, Jackson Harter found his new passion studying materials.

​By Tiffany Adams

The passion Jackson Harter has for his research is evident within minutes of talking to him. However, Harter's entry into the world of research was unconventional.

Originally working in the culinary industry, including teaching at the Western Culinary Institute for two years, Harter began his undergraduate degree at 25 at Oregon State University (OSU). Although he knew going to school would be better for his health (Harter has Type 1 diabetes and had difficulty managing his health while working long hours in the kitchen), the transition from working in kitchens to learning in a classroom was not always smooth. "I had a particularly hard time the first two years of undergrad," Harter said. "I think I retook three classes."

Now almost nine years later, Harter finished the third year of his nuclear engineering Ph.D. at OSU and is an intern in the Reactor Physics Design and Analysis group at Idaho National Laboratory. As part of his doctoral research, Harter is adapting Rattlesnake, a neutron transport code, to simulate phonon behavior. As Harter explains it, phonons are "a collection of quantum acoustic waves in crystalline solids," analogous to sound waves, and are the dominant carriers of energy in solid, insulating materials. By simulating phonon transport, researchers can use these models to predict temperature gradients and thermal conductivity in oxide nuclear fuels, and characterize phonon scattering in and around defects generated during fission.

"Phonon transport is a very difficult phenomenon to model correctly, and there are many different approaches to doing so," Harter said. One of the most popular methods is Monte Carlo. Although Monte Carlo provides reliable solutions, it is generally prohibitively slow to use. Using Rattlesnake with the alterations Harter has made, researchers are able to get results for similar problems that match very closely with Monte Carlo solutions, but do so in a fraction of the time. "The advantage to our approach is that we maintain a high degree of accuracy, while increasing efficiency," Harter said.

The application of this research is wide and varied. From the processors in cellphones to the fuel in light water reactors, understanding how phonons behave in materials is key to continuing to improve efficiency and strength of materials. In addition to his work at INL and with OSU, Harter also works with the Computational Materials Group at the University of California, Riverside, led by assistant professor Alex Greaney. This research group provides material property data that Harter then uses to improve and refine his code. In turn, Harter supports their work by performing phonon transport simulations of new thermoelectric materials they are investigating to be used in the radioisotope thermal generators that power deep space probes such as the Mars Curiosity rover.

Although quite different from coding or theory development, Harter values the lessons he learned during his time working in restaurants and teaching culinary school. From people skills to his strong work ethic, Harter thinks a lot of what he learned is particularly applicable to his current life as a doctorate student. "Sometimes in our research you follow a rabbit down a hole for two or three months, and then it turns out there wasn't a rabbit in the first place," Harter said. "Working in the culinary industry, as well as having a chronic illness, both helped me to develop an attitude of not giving up."

While he still enjoys cooking for family and friends, Harter transitioned his enthusiasm for food to nuclear energy. "It turns out I'm even more passionate about nuclear engineering," Harter said
9/30/2018October 2018
4. University Highlight
​By Julie Ulrich

University Partnerships and INL’s Glenn T. Seaborg Institute are excited to announce Dr. Yi Xie (pronounced first name “E” like the letter and last name “say”) as INL’s inaugural Glenn T. Seaborg Distinguished Postdoctoral Associate. She will conduct research at INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Benson.

Candidates selected for this competitively awarded position are outstanding early career scientists who have experience and interest in solid state chemistry, nuclear physics, solution chemistry, materials science, radiation chemistry and other related fields applied to actinides.

Xie earned her doctorate in nuclear engineering at the Ohio State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering at University of Science and Technology China. Prior to joining INL, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

INL established the Glenn T. Seaborg Distinguished Postdoctoral Appointment to develop early career researchers and support the advancement of actinide chemistry and physics – a fundamental part of the laboratory’s mission. Actinides are the periodic table elements with atomic numbers 89-103. Seaborg’s research on lanthanides and actinides (also known as f-block elements) has had a huge impact on modern society. He is known as the father of the modern Periodic Table of Elements for his recommendation to place elements 89-103 in a series below lanthanides. Seaborg discovered several new elements, including atomic number 106, seaborgium, which bears his name.

INL’s Glenn T. Seaborg Institute (GTSI) is the newest of the four GTSIs in the Department of Energy Complex. “We’re excited to welcome Dr. Xie as the first Seaborg Distinguished postdoc,” said Dr. Terry Todd, director of INL’s GTSI. “Her insight into the fundamentals of stress corrosion in nuclear fuels will provide great value to the laboratory and will advance the science of fuel design.” Learn more about GTSI at

INL is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.
9/30/2018October 2018
6. Administrative
From Nuclear Science and Technology Associate Laboratory Director, John Wagner:

I am pleased to announce that after an extensive evaluation of internal and external candidates, Dr. Hans Gougar, has been selected to lead the Nuclear Systems Design & Analysis (NSDA) division, effective Oct. 1. In this role, Hans will coordinate closely with the director of the newly formed Advanced Scientific Computing division to advance our computational capabilities for nuclear systems design and analysis.

Hans brings more than 20 years of experience in reactor safety analysis, reactor physics, core design and fuel management to his new role. He will continue to serve in his current role as national technical director of the Gas-Cooled Rector Campaign for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. Hans holds doctorate and master’s degrees in nuclear engineering from Pennsylvania State University.

With Hans’ leadership and the current abundance of programmatic opportunities, I am very optimistic about the future of the NSDA division. Please join me in welcoming and supporting Hans in this new role.

Finally, I’d like to express my gratitude to Dr. Monica Regalbuto for adeptly serving as acting director for the past several months.
9/30/2018October 2018
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