By Tiffany Adams
Students at the University of New Mexico and North Carolina State University tackled real-world questions through senior design projects recently with assistance from INL employees. Aided by the coordinated help and expertise of university faculty and INL advisers, students examined specific questions affecting special-purpose and modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactors.
In the case of students at UNM, Carlo Parisi, a nuclear engineer and research and development scientist, served as the INL adviser for a small group of students enrolled in Cassiano de Oliveira's senior design class during the spring 2018 semester. The students in Parisi's group tackled the problem of designing a cask to safely transport a special-purpose reactor. SPRs are smaller than traditional reactors and can be deployed by truck, barge, rail or airplane to remote locations such as military bases or isolated villages. Once a reactor has been operational and is being prepared to be moved to a long-term storage site, it needs to be adequately shielded in order to protect workers and the public from radiation during transport.
Using an INL report detailing two conceptual designs of SPRs and Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines, UNM students used a Monte Carlo code base developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory to calculate the radiation that would be produced after five years of reactor operation. The students then used this measurement to determine the amount of shielding needed to adequately insulate the reactor.
Jonathan Paz, a student in Parisi's group, said the engineer's involvement in the project led to a "wonderful experience. Parisi treated us like we were colleagues, and we were expected to meet goals and produce deliverables," Paz said. "This was so much more rewarding and fun than working on just another homework assignment."
Students at NCSU tackled a different set of problems during the 2017-2018 school year. NCSU students investigated the potential for load following, or the adjustment of a reactor's energy output to match the varying daily energy demand, in a modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactor. Guided by Aaron Epiney, a physicist at INL, Kostadin Ivanov and Maria Avramova, both professors at NCSU, and Paolo Balestra, an NCSU postdoctoral research scholar, students used both RELAP5-3D and PHISICS software applications to determine the ability of a modular HTGR to load follow.
Epiney's involvement in the project was a bit broader than Parisi's, giving general advice based on his experience as a member of the team that built PHISICS and coupled it with RELAP5-3D.
"The students were very curious," Epiney said. "They asked, 'Can we investigate this?' or 'Does it make sense to run these kind of calculations?' I just made sure they didn't waste time. They were pretty free. They investigated the physics and tried to understand what was happening, then drew their conclusions."
For both student groups, the end result was a paper and presentation at the American Nuclear Society Student Conference in Gainesville, Florida, in early April.
NCSU students presenting at the ANS Student Conference in Gainesville
Although the students don't plan on continuing to research these questions after graduation, their experience will assist in their future professional ventures. "This project was valuable to our education because this process and set of constraints are not unlike those we will be expected to face in a professional environment," Paul Yang, a student at UNM, said. Keion Henry, an NCSU student, echoed Yang's sentiments, saying, "This taught me some valuable lessons on how reactors respond to certain scenarios and how various cases with various changed parameters must be run in order truly establish an examined relationship."
In addition, their efforts and findings will not go on unused, according to Parisi. "The next team could use the existing code input deck to improve the shielding design and begin to perform structural analyses in order to meet all NRC requirements for a safe shipping."
Overall, the collaboration was a benefit to both INL and the students. "It was definitely a positive experience," Parisi said.
By Misty Benjamin and Tabrie Cook
Leading the way in securing our nation's energy future, Idaho National Laboratory, together with the Idaho State Board of Education, is breaking ground on two new research facilities: the Cybercore Integration Center and the Collaborative Computing Center (C3).
On Wednesday, April 11, key stakeholders and elected officials celebrated the beginning of a strategic partnership to advance research and educational collaboration in Idaho.
"Supporting this collaboration is about much more than new facilities; we are investing in Idaho's future," Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter said. "The Lab is a major employer in its own right and has a global reputation that benefits many other Idaho businesses. But in addition to the INL's continuing economic importance, this partnership provides Idaho universities with an important edge in preparing tomorrow's world leaders in cybersecurity and nuclear energy research."
Cybercore Integration Center will host advanced electronics labs for industry, government and academia to work together to systematically engineer cyber and physical security innovations to protect the nation's most critical infrastructure, like the power grid.
The Collaborative Computing Center will provide a modern computing environment, hosting research collaborations and opportunities that would otherwise not be possible – a place where INL researchers, Idaho universities, and industry will explore computer modeling and simulation to develop new nuclear materials, advance nuclear energy concepts and conduct a broad span of scientific research.
"We are working with Idaho's universities to strengthen partnerships, for example, by tailoring internships for students seeking advanced degrees in nuclear engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science, chemical engineering and computer science," INL Director Mark Peters said. "Students are the talent of the future, and we want to invest in their success. By offering these career-enhancing opportunities, everyone wins."
Idaho State Board of Education will retain the economic benefit that will be created by the financing, construction, and operation of these facilities. This endeavor enables educational opportunities, globally significant research, and economic opportunity. Off-site computer users, such as students and faculty at Idaho's universities and colleges, will also have remote access to the high-performance computing systems in the Collaborative Computing Center through the Idaho Regional Optical Network (IRON).
"We are positioned for the future. This is an exceptional example of a public/private partnership working to advance the educational offerings across the entire state," said Dr. Linda Clark, president of the Idaho State Board of Education. "We are excited about the opportunities this provides for all of Idaho's institutions of higher learning."
By Tiffany Adams
Picture a single grain of sand. Now split that into 50 pieces. Something that small is difficult to imagine and impossible to see with the naked eye. But that fragment, roughly 10 microns or one one-hundredth of a millimeter, is the width of the sample Lingfeng He, an instrument scientist and senior research scientist at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), is analyzing in the hopes that it will aid in the advancement of generation IV molten salt reactors.
Molten salt reactors were developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in the 1950s; however, molten salt reactor research was not restarted nationally until the early 2000s. The microscopic sample He received from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Nuclear Reactor Laboratory is made of Hastelloy-N, a nickel-based alloy, also developed at ORNL in the midcentury. This material appears to be a good candidate for structural materials for the current prototype of molten salt reactors; however, little research has been done on the corrosion resistance of Hastelloy-N while in a reactor.
That's where He steps in.
Receiving the sample from MIT after it had been exposed to molten FLiBe salt for 1000 hours in the test reactor, He analyzed the sample using a transmission electron microscope (TEM) located in the Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory at INL's Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC). TEMs work by beaming electrons through a specimen to determine the material's structure and elemental makeup and thereby displaying how the material withstood exposure to extreme environments. Other TEMs with only a single energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy detector, the mechanism that collects the number of X-rays emitted from a specimen after electrons have been beamed through the sample, can take up to an hour to determine the elemental makeup of the material and don't always produce accurate results, He said. But MFC's TEM with four detectors delivers results in minutes. "The efficiency of this microscope is 10 times greater than others," He said. "You can measure for a lot of elements even if the concentration is very low."
In the upper left quadrant, molybdenum-rich precipitates are shown near the surface and at the grain boundaries of the sample. The other sections of the image display the concentrations of other elements such as nickel, chromium, iron and platinum.
More specifically for this initial research, He was looking at how grain boundaries affect the corrosion behavior of Hastelloy-N. A grain boundary is the interface between two grains or crystallites. If the grain boundary is weakened in structure materials, this could affect the material's performance, and therefore the safety, efficiency and life span of a reactor. By analyzing the chemical structure of the sample, researchers have a better idea of where weaknesses may arise and can determine solutions to prevent them. During his examination of the material, He was able to see microstructural changes that may degrade the efficacy of the material; however, more research is needed to determine if this affects the ability of Hastelloy-N to be used in molten salt reactors.
Because of this, He hopes this research is only the beginning. He, along with MIT collaborators Guiqiu Zheng and David Carpenter, plan to submit a proposal to continue this work at the INL Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF), enabling further analysis of the entire sample, which comes in at a whopping two millimeters wide.
Through a peer-reviewed proposal process, NSUF provides external research teams cost-free access to reactor, post-irradiation examination and beamline capabilities at INL and a diverse mix of affiliated partner institutions at universities, national laboratories and industry facilities located across the country.
By Nicole Stricker
In a world that's hungry for energy and showing no sign of slowing down, there is no industrial process more voracious than petrochemical manufacturing. Since the early 20th century, everything from gasoline and diesel fuel to plastics has been made by cracking complex hydrocarbon molecules found in oil, coal and natural gas with tremendous amounts of heat and pressure.
A team of Idaho National Laboratory researchers has now pioneered an electrochemical process that could eliminate the need for high-energy steam cracking. In an article published last week in the scientific journal Energy and Environmental Science, the researchers report they've hit upon a process for creating synthetic fuels and plastics that uses 65 percent less energy and produces up to 98 percent less carbon dioxide.
Ethane, a major component of natural gas liquids, offers a simpler hydrocarbon to refine than oil. Once ethane is converted to ethylene, it can be used to make polymers for everything from cellphone cases to disposable diapers.
This conversion can be done thermally, the same way as it is with oil, at temperatures of up to 850 C. But the new process involves feeding ethane to the anode in an electrochemical membrane reactor. Electricity separates protons (hydrogen ions) from the molecules, leaving ethylene, an unsaturated hydrocarbon. Meanwhile the protons migrate through a dense electrolyte to the cathode, where they combine with electrons to form hydrogen gas.
Laboratory-Directed Research and Development (LDRD) funding supported INL's initial research, which is now being conducted in conjunction with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Wyoming. The project is one of 24 being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The EERE Advanced Manufacturing Office announced Feb. 5 that the project would receive funding as part of $35 million awarded to 24 projects developing early-stage innovative technology for advanced manufacturing.
Several factors are driving the project, said INL researcher Dr. Dong Ding. First, the shale gas revolution has provided a plentiful supply of natural gas at historically low prices. Second, the declining cost of electricity makes electrochemical refining more economically feasible.
Theoretically, if the process was to be powered by a renewable source and the captured hydrogen was incorporated into fuel cells, there is net gain in process energy. From a CO2 standpoint, using a noncarbon source of electricity — nuclear, hydro, wind or solar — could cut the carbon footprint down to 2 percent of traditional production methods.
Next, the INL team will focus on how to convert methane into ethylene. Methane is also found in natural gas — more plentifully than ethane, in fact — but its carbon-hydrogen bond is much harder to break, Ding said.
Peer reviewers for the Energy & Environmental Science article called the work convincing, timely, original and highly interesting.
The Energy Department is announcing that The Ohio State has taken home first place in the final year of EcoCAR 3, an Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors Co. This is the fourth consecutive win for the Buckeyes.
To read the complete press release, visit the DOE website.
Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has been named a 2018 SC Award finalist by SC Media in recognition of exceptional information technology (IT) security. The two categories for which INL received recognition are Best IT Security-related Training Program and Best Security Team.
Selected by an expert panel of judges, the annual SC Awards are seen as the industry gold standard of accomplishment for cybersecurity professionals, products and services.
"INL's cybersecurity team and training program focuses on people, processes and technology," said INL Chief Information Officer Robert Hillier. "We differentiate ourselves by effectively utilizing multiple channels and platforms to secure our networks and train our employees on safe cyber practices."
Team members realize that as threats evolve, they must continue to develop and manage an inclusive approach to protecting the organization's data. Because the team has actively branded itself through proactive problem-solving, INL employees value them as a trusted resource, rather than an enforcement arm. Key to this success is evolving the team's ability to be agile as they implement processes and controls, while remaining user friendly and whenever possible, invisible to end users.
Periodic cybersecurity training, disaster recovery planning and incident response exercises are key components to the lab's success in the awareness and management of security risks. Incident response planning includes INL end users, management and IT professionals, and extends to other national laboratories and the Department of Energy.
"Helping organizations manage risk in ways which are cost-effective, user friendly, and mission enabling takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Ensuring the nation's lead nuclear energy laboratory can continue forward safely is no easy task," said INL Deputy Chief Information Officer Darren Van Booven. "In a field where this hard work is often underappreciated, it is very rewarding to see the team be recognized with such high honors."
To view the complete list of winners and finalists, click here.
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