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Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have received four R&D 100 awards, colloquially referred to as the “Oscars of Innovation.” An additional four projects were named finalists.
“The R&D 100 awards recognize some of the most game-changing breakthroughs that have the potential to change how science is done and that make a lasting impact on our everyday lives,” said Megan Clifford, Argonne associate laboratory director for science and technology partnerships and outreach.
Argonne has a decades-long history of winning R&D 100 awards, including more than 140 winners since the competition began in 1963. Past winners also include Fortune 500 companies, DOE national laboratories, academic institutions and smaller companies.
The winning Argonne technologies were:
Flash-X, a Multiphysics Simulation Software (Principal investigator: Anshu Dubey)
Simulating the complex physics in systems ranging from supernovas to the insides of liquid cooling systems requires high-quality, precise software. Flash-X is unique in that it can be adapted to a wide range of scientific domains for physics simulations. Flash-X extends a previous widely used software called FLASH to the newest generation of supercomputers, ensuring that scientific discovery can be pursued on widely different computer hardware platforms. Flash-X, an open source software, can also be used for educational purposes in multiple disciplines.
The research for Flash-X was funded by the Exascale Computing Project of DOE’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research.
The Battery Performance and Cost (BatPac) Model v. 5.0 (Principal Investigator: Shabbir Ahmed)
As the market for electric vehicle batteries is rapidly expanding, significant investment in research and development is happening throughout industry to produce cost-competitive, high-performing battery packs for electric vehicles. Due to the diversity of companies in the battery industry, there is a need for a common platform to understand and discuss the techno-economics of battery pack design.
BatPaC is a freely available modeling tool, built within the Microsoft Excel platform, that designs battery packs for electric vehicles. The tool employs a bottom-up calculation, in which the size, mass and cost of a battery pack is determined from inputs related to the battery chemistry, vehicle type, pack configuration and manufacturing specifications. The tool can simultaneously solve for up to seven pack designs.
BatPaC provides the ability to study how changes in one or multiple component(s) impact the total size, mass and cost of the pack. For example, the battery cell is the fundamental building block of the battery pack. BatPaC is used to study how changes in the cell impact the total pack design. This is particularly useful when comparing cells with different properties and costs from different manufacturers.
Funding for BatPaC comes from the Vehicle Technologies Office in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The researchers thank Brian Cunningham, Samuel Gillard and David Howell.
Health Analysis and Research for Public Events Tool (HARPE) (Principal Investigators: Nate Evans and Stephanie Jenkins)
HARPE is a tool that helps organizations that plan commercial events assess and improve safety, security and emergency management for public events and mass gatherings. HARPE examines physical security, cybersecurity and public health so leaders can focus on the most impactful areas related to safety and security.
HARPE captures a complete picture of the shifting safety and security landscape specific to the commercial facilities sector. In today’s landscape, it takes all three safety and security parameters — physical security, cybersecurity and public health — to host a truly safe and secure event. HARPE focuses on commercial facilities to improve the security and resiliency of these critical sites.
In the context of the pandemic, HARPE evaluates the evolving threat, while maintaining a strong focus on the traditional physical security and cybersecurity at venues and events.
HARPE provides an individual assessment with which to analyze a facility’s capabilities related to risks, vulnerabilities and the effectiveness of emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. In densely populated areas that house multiple venues, HARPE would also be an ideal way to uncover any inter-venue dependencies or optimize emergency response. HARPE can also catalyze the collaboration and information sharing efforts for public events and mass gatherings; it allows users to share best practices and creates a venue for discussion.
Funding for HARPE comes from DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions.
PGM-free OER Catalyst as Replacement of Iridium for PEM Water Electrolyzer (Principal Investigator: Di-Jia Liu)
Hydrogen produced from renewable energy for fuel could play a significant role in combatting the climate crisis. Critical in the low-temperature production of hydrogen is the Oxygen Evolution Reaction (OER) used in the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen.
The typical low-temperature hydrogen production process by electrolysis uses a Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) water electrolyzer. Hydrogen is produced by combining protons and electrons at the cathode, while water is oxidized to form oxygen through the OER at the anode. A catalyst promotes the OER.
Argonne’s innovative catalyst for this reaction is based on cobalt oxide with a highly porous nanofibrous structure. It can potentially replace the costly Platinum Group Metal (PGM), iridium, now in use as the catalyst. The scarcity of iridium adds significant cost to the PEM water electrolyzer. Argonne’s breakthrough catalyst is projected to cost about 2,000 times less than the commercial iridium-based catalyst. By reducing the cost barrier to water electrolysis, the technology would promote the widespread production of “green hydrogen.”
The work was funded by the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
The other finalists for R&D 100 awards were:
Advanced Graphene-Based Lubricants for High-Temperature Metal Stamping (Principal Investigator: Ani Sumant)
Argonne’s advanced graphene-based lubricants help enable the state-of-the-art in high-temperature metal stamping. They are the only solid lubricants that can cost-effectively reduce friction at the high temperatures required to shape the thin-gauge high-strength metals mandated by passenger vehicle safety regulations for vehicle production.
They provide not only the lowest coefficients of friction but also the highest thermal conductivities available. This combination is essential to maintaining uniform temperatures across die surfaces. It maximizes productivity by minimizing the formation of tears, wrinkles and paper-thin regions due to thinning in defectively formed auto parts.
The lubricants have also been shown to produce a 10,000-fold reduction in metal mold wear, thus adding more cost savings. Due to the nanoscale nature of the lubricants, they are the only lubricants that can be completely removed with ease after the forming process so that formed auto parts may be immediately coated. They are the only lubricants that have been optimized for high-temperature metal stamping in the auto industry.
Funding for the research came from the Vehicle Technologies Office of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Catalytic Upcycling of Plastic Films to High-Performance Lubricants (Principal Investigator: Max Delferro)
Plastic is ubiquitous — and amassing in landfills and our oceans as very little is recycled, particularly from polyethylene and polypropylene items. Argonne researchers have recovered the high energy that holds polymers together by catalytically and selectively converting single-use plastic items into value-added commercial products, including waxes, lubricants, detergents and cosmetics.
The Argonne catalytic technology converts polyethylene and polypropylene plastic waste into higher-value chemical intermediates for re-introduction into the decarbonized economy. The process where existing materials and products are shared, leased, reused, repaired, refurbished and recycled as long as possible before disposal is referred to as a circular economy. The researchers were able to achieve high selectivity for the desired end products, with minimal production of light gases such as methane. The final product acts as a high-performance lubricant that can replace traditional petrochemical lubricants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the petrochemicals industry.
The catalyst at the center of the technology consists of platinum nanoparticles (NPs) — each NP a mere two nanometers in diameter. These NPs are deposited onto perovskite nanocuboids with edges about 100 nm long. The team chose perovskite because it is very stable under the demanding temperatures and pressures required for catalysis. It has also proven to be an exceptionally good material for energy conversion.
Funding for the research came from DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences, the REUSE program of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and the Advanced Manufacturing Office and Bioenergy Technologies Office of the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Cardinal: Scalable High-Order Multi-Physics Simulation (Principal Investigator: April Novak)
Scientists and engineers rely on simulation to predict the behavior of nuclear reactors under a variety of design conditions. Often, experiments are too expensive to carry out or are incompatible with fast-turnaround design cycles. Science modeling and simulation is particularly important to the advancement of novel nuclear reactor designs and can enable critical insight for making better design decisions to increase efficiency and safety.
Cardinal is an open-source simulation software package that delivers highly accurate solutions for a wide range of applications in nuclear energy sciences. Cardinal features state-of-the-art, scalable algorithms for achieving multiphysics solutions with neutron transport, fluid flow, heat transfer and material behavior on platforms ranging from laptops to extreme-scale computers. The physical phenomena that can be simulated with Cardinal range from neutron interactions with matter on the atomic scale to the whole-system response of nuclear reactors coupled to electric grids on the kilometer scale.
Funding for Cardinal was provided by DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.
Argonne X-Ray Perimeter Array Detector (XPAD) / Thermo Scientific Ultra X EDX Solution (Principal Investigator: Nestor Zaluzec)
Recognized as the world’s most sensitive detector by Guinness World Records in January 2022, as well as the recipient of the Microscopy Today 2022 Innovation Award, the XPAD / Ultra X is a new design and geometry of an X-ray energy dispersive spectrometer, or silicon X-ray detector system, for the analytical Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).
This detector system, installed on Argonne’s PicoProbe instrument, has more than 2.5 times the collection efficiency of the next best commercial detectors available for the analytical TEM. This advance facilitates a higher sensitivity measurement of the elemental composition of specimens at the sub-nanometer scale, with more than a 250% improvement compared to previous technologies and nearly a seven-fold improvement over the existing technologies currently in use at Argonne. It gives scientists the opportunity to probe the elemental composition of samples in smaller and smaller volumes in less time and with higher sensitivity. XPAD facilitates elemental composition determination for elements from beryllium through uranium.
The funding for XPAD was provided by a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between Argonne and ThermoFisher as well as Laboratory Directed Research and Development funds.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.