Energy and Transportation Science Division

News and Events


News Archive

This news insert contains our monthly activities for the current year. Please visit our ETSD News and Events Archive for old topics


March 2012

Final report on intermediate ethanol blends study published

ORNL published a final report on the Intermediate Blends Catalyst Durability Study in February. The two-year program, led by ETSD researchers from the Fuels, Engines, and Emissions Research Center, involved driving 82 vehicles over 6,000,000 miles with periodic emissions tests to evaluate the effects of ethanol blends (E10, E15, and E20) on emissions control system durability. The program was closely monitored by DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency, and industry and garnered the attention of the Congress, the Secretary of Energy, and the EPA Administrator.

Statistical analysis of the data showed that aging vehicles produced increased emissions. However, aging vehicles fueled by ethanol blends showed no differential effect over those fueled by ethanol-free gasoline.  Immediate effects of ethanol were consistent with prior studies; addition of ethanol to certification gasoline decreased carbon monoxide, non-methane hydrocarbons, and fuel economy, while increasing nitrogen oxides, ethanol, and aldehyde emissions.

The study results were the basis of the recent EPA rulings on the Growth Energy E15 waiver.  EPA described the study as unprecedented in size and scope when they cited the E0 and E15 data in granting partial approval of the Growth Energy waiver, allowing E15 use in 2001 and newer light-duty vehicles. The analysis in the published report additionally addresses the emissions impacts of E20; intermediate blends (E15 and E20) were not found to contribute to more rapid emissions control system degradation as compared to ethanol-free gasoline. Use of intermediate ethanol blends would allow ethanol to make a more substantial contribution to Energy Independence and Security Act compliance through the non-flex fuel vehicle legacy fleet.

New patents issued in power electronics
Three new technologies developed by ETSD researchers with the Power Electronics and Electrical Power Systems Research Center were recently issued patents.  Congratulations to the following for their innovations:

  • John Hsu, Permanent-Magnet-Less Machine Having an Enclosed Air Gap"
    As the cost of rare earth permanent magnet (PM) material has skyrocketed, automakers are looking for less expensive motor technologies. This motor concept offers the potential for motor performance similar to designs using rare earth PMs, yet uses no PM material.

  • Gui-jia Su, "Power Conversion Apparatus and Method"
    Electric vehicles on the road today use a voltage source inverter (VSI).  The VSI has several drawbacks that limit its ability to provide a low cost inverter option.  The Current Source Inverter (CSI) offers the ability to combine the boost converter and the inverter into one unit and the ability to reduce the size of the capacitor by 90%.  This results in the CSI offering significant cost savings.
  • Madhu Chinthavali, "Gas Cooled Tractin Drive Inverter"
    Ultimately all waste heat is rejected to air.  However in today’s designs an intermediate liquid loop is used to remove heat from the inverter and then reject it to the ambient air. The air-cooled inverter design is compact, light-weight, and offers excellent performance.

Liu praised by UT chancellor

Yilu Liu In a recent article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek credited Energy and Trans­portation Science Division’s Yilu Liu for UT’s selection as a National Engineering Research Center. An electrical engineer specializing in smart-grid technologies in electri­cal power production and distribu­tion, Liu is the UT-ORNL Gover­nor’s Chair for power electronics. Her work focuses on developing new and better ways to monitor and understand the flow of electrical energy through the nation’s power grid.












February 2012

Results shared on compatibility of elastomers, plastics with higher ethanol fuel blends

Energy and Transportation Science Division’s Mike Kass and Tim Theiss recently presented a Webinar lecture on the results of ORNL-led studies evaluating the compatibility of fueling infrastructure materials to test fuels representing aggressive formulations of ethanol-blended gasoline, ranging from 10 to 85 percent ethanol. Hosted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and advertised by the Petroleum Equipment Institute, the presentation was well received with more than 70 participants representing fueling dispenser, component, and materials manufacturers, and interested government agencies.

During the Webinar, participants learned that the intermediate levels of ethanol (10 to 17 percent) produced the highest volume swell for the majority of the elastomers. Fluid permeation decreased dramatically with higher ethanol concentration. For several specimens, exposure to 85 percent aggressive ethanol did not produce noticeable swelling though it was enough to extract plasticizers and cause embrittlement. In contrast, the majority of plastic materials were not as dramatically impacted with exposure to the test fuels, but a few did exhibit noteworthy changes. For instance, a nylon specimen shrank by 8 percent after drying, and the vinyl ester and polyester resins swelled to over 20 percent with exposure to blends containing 25 percent ethanol.

“The information may play a critical role in designing new infrastructure systems to handle intermediate levels of ethanol-blended gasoline,” said Mike, adding, “The data will also help to advance the development of adequate retrofit kits for the existing infrastructure, which will enable higher levels of ethanol to be sold.”

ORNL research efforts are in collaboration with National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Underwriters Laboratories, supporting the Intermediate Ethanol Blends Program funded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Biomass and Vehicle Technologies Programs. In addition to Mike and Tim, ORNL researchers who participated in the materials compatibility studies include Materials Science and Technology Division’s Steve Pawel and Chris Janke.

large stainless steel tank  

During Compatibility testing, materials specimens were exposed to the test fluid(s) in a large stainless steel tank with stainless steel hardware (stir chamber), then subjected to multiple tests after fluid exposure.



ORNL, partners earn FLC honor for cookstove technology


ORNL, Envirofit International and Colorado State University have won a Federal Laboratory Consortium award for excellence in technology transfer for a clean-burning cookstove designed for the developing world.

An ORNL-led team including researchers from the Energy and Transportation Science Division identified a family of low-cost iron-based alloys with the potential to meet Envirofit's design targets. ORNL also assisted Envirofit in specifying alloy compositional tolerances needed to achieve durability targets without significantly increasing alloy cost.

To date, more than 150,000 Envirofit G-3300 stoves have been sold in the developing world. These stoves reduce smoke and harmful gases by up to 80 percent, reduce fuel use by up to 60 percent and reduce cooking time by up to 50 percent compared to traditional cooking fires and stoves. The core technology developed for the G-3300 has now been integrated across six models of wood and charcoal stoves.

January 2012

Miller named SAE Fellow


Energy and Transportation Science Division’s John M. Miller, with the Power Electronics and Electrical Power Systems Research Center, has attained the presti­gious distinction of Fellow from the Soci­ety of Automobile Engineers. Fellowship status is the highest grade of membership bestowed by SAE International. It recog­nizes outstanding engineering and sci­entific accomplishments by an individual that have resulted in meaningful advances in automotive, aerospace, and commer­cial-vehicle technology.

Defusing black carbon's role in Arctic warming

Black carbon is a powerful con­tributor to Arctic warming and the arduous target of a new ORNL research project aimed at reducing emissions in Russia and bordering regions.


In many areas of Russia, aging inefficient heating systems release black carbon into the atmosphere.

Produced through incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, black carbon could de­liver significant damage to the climate over a brief period of time. Compared to the same mass of carbon dioxide, it remains in the atmosphere 30 days versus 100 years and generates heat while absorbing approximately 1000 times more infrared light. Black car­bon particles that land on snowpack also absorb infrared light, which can cause ice melting.

“Because black carbon is power­ful yet short-lived, reducing emissions could almost immediately mitigate climate changes,” said Energy and Transportation Science Division’s John Storey. Over the next two years, John and ETSD’s Teresa Barone, Environ­mental Sciences Division’s Meng-Dawn Cheng, and the University of Tennes­see’s Joshua Fu will be researching black carbon sources emissions, tracking, and opportunities to improve technologies, including inefficient Soviet-era district heating systems that warm many Rus­sian homes and worksites. As of 2008, approximately 40,000 municipalities in Russia had such heating systems that were in need of repair.

“We will use available pollution data and ORNL modeling tools to map the sources and establish an inventory that also includes estimated emissions and the combustion and emissions control technologies currently used,” said John. With the information, the researchers will identify a subset of sources and locations for demonstrating emissions reduction technologies, such as state-of-the-art combined heat and power systems.

Demonstration sites will depend on both the site’s degree of opportunity to reduce emissions and the level of government and public/ private party willingness and financial support. To ensure that lessons learned throughout the project activities are disseminated broadly in Russia and surrounding countries, outreach and education will be critical and will in­clude the development of a global net­work of experts. Through the network, John explained, experts will be able to share best practices for identifying black carbon sources, developing or enhancing inventories, and identifying the appropriate technology to mitigate the sources. A workshop in January 2012 is being planned for networking and exchange of technical information.

ORNL efforts represent one-third of a larger Global Superior Energy Per­formance Partnership project support­ed by the State Department that also involves the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Forest Service. Representing GSEP’s Com­bined Heating & Power and Efficient District Heating & Cooling Working Group, ORNL researchers will coordi­nate with EPA and USFS efforts related to other key black carbon sources—diesel en­gines and forest/agricultural burning.

Launched in 2010 by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, GSEP was established to reduce global energy use by encouraging industrial facilities and commercial buildings to pursue continuous improvements in energy efficiency, and promoting public-private partnerships for cooperation on specific technologies or in indi­vidual energy intensive sectors. Governments participating in GSEP include Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Finland, France, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Af­rica, Sweden, and the United States.

ORNL expands capabilities on NTRC campus

A second building on the National Transportation Research Center campus is opening its doors to innovation and partnership growth in several technology areas.


Located inside the new NTRC-2, TRAVL provides staff and users the ability to showcase ORNL-developed modeling and simulation tools. TRAVL is managed by the Center for Transportation Analysis.

Advanced transportation and manufacturing research facilities are quickly filling 30,000 square feet of laboratory space inside the new NTRC-2, while drawing industry’s atten­tion and commitment to participate in research activities.

“The addition of NTRC-2 reflects the success of ear­lier strategies,” said Associate Laboratory Director Mar­tin Keller, Energy and Environmental Sciences Director­ate. “We’ve learned that co-locating ORNL capabilities creates synergies that have benefitted and continue to benefit the transportation sector and will now support the advancement of other manufacturing industries.”

Since 2000, about half of ORNL transportation re­search has been conducted at NTRC by the Energy and Transportation Science Division’s Fuels, Engines, and Emissions Research Center, Advanced Power Electronics and Electric Machines Research Group, and Center for Transportation Analysis; and the Global Nuclear Security Division’s Packaging Research Facility. Many of these help constitute the NTRC User Program.

This past summer, the Transportation Analysis and Visualization Laboratory (TRAVL) became the first new capability to go live inside NTRC-2. TRAVL is a state-of-the-art, 32-seat facility designed to showcase ORNL-developed transportation energy modeling and simula­tion tools. Managed by ETSD’s Center for Transportation Analysis, TRAVL features a 15x high-definition LCD Video Wall that accommodates simultaneous display of up to 40 high-definition sources. With processing power for multi-HD 3D graphics, the system facilitates researchers’ requirements for the most advanced real-time simulation modeling collaborations and sharing of science-based applications. The entire system, including room lighting and audio, operates via a custom touch-controlled iPad application.

Supporting revitalization of the nation’s manufactur­ing industries and the development of new products in emerging industries, NTRC-2’s advanced manufacturing laboratories concentrate on materials and processing innovations in energy storage, additive manufactur­ing, and advanced robotics. Measurement Science and Systems Engineering Division staff are leading robotics efforts focused on fluid-powered systems, from large multi-ton material handling equipment to very small biomedical devices. Additive manufacturing capabili­ties led by Materials Science and Technology Division researchers are helping redefine how robotic systems are designed and manufactured.

Both groups are working together with several addi­tive manufacturing companies to develop next-genera­tion additive manufacturing systems, consumables, and application concepts.

New battery cell manufacturing R&D facilities with a dual dry room operation, staffed by MSTD and ETSD, complement ORNL’s existing energy storage concentra­tion on materials testing and characterization. Housing equipment for nondestructive evaluations and inline quality control, the lab’s focus includes developing and refining new technologies for materials processing and battery assembly to in­novate manufacturing procedures.

Scheduled to be operational by late spring 2012, the Vehicle Systems Integration laboratory will capitalize on ORNL’s exist­ing core vehicle research com­petencies to enable fully-inte­grated, system-level research of advanced combustion, electric drivetrain, controls, and fuel technologies within applicable emissions con­straints. Equipped for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty powertrain architectures, the VSI lab will help deepen understanding of advanced transportation technolo­gies operating under real-world conditions to reveal vehicle efficiency and emissions improvement oppor­tunities. VSI will be managed by ETSD.

With the addition of advanced manufacturing research teams, approximately 220 ORNL employees representing the EES, Physical Sciences, Nuclear Sci­ence and Engineering, and Computing and Computational Sciences Directorates are based at the NTRC campus, located just off Hardin Valley Road in the Pellissippi Corporate Center.

Detecting energy savings hiding in plain sight

Sensor technology for wirelessly gathering basic information in commercial buildings is clearing a path to significant energy savings.

Sponsored by DOE’s Building Technologies Program, ORNL and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers have developed and demonstrated the feasibility of a low-cost wireless sensor system that can quickly notify building owners of problems or opportunities to optimize building energy use.


ETSD’s Nasr Alkadi beside an ORNL-deployed wireless sensor module in the Alcoa manufacturing plant.

"The system has the potential to overcome two problems,” said Measurement Science and Systems Engineering Division’s Peter Fuhr, “the high cost of diagnosing building energy losses and equipment inefficiencies, and the tendency to do nothing until absolutely necessary.” Today, Peter explained, commissioning, retro-commissioning, and continuous commissioning are common building maintenance strategies. Each can be very expensive, especially if maintenance is neglected until something breaks.

To speed detection of energy saving opportunities, researchers created a portable “suitcase” of technologies containing ORNL wireless sensors developed under the DOE Industrial Technologies Program for harsh industrial environments. At about a tenth of the cost of current commercial offerings, the wireless sensors measure parameters such as temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, lighting level, and power. The suitcase also contains network communication architecture and a laptop interface that is easily deployable in commercial buildings at a fraction of the cost of other building energy management systems.

In June 2011, ORNL deployed the suitcase at the Alcoa Warrick, Indiana, aluminum production facility. Conducting tests over a three day period, the team successfully demonstrated the feasibility of the low-cost wireless system for building energy management.

According to Alcoa’s Ray Chatfield, Alcoa World Alumina Global Energy Management, “These inexpensive DOE-ORNL sensors were up and operational within 30 minutes. We were taking energy-related measurements on the other side of the plant in an electrical substation then relaying the readings across the plant within an hour. This demonstration shows that wireless sensors for energy measurements can be inexpensive, quick to deploy, and work in tough environments.”

June 2010

Brian West receives award at the Vehicle Technologies Program Annual Merit Review

Brian West was recognized and presented with an award at the Vehicle Technologies Program Annual Merit Review in recognition of his outstanding leadership in assessing the impact of higher ethanol blends on the U.S. legacy vehicle fleet and all gasoline engines.  In the presentation of the award, DOE praised Brian for exceeding all expectations in his management of this high-profile project and for maintaining such a positive attitude after repeated requests for changes in program scope and timing.  Many of these changes were at the request of the Secretary of the Department of Energy.  In addition, the presenter recognized that without the strong leadership of Brian that it is unlikely that this project be completed in such a timely manner with the data available for a fuel waiver decision on E15.

Brian is the principal investigator for this program and has worked closely with DOE, industry, EPA, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to oversee and provide technical direction to this activity.  The initial report from this study serves as the primary data source for DOE and EPA, and has been cited in a formal request to the EPA for waiver of provisions of the Clean Air Act.  In this role, he has delivered numerous invited presentations on the potential impact of higher levels of ethanol fuel on the legacy fleet.  This activity is critical to the nation's goals for sustainable energy as without increasing the allowable ethanol content in fuel, ethanol production will exceed utilization capability and prevent compliance with goals established by the Energy and Independence Security Act of 2007.

January 2010

A Very Comfortable, Energy-Efficient Home--How You Can Make It Happen

Sustainability Seminars

The Sustainable Campus Initiative seminar series will provide you with information to help you move to sustainability at work, at home, and in your community.

Click on the links below to see the videos or slides of each seminar.

  • Jeff Christian: A Very Comfortable, Energy-Efficient Home--How You Can Make It Happen (January 14, 2010)

August 2009

Tolbert publication gets best paper award

The Power Electronics Society and IEEE Power Electronics Society Awards Committee has named the paper, "Multilevel DC-DC Power Conversion System with Multiple DC Sources," winner of the 2009 IEEE Power Electronics Society Transaction Prize Paper Award. Authors include the Energy & Transportation Science Division's Leon Tolbert and former ORNL researcher Fang Zheng Peng.

July 2009

PEEEMRC -- Toyota Manufacturing Plant visits

On July 29 Laura Marlino, Mitch Olszewski, and Keith Kahl visited the Toyota manufacturing plant in Georgetown, KY and were given a detailed tour of the Camry line.  A reciprocal visit will occur September 1 when power electronics and electric motors specialists from Toyota facilities in Japan and Ann Arbor, MI will visit the Power Electronics and Electrical Machines Research Center (PEEMRC) to familiarize themselves with ORNL’s work in the PEEM area.

ORNL Researchers win eight R&D 100 Awards

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., July 20, 2008 -- Researchers and engineers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have won eight R&D 100 Awards, which are presented each year by R&D Magazine in recognition of the year's most significant technological innovations.

“The Department of Energy's national laboratories are incubators of innovation, and I'm proud they are being recognized once again for their remarkable work,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The cutting-edge research and development being done in our national labs is vital to maintaining America’s competitive edge, increasing our nation’s energy security, and protecting our environment.  I want to thank this year's winners for their work and congratulate them on this award.”

Bringing the total number of awards to 148, ORNL has won more R&D awards than any other DOE laboratory. 

“These awards exemplify the talent and dedication of our scientists and engineers,” said ORNL Director Thom Mason. “They build on a strong tradition of translating our science into applications that impact national priorities such as energy, security and economic competitiveness.” 

This year, researchers from ORNL received recognition for the following inventions:

Alumina-forming austenitic, dubbed AFA, stainless steels, invented and submitted by a team led by Michael Brady of ORNL’s Material Science and Technology Division.

AFA stainless steels boast an increased upper-temperature oxidation, or corrosion, limit that is 100 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit higher than that of conventional stainless steels. These new alloys deliver this superior oxidation resistance with high-temperature strengths approaching that of far more expensive nickel-based alloys without sacrificing the typical lower cost, formability and weldability of conventional stainless steels. These new alloys have applications ranging from gas turbines and power plants to chemical and petrochemical processing equipment.

Funding for this research was provided by the Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy Advanced Research Materials Program and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The Artificial Retina Project, jointly submitted by Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, USC (Doheny Eye Institute), California Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and Second Sight® Medical Products.

The artificial retina, a bio-electronic implant, enables patients with a severe form of retinal degeneration that causes blindness, the ability to recognize objects and navigate their environment. With the aid of the most current 60-pixel implant, patients can distinguish between light and dark. In order to be able to read large print and recognize faces, the implant must feature 1,000 pixels.

Funding for this project was provided through the Department of Energy’s Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with Second Sight Medical Products.

Fire-resistive phase change material, developed and submitted jointly by Jan Kosny of the Energy and Transportation Science Division of ORNL, Tim Riazzi of Microtek Laboratories and Doug Leurthold of Advanced Fiber Technology.

This first-ever organic fire-resistive material when incorporated into conventional insulation can improve the heating and cooling efficiency in buildings. The new materials, composed of fatty-acid esters from sustainable plant and animal fats and blended with cellulose insulation, are the first phase change materials to fulfill all requirements in the U.S. flammability tests. The PCM adds thermal mass to buildings, thus generating heating and cooling energy savings of up to 25 percent in residential buildings. Temperature fluctuations are absorbed by the PCM-enhanced insulation and transferred to the environment later, resulting in energy savings.

Funding for this project was provided by Department of Energy’s Building Envelope and Windows R&D programs within the Office of Building Technology.

Mass-Independent Kinetic-Energy-Reducing Inlet System for Mass Spectrometers, developed and submitted by Peter Reilly of ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division.

This technology permits high-resolution mass analysis of large, intact biological molecules without having to break them apart. With this spectrometer, the large biomolecular ions are captured in a trapping field while air is pumped away. Conventional spectrometers pump most of the ions away with the air, making them less sensitive. This mass spectrometer delivers much higher resolution in the high mass range compared to conventional spectrometers. For specific use in the medical field, the mass spectrometer can be developed to rapidly image a tumor and define the boundaries so the tumor can be most effectively treated.

Funding for this project was provided through the Partnership Directorate’s maturation funds program.

MELCOT: Methodology for Estimating the Life of Power Line Conductor-Connector Systems Operating at High Temperatures, invented by Jy-An John Wang of ORNL Materials Science and Technology Division, Edgar Lara-Curzio of the Materials Science and Technology Division, Thomas King Jr. of the Energy Efficiency and Electricity Technologies Program and submitted by John Chan of the Electric Power Research Institute, Joe Graziano of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Tip Goodwin III of PBS&J.

This technology predicts the service life of conductor-connector systems. The splices connecting the conductor lines are literally the weak links in power transmission systems. With this new method of investigating performance and integrity of the power line systems, researchers can develop more durable and reliable systems for the electric power grid. Power grid operators can maintain power flow and prevent potential grid failures, and effectively reroute power distribution during emergency or natural disasters.

Funding for this research was provided by Electric Power Research Institute, Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and ORNL.

PulseForge 3100, jointly submitted by Stan Farnsworth of NovaCentrix and a team led by Chad Duty of ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division.

The PulseForge 3100 uses rapid pulses of light for high-speed drying, curing, sintering or annealing high temperature materials on plastic and paper, enabling inexpensive and flexible electronics. With the PulseForge 3100, high intensity flashlamps briefly heat inks and films to controlled high temperatures. The PulseForge and Pulse Thermal Processing systems provide a thousand-fold increase in the energy flux that is available to the surface of the processed part – cutting processing times to fractions of a second.

Funding for this development was provided through the Industrial Technology Program within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Superconducting “Wires” by Epitaxial Growth on SSIFFS, invented and submitted by Amit Goyal of ORNL’s Materials Science and Technology Division.

Superconducting wires are flexible, single-crystal, high-temperature cables that enable high-performance advantages for electric power grid applications. These cables are different because they are round, rather than flat like conventional wires, which lowers heat loss and eliminates energy loss, making longer transmission lengths possible. Superconducting wires can carry five times more power than copper cables and are capable of long-distance power transmission, interconnecting entire continents and providing local energy storage.  For a specific device or design, wires can be bundled into larger dimension wires of any shape.

Funding for this project was provided by Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

Thermomagnetic processing technology, developed and jointly submitted by Gerard Ludtka of ORNL, Aquil Ahmed of Eaton, Aashish Chourey of American Magnetics and Ronald Akers of Ajax TOCCO Magnethermic.

Thermomagnetic processing technology could revolutionize the U.S. heat-treating industry with reduced energy and processing costs. This technology enhances materials performance with an 85 percent higher stretch capability strength, enabling lighter weight designs. Thermomagnetic processing technology uses superconducting magnets to cut down on energy use in the typical heat treat processing. High magnetic fields processing reduces residual stress (post-heat treating stress) and eliminates material phases, thus eliminating specialized thermal processing steps.

Funding for this research was provided by Department of Energy’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program, DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Industrial Technology Program, Toyota, Eaton, AMI and Ajax-TOCCO.