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December 2010

Research finds ultrasonics reduce precipitates

Biodiesel Magazine
by Erin Voegele
Posted December 8, 2010

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have discovered that treating biodiesel with a high-intensity dose of ultrasonic energy can remove and prevent the formation of precipitates. The project, led by Michael Kass, a researcher in ORNL’s Energy and Transportation Science Division, could help overcome one of the primary problems associated with the use of biodiesel in cold climates.

The project was funded internally by ORNL through $20,000 in seed money. Although the project included small-scale preliminary work, Kass said the results have been very intriguing.

Precipitates form in biodiesel when the temperature of the fuel drops to near the cloud point. Although they are not visible, Kass said that those precipitates remain in the fuel even when its temperature increased. In other words, they do not reabsorb into solution. “There are still there,” Kass said. “They cause issues with filter plugging and other concerns.”

Robert McCormick, a principal engineer with Golden, Colo.-based National Renewable Energy Lab, provided Kass and his team with a paper that summarized the latest work on precipitates. The resulting experimentation revolved around ultrasonically treating soy-based biodiesel samples to determine the effect on precipitates.

“It’s a very simple experiment,” Kass said, noting that it addressed both preventative precipitate treatment and rehabilitative precipitate treatment. Untreated biodiesel was placed in a beaker and treated with an ultrasonic probe. The sample was then tested under ASTM D6162 to measure filtration time. The results of the initial treated sample showed improvement over the untreated sample. The sample was then spiked with precursors to precipitate formation and refrigerated to drop the temperature. A portion of the sample was then treated with the ultrasonic probe. The study found improved filtration test times with the treated sample. In fact, Kass said the amount of precipitates dropped to nearly the same level as the initial sample.

Since ultrasonic treatment results in localized heating, the researchers also did a control experiment where a biodiesel sample was heated to the same temperature, but without ultrasonic treatment. “When you just heated it up, it did not improve the filtration time,” Kass said.

“We know that ultrasound can create localized heating at an interfacial boundary, and if an interfacial boundary exists between the precipitate and the bulk fluid, that would be a point of localized heating, and we thought if we have localized heating, then perhaps we can get that stuff to go back into solution without having to heat the whole sample up, potentially to high temperatures,” Kass said.

Although the research did not address the potential impact of ultrasonic treatment on cloud point, Kass said that, in theory, it should. “The other advantage is that if you can [heat the molecules] locally, you can also theoretically keep if from oxidizing as well,” he continued.

ORNL has filed a patent on the process. While Kass and his team are not currently working to further research into the process, he said that he thinks it would be good for someone to take the research to the next level.

Additional members of the team include ORNL researchers Maggie Connaster and Samuel Lewis.

ORNL scientists using magents to recharge electric cars

Video: Scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab are applying basics of magnets and electricity to help recharge electric vehicles.

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab are applying basics of magnets and electricity helping to recharge electric vehicles.

Inductive Power Transfer Stations created at ORNL use electricity to create a magnetic field. "That magnetic field when it's sitting with proximity to another wire will induce the reverse. The magnetic field will actually induce a current in the other wire and you can use that current to now flow into the battery charger," said Deputy Director for the Power Electronics and Electrical Power Systems Research Center at ORNL Laura Marlino.

The concept uses off the shelf components and a standard household power source. If the magnets were mounted to the bottom of your car, you could park over the charging pad in a parking lot. "Our demonstration unit here is mounted vertically, ultimately it would be laying flat on the floor, explained ORNL researcher Matt Scudiere.

Today electric cars have to be plugged into a charger, but the electric vehicle industry is looking to implement the magnetic chargers soon.

Scientists hope that one day you would be able to re-charge an electric car by just merging into a charging lane. "This represents the next step in that technology to enable wireless charging. Throwing a mat down in the floor of your garage, driving your car over it, your plug in hybrid or your EV, electric vehicle, and wirelessly charging it. So in the morning you get up, you're ready to go," said Marlino.

Scientist at ORNL are helping with a project at the Detroit Airport to charge shuttle busses.

November 2010

Building Envelopes Research Group assists in turning a 50-year old building into an Energy Efficient Facility

MIDLAND, MICHIGAN — November 2, 2010 — Dow Building Solutions, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have taken the first step toward tackling one of the biggest environmental concerns – the amount of energy consumed by the 4.8 million commercial buildings in the U.S.,1 many of which were built before today’s energy efficiency standards. Dow, ORNL, and design-build firm, Paramount Metal Systems, have turned a 50-year-old building at ORNL into a state-of-the art, energy efficient research facility. Initial test results show a 75 percent reduction in heat flow, resulting in a projected 75-80 percent monthly savings in energy costs.

ORNL selected the facility as a test site to demonstrate that retrofitting older buildings is a viable, cost-effective option to achieve an immediate reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings account for 43 percent of the United States’ carbon emissions2 and, according to a recent McKinsey study, insulation is one of the most cost-effective means of reducing energy consumption and the generation of greenhouse gases.3 According to the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Challenge, improving the energy efficiency of U.S. commercial and industrial buildings by 10 percent would reduce greenhouse gases equal to the emissions from about 30 million vehicles.4

“The annual "utility bill" for commercial buildings is $155 billion.5 If you consider the number of buildings in the U.S. that were built before today’s energy efficiency standards, you can see there is a tremendous need as well as a tremendous market opportunity,” said Doug Todd, market manager, commercial construction, Dow Building Solutions, North America. “Dow’s commitment to sustainability, combined with our exceptional building science expertise and proven products, makes us a natural part of the solution.”

Unusual Design, Rigorous Standards
Built in the 1960’s, the ORNL research facility’s unusual design – metal construction with a sloped roof attached to a masonry building with a flat, modified bitumen roof – made the retrofit a challenge. But this is also what made it a perfect model – it addressed many of the challenges that a design-build firm may encounter when retrofitting an older building.

ORNL’s objectives for this ambitious retrofit were to increase the building’s sustainability and energy efficiency and make it suitable for sensitive ongoing research, to participate in its own Sustainable Campus Initiative, and to establish long-term energy efficiency testing of the retrofit itself.

“ORNL established very stringent performance energy efficiency targets, hired a seasoned retrofit consultant and design-build firm, and took a solutions-oriented, science-based approach, rigorously analyzing every product before choosing Dow Building Solutions as the insulation provider and technical collaborator for this challenging project. We look forward to the long-term performance measurement results,” explained Todd.

Before selecting Paramount Metal Systems as the design-build firm for the retrofit, André Desjarlais, group leader for Building Envelopes Research, ORNL, established the minimum R-values requirements, moisture migration targets, and an overall goal of exceeding current code requirements of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). One of the challenges Paramount and ORNL faced was there weren’t any physical, provable metal building retrofit projects that they could test for retrofitting performance. “As a result, a highly-skilled team was commissioned to design a demonstrable project used to display the measurable benefits of various cool roofing technologies and framing systems,” said David Dodge, president of Paramount Metal Systems. “ORNL wanted a high-quality retrofit job with proven solutions. We selected Dow Building Solutions based on its quality products and building science experience and know-how.”

The complete building envelope retrofit relies on THERMAX™ Insulation, FROTH-PAK™ Foam Insulation kit and GREAT STUFF™ PRO Insulating Foam Sealant from Dow to help exceed design targets. “This project demonstrates Dow’s ability to respond to the growing retrofit market by applying today’s insulation solutions and technologies to existing buildings, bringing them up to or even beyond current codes, and providing a return on investment through energy savings year after year,” Todd noted.

“Every product selected for the retrofit project was carefully researched and chosen based on performance,” said Desjarlais. “The result is a building that looks brand new, exceeds ASHRAE energy efficiency code, and provides a consistent, comfortable working environment for the people conducting research inside. As we continue to monitor thermal performance over the years, we believe this retrofit will serve as a standard against which to measure other retrofits.”

About Dow Building Solutions

Dow Building Solutions has a 60+ year legacy of providing energy saving solutions to the global commercial and residential construction industry, which began with the launch of its flagship STYROFOAM™ Brand Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) Foam Insulation, one of the most recognized brands of insulation in the world. A market-facing business unit of The Dow Chemical Company, Dow Building Solutions offers exceptional building science expertise to help builders, designers, architects and home/building owners reduce energy costs and protect against wind, rain and moisture, while contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. More information about Dow Building Solutions can be found at

About The Dow Chemical Company
Dow combines the power of science and technology with the “Human Element” to passionately innovate what is essential to human progress. The Company connects chemistry and innovation with the principles of sustainability to help address many of the world’s most challenging problems such as the need for clean water, renewable energy generation and conservation, and increasing agricultural productivity. Dow’s diversified industry-leading portfolio of specialty chemical, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics businesses delivers a broad range of technology-based products and solutions to customers in approximately 160 countries and in high growth sectors such as electronics, water, energy, coatings and agriculture. In 2009, Dow had annual sales of $45 billion and employed approximately 52,000 people worldwide. The Company’s more than 5,000 products are manufactured at 214 sites in 37 countries across the globe. References to "Dow" or the "Company" mean The Dow Chemical Company and its consolidated subsidiaries unless otherwise expressly noted. More information about Dow can be found at

About The Building Envelope Research Group
The Building Envelope Research Group of Oak Ridge National Laboratory is devoted to developing affordable envelope technologies that improve the energy efficiency, durability, and environmental sustainability of residential and commercial buildings. The research addresses: systems (walls, roofs and foundations), components (sheathings, membranes, and coatings), materials, and the fundamentals of heat, air, and moisture transfer.

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Power Electronics and Electrical Power Systems Research Center discusses Wireless Charging

A new concept for charging electric vehicles could deliver power without the plug-in - be it to a car parked in a home garage or driving full-speed down the interstate.

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are taking the idea of wireless charging to a whole new level, with the development of a system that magnetically couples an electric source with a car battery, potentially eliminating the need for a cord to recharge a bevy of new electric-powered vehicles expected to hit the highways over the next few years.

The idea has been several years in the making, and engineers now have a proof of concept, said Mitch Olszewski, director of power electronics and electrical power systems research at ORNL's National Transportation Research Center.

"What (behavior studies) find is people most apt to plug their vehicles in make it part of a routine," he said. "People that don't have that kind of a routine, they're less likely to plug it in." In fact, Olszewski cited one study of utility workers revealing that 90 percent forgot to recharge their vehicles altogether.

Although other research groups are working on the problem, Olszewski and Matthew Scudiere, a retired researcher at the NTRC who came up with the idea and is leading its development for ORNL on a contract basis, said their technology offers an efficient charge - 90 percent or more, depending on how far the battery sits from the charging station. That's as efficient as plugging the car directly into an outlet - without requiring cumbersome add-on technology for the car or too much precision on the part of the driver.

Using a large sandwich of copper coils, a simulated car battery and a string of lights for demonstration purposes, Scudiere showed how the charging system works. Outfitted with antennas that emit an electromagnetic wave, the transmitter and receiver magnetically connect to transfer electricity from source to battery. The antennae do not have to be directly atop one another, working at nearly optimum efficiency even if they range a foot or more apart.

As the product develops, it will be incorporated into a mat connected to a power source that a vehicle could simply park on during charging stops, Scudiere said.

"The big selling point is, number one, it will make opportunity charging easier," Olszewski said, by eliminating the need for a driver to unload a cord from his car and physically plug in, either at home or at a charging station. "All you have to do is park in a parking spot."

Because the components are simple and readily available, it will be inexpensive to reproduce, he said. Electric car owners typically pay about $3,000 to run a 220-volt line to their garage, and the two don't expect the technology to add to that price tag.

In the next year, the researchers will work on the vehicle side of the technology, hopefully to the point of demonstrating it on a couple of ORNL electric cars.

Longer-term, they said, the device has the potential to electrify highway systems, allowing continuous charging along a roadway. Initially, the technology would likely be adopted by bus systems or shuttle companies whose vehicles travel along fixed routes, Olszewski said. Ultimately, the technology could be embedded in an interstate, giving vehicles a charge as they scoot down the road - even charging the owner's credit card or bank account along the way.

Larisa Brass is a regular contributor to the News Sentinel.

© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.

ORNL is ready with ORNLReady

ORNLReady team members, from left to right: Dave Milan, Patricia Hu, Jimmy Stone, Ho-Ling Hwang, Ron Smith, Sherri Cotter, Rick Goeltz, Jan-Mou Li, Daniel Wilson, Jim Johnson. Not pictured: Shih-Miao Chin.

ORNLReady, a Web-based, data-driven interactive computer tool, won a DOE-sponsored award for being the most useful and transferable emergency management training product in 2010.

But in an actual emergency, ORNLReady could be a lifesaver.

ORNLReady was developed jointly by the Energy & Engineering Sciences and Facilities & Operations directorates. It combines state-of-the-art information integration and an intuitive interface that helps the Laboratory shift superintendent, the Emergency Operations Center and other ORNL operations be just that: ready during any type of event that could endanger Oak Ridge Complex facilities, employees or the inhabitants of five surrounding counties.

"It is a tool that will help prevent emergencies, assist in the rapid mitigation of those that do occur, and assist in the early implementation of personnel protective actions," says Ron Smith, director of the Laboratory Protection Division.

ORNLReady uses real-time and stored data to visualize a virtual world. It includes detailed maps of all ORNL and nearby facilities, employee populations, locations of hazardous material, weather tracking and more—everything needed to help crisis managers visualize and quantify potential consequences of events and make informed, safety-based decisions. The realbeauty is that it's all integrated into a single portal.

Project Manager Patricia Hu of the EES directorate's Energy and Transportation Science Division, said this vision for ORNLReady started when F&O Deputy Director Jimmy Stone saw a similar product that her team had developed for the Department of Homeland Security. "He wanted a similar tool for ORNL's emergency management," Patricia says. "The EES Directorate's involvement also tied in with F&O Director Herb Debban's vision to leverage the research capabilities at the Lab to keep F&O systems cost efficient and state of the art."

LSS Manager Jim Johnson also played a key role in the development of ORNLReady by developing the functionality and "look and feel" of the system, Patricia says.

The award-winning training aspects of ORNLReady can be as varied as the imaginations of those who develop emergency management training scenarios.

At DOE's 2010 Emergency Management Issues Special Interest Group annual conference, ORNLReady received the TRADEing Post award as the most useful training product currently available and transferable to other DOE facilities. -by Ed Bodey

October 2010

CTA's truck tire study wins best paper award

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) Executive Committee has selected the paper, "Effect of Tires on Class-8 Heavy Truck Fuel Efficiency," authored by Oscar Franzese and Bill Knee of the Center for Transportation Analysis, as the winner of the Pyke Johnson Award for the Best Paper in the Area of Planning and Environment. Lee Slezak, Vehicle Technologies Program, U.S. Department of Energy, was a co-author on the paper.

The paper presents the results of a year-long analysis of the effect that different types of tires (i.e., dual tires vs. new generation wide-based single tires or NGWBSTs) have on the fuel efficiency of Class-8 trucks. CTA researchers Gary Capps and Mary Beth Lascurain also contributed to the study.

PeopleNet unveils wireless roadside-inspection solution

October 19, 2010

PHOENIX. PeopleNet announced here at the annual ATA meeting a new wireless roadside-inspection (WRI) solution in conjunction with the FMCSA Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) Safety Technology Showcase held last week in Tennessee.  Four leading PeopleNet customer fleets are participating in an operational test of the technology.

PeopleNet said the solution is the result of a joint effort with FMCSA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to improve motor carrier safety through increasing the frequency of roadside inspections using wireless technologies.

“Roadside identification of CMV violations is becoming a bigger challenge as the number of trucks and truck mileage grow each year while roadside safety inspection resources do not,” said PeopleNet COO Brian McLaughlin. “A wireless solution offers a way to not only dramatically increase the number of inspections, but also make them less time-intensive than traditional roadside inspections. The result is increased transportation productivity and mobility. FMCSA estimates that inspections can increase from 3.4 million to 85 million, making it possible for carriers to receive credit for positive inspections and safe operations without utilizing enforcement staff to conduct inspections.”

PeopleNet said FMCSA is “spearheading” WRIs to increase efficiency in using resources by identifying violations before manual inspections as the carrier enters an inspection station. This will allow enforcement staff to focus only on unsafe drivers/vehicles and reduce the demand for physical inspections, which will in turn reduce delays, fuel use, and emissions.

In addition, in the absence of a nearby inspection station, WRI can provide alerts to carriers and enforcement staff for drivers or vehicles operating with high-risk violations.  

WRI also supports CSA 2010 by enabling more frequent driver and vehicle safety assessments to ensure compliance and improve CMV safety, said PeopleNet. Assessment information can be automatically transmitted to the BASICs database immediately for updating scores in real time.

Increased assessments will reduce accidents and costs associated with fatalities, injuries, and property damage. Other benefits include reduced congestion and delay, emissions, energy consumption, delays at border crossings and other inspection points, and the potential to reduce insurance costs by better identification of risks, the company noted.

According to PeopleNet, .FMCSA is testing the WRI program before it is assessed for potential industry rollout. No introduction date has been discussed, the company noted.

For more information, go to

ORNL wins two awards for sustanability program


Exemplary efforts to “go green” at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have resulted in a 2010 Federal Energy & Water Management Award and a 2010 Department of Energy Management Award in recognition of the lab’s Sustainable Campus Initiative.

The Federal Interagency Energy Policy Committee and DOE’s Federal Energy Management Program recognized ORNL for its outstanding achievements in energy, water and fleet management. The awards will be presented at ceremonies held in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6–7.

"These awards validate our belief that we can deliver great science in a way that is environmentally sustainable," said ORNL Director Thom Mason.

ORNL’s Sustainable Campus Initiative is a laboratory-wide effort that builds upon the lab’s strength as a premier science and technology organization in integrating energy efficiency, robust and cutting-edge technologies, operational and business processes and behavior to achieve sustainability. Launched October 2008, the initiative continues a modernization program that began in 2002.

For instance, due to an aggressive commitment to building LEED-certified buildings combined with other energy saving measures, ORNL has added 35 percent more area to the lab with only a 6 percent increase in energy consumption when comparing 2009 data with a 2000 baseline. ORNL has 1 million square feet of energy efficient LEED-certified campus space.

ORNL’s sustainable practices in new construction are paralleled by ongoing work to retrofit existing facilities to meet LEED standards. Through operational efficiency upgrades, Building 1059 on ORNL’s west campus was certified as a successful LEED Gold Existing Building. Applying the retrofit “template” from Building 1059 will allow the lab to obtain future certifications for some 14 identical office facilities.

Further sustainability efforts at ORNL are visible across the lab’s campus, including three solar installations, the steam plant’s conversion to biomass, waste reduction, a fleet of shared bicycles and an electric vehicle initiative.

One of the solar installations directly supports an initiative to maximize cost effective energy efficiency at ORNL’s Buildings Technology and Research Integration Center. The 288 ft by 10 ft solar collector provides 60 megawatt hours per year to power one office building’s energy needs, which were previously reduced from 100 megawatt hours per year through energy saving technologies.

In addition to energy saving efforts, water conservation projects at ORNL, such as replacing standard plumbing fixtures with low-flow alternatives and reusing rainwater for irrigation, saved 63 million gallons of water with an associated cost avoidance of $104,700.

The Sustainable Campus Initiative continues to spearhead ORNL's efforts to provide leadership in sustainability by embracing sustainable practices and using its enormous expertise to benefit interested individuals, communities, commercial and industrial facilities and the nation.

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Communications and External Relations
(865) 574-4160;

September 2010

ORNL's full steam ahead with wireless help

Posted by Frank Munger on September 2, 2010

ORNL has 12 miles of pipeline that deliver steam for heat and air.
ORNL photos/Ron Walli


Oak Ridge National Laboratory hopes to save up to $675K annually, thanks to upgrades on the lab's 12 miles of steam lines and new wireless sensors to detect problems.

The lab, in conjunction with Johnson Controls, is replacing faculty steam traps,and the sensors are suppsed to provide an early-warning system.

There are about 1,600 steam traps on the pipelines, and those traps normally open slightly to discharge condensed steam with only small losses. The problem is when a trap fails and that failure goes undetected and unrepaired.

Manual inspections are time-consuming, costly and sometimes dangerous, the lab said.

According to an ORNL report prepared in 2005, steam trap failures are a major waste of energy at industrial sites.

"Approximately 20 percent of the steam leaving a central boiler plant is lost via leaking traps in typical space heating systems without proactive assessment programs," the lab report said.

Early detection is a key to minimize the losses and maximize the cost savings, Wayne Parker of the lab's Utilities Division said in a statement.

In addition to Parker, others who contributed to the lab project were Teja Kuruganti, Glenn Allgood, Joe Lake, Seddik Djouadi, Wayne Manges, Robert Baugh, Teresa Baer, Rob Crowell, Kenneth Woodworth, Mohammed Olama and Rangan Sukuma.

ORNL Strengthens DOE-Funded Clean Vehicles Team

ORNL News Release
Media Contact: Ron Walli
Communications and External Relations

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Sep. 17, 2010 — As a member of the recently announced clean vehicles consortium, part of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers are focusing on a suite of technologies to put more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road.

Working with the University of Michigan, which leads the consortium announced by the Department of Energy, ORNL will contribute in the areas of advanced systems integration, vehicle electrification, batteries and energy storage, characterization, optimization and combustion of biofuels and lightweighting structures, said Robert Wagner of ORNL's Energy and Transportation Science Division.

Government funding for the Clean Energy Research Center totals $25 million, with the clean vehicles and clean coal consortia, announced the same day, each to receive $12.5 million over the next five years. The funding is to be matched by the grantees.

In announcing the consortia, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, "The U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center will help accelerate the development and deployment of clean vehicle and clean coal technologies here at home. This new partnership will also create new export opportunities for American companies, ensure the United States remains at the forefront of technology innovation and help to reduce global carbon pollution."

While levels of funding are to be determined, Wagner envisions the collaboration strengthening partnerships and speeding the effort. Core partners include Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sandia National Laboratories and the Joint BioEnergy Institute, which will partner with several Chinese entities.

"Numerous other industrial partners have committed to contributing to the Clean Energy Research Center with funding or in-kind and many additional companies have expressed interest," Wagner said.

In the clean vehicle proposal to DOE, the team wrote that the center aims to have an impact on three of society's grand challenges: climate change, energy security and environmental sustainability.

"The strategic intent of the Clean Energy Research Center clean vehicles consortium is to forge a strong partnership between the U.S. and China, the largest greenhouse gas emitters and the largest existing and emerging vehicle markets, for breakthrough research and development," the proposal stated.

The hope is that this effort will facilitate joint research and development of clean energy technologies by the U.S. and China.

Other members of the clean vehicles team are General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, Cummins, Fraunhofer, MAGNET, A123, American Electric Power, First Energy and the Transportation Research Center.

The $25 million in U.S. government funding will be used to support work conducted by U.S. institutions and individuals only. More information about the center can be found here:

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science.

New Tennessee Homes Are Laboratories for Energy Efficiency

(September 20, 2010)

Four East Tennessee homes completed this month showcase how scientific research can make dramatic changes in the cost of heating and cooling our homes.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held Sept. 20 celebrated the opening of all four homes as laboratories, a major milestone of the first ZEBRAlliance project. ZEBRAlliance, a public-private partnership founded by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Schaad Companies, is both a research project and a multi-faceted energy-efficiency education campaign.

The four houses, located in the Wolf Creek subdivision in Oak Ridge, use about 55 to 60 percent less energy than conventional houses while maintaining similar amenities.

"These homes are a great example of what can be done when we partner with industry to provide scientific solutions to real problems," ORNL Director Thom Mason said.

Although the houses will remain unoccupied during the research period, appliance, lighting and water use will occur automatically in the experimental homes to simulate an average family's energy use. ORNL researchers will collect data to determine which technologies, either individually or as a group, deliver the most 'bang for your buck.'

The four homes were built over the past two years by Schaad Companies, of Knoxville, at their own expense. Jennifer Banner, CEO of Schaad Companies, said consumers will benefit from the project's goal to identify affordable energy-saving options for new and existing homes.

"Our vision has always been to drive innovation into the marketplace," Banner said. "The bigger question is which innovative technologies can be cost-effective for consumers who want to improve their existing home or build a new one. We hope to gain that knowledge from the ZEBRAlliance project."

The project team will switch out equipment, appliances and controls with the latest energy-efficient products as they become available. At the end of the 30-month research period, the houses will be offered for sale to the public.

The nation has already caught a glimpse of the new homes, through an episode of "This New House" on HGTV's DIY network. Filmed on site in Oak Ridge, the episode explained many of the innovative construction techniques and affordable technologies that are used and monitored in the four ZEBRAlliance houses. The initial airing on Aug. 26 has sparked interest from viewers across the country.

President Obama's goal of an 83 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 has researchers increasingly seeking energy-saving options in sectors such as buildings, which are responsible for 40 percent of the nation's total carbon footprint.

"Because of the ongoing involvement from builders, designers, component manufacturers and utilities, projects like ZEBRAlliance have the ability to identify solutions and implement them with speed and scale," said Roland Risser, program manager of the Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program.

Rudy Shankar, TVA vice president of Technology Innovation, said that TVA is interested in employing the lessons learned from the ZEBRAlliance houses to benefit a broad range of customers throughout the region.

"TVA is engaged in measuring and analyzing energy usage for homes built with varying energy-saving construction practices and appliances," Shankar said. "The homes built under the ZEBRAlliance and other TVA-sponsored projects represent the full spectrum of housing from basic to high end, and various state-of-the art building envelope and equipment utilization in a controlled setting to develop verifiable and defensible database for wide-spread implementation."

Johnny Moore, assistant manager for science, DOE Oak Ridge Operations, said the collaborative project is a role model in the national commitment to cut energy costs and reduce carbon emissions.

"The example we see today -- a partnership between government, business and industry -- will help us meet similar energy challenges in other areas such as transportation, in our electric grid, and in protecting and preserving our environment," Moore said.

Sponsors of the initial ZEBRAlliance project include DOE's Building Technologies Program in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Schaad Companies, BarberMcMurry Architects and over 30 other ORNL industry partners. For more information, visit

New Roofs Put Money in Your Pocket

Ivanhoe Newswire
Reported September 2010

OAK RIDGE, TN (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- a roof over your head, it's what everyone wants. But for the money-conscious and green-minded, that means the latest, most energy efficient roof.

How much is your electric bill? What if there's something you can do? Mechanical Engineers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are testing a new energy efficient roof and attic insulation system. At the heart of these technologies is a phase change material that absorbs heat during hot summer days and releases it at night.

"After it’s been absorbed, you want that heat to be released to the atmosphere and the night sky, not back into the house." mechanical engineer, William Miller, PhD at Oak Ridge National Laboratory told Ivanhoe.

The material is mixed with ground up newspaper and placed along the attic floor. It is also part of the insulation sandwiched between two reflective surfaces made of aluminum foil.

"That goes right underneath the asphalt shingle." Dr. William explained.

On the roof, this insulation creates a barrier reflecting heat back towards the sun. The next generation of roofs also features a special paint that's dark in color, but reflects the heat from infrared rays as if it were white.

"This green typically absorbs about 90 percent of the sun's energy. With these new pigments added to it, it absorbs only 70 percent of the sun's energy, which is a big deal." Dr. William said.

The new roofing system reduces attic temperature by 22 degrees on a typical summer afternoon. The McDaniel's are looking forward to the changes they'll see on their electric bill.

"They said 10 to 15 percent energy savings so you know one or two hundred dollars a month, that can make a big difference." Homeowner, Elizabeth McDaniel said.

--And government incentives made it affordable.

"It was actually only maybe 10 to 20 percent more expensive and with the tax credit it actually came out about the same." McDaniel said.

Making the savings add up.

If just half of U.S homeowners had this roof and attic system, the nation could reduce its BTU usage by about 100 trillion BTUs.

The Materials Research Society and the American Society of Civil Engineers contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Ron Walli
Public Affairs
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee
(865) 576-0226

Materials Research Society
Warrendale, PA 15086-7573
(724) 779-3003

The American Society of Civil Engineers
Leikny Johnson
Reston, VA 20191-4400
(703) 295-6413

2010 UT-Battelle Awards

Winner: Laura Wagner
Division: Energy and Transportation Science Division
Citation: For providing exceptional assistance to the director and staff of the Building Technologies Research and Integration Center (BTRIC), ensuring that the public sees BTRIC as a professional and technically advanced organization, and demonstrating a strong work ethic and comprehensive knowledge of ORNL's policies and procedures.

Winner: L. Curt Maxey
Division: Energy and Transportation Science Division
Citation: For sustained commitment to the enrichment, deployment and recognition of ORNL intellectual property conceived by himself and others R&D

August 2010

Multicylinder Engine Tests

August 4, 2010 -- Engineers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have tested a multicylinder dual-fuel RCCI engine (a modified four-cylinder, 1.9-L European GM diesel), said Robert Wagner, Acting Director of the Fuels, Engines, and Emissions Research Center there. The efficiency improvements are not as large as the single-cylinder power plants, he said, because of the increased complexity of multiple cylinders--turbo charging, a real EGR system, cylinder-to-cylinder and cycle-to-cycle losses. The article was posted at Automotive Engineering International Online.

ORNL contributes to Knox's new transit center

By: Frank Munger
Atomic City Underground (
August 22, 2010

There was a big to-do earlier this month with the opening of the new $29 million transit center in downtown Knoxville (known as Knoxville Station), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory played a role with the shiny new, high-tech and energy-efficient bus depot. According to info provided by ORNL, the lab's Curt Maxey (pictured, at right) did the original design for the solar array that's visible atop the new facility. Besides Maxey's solar array, the LEED-certified transit center also includes an energy-saving geothermal heating and cooling system, a green roof and an innovative design that makes better use of natural light, the lab said.

June 2010

ORNL scientists improve outcome for physical therapy patients

By: Alison Morrow



The technology tracks the changes in electricity feeding the treadmill Corley's walking on.


The technical term for Carolyn Corley's knee problem is patello femaroal syndrome.

The technical term for Carolyn Corley's knee problem is patello femaroal syndrome. More simply put, it means a lot of pain.

"It causes a lot of pain when I use my knees on stairs, sitting, squatting," Corley said.

Her doctor prescribed physical therapy to strenghten her leg muscles.

"Which will bring the knee cap back into line and make it function properly," Corley explained.

However, when it comes to tracking the progress of patients like Corley, physical therapists are often either stuck with the cheap but overly simplistic, or the highly complex and very expensive.

"We would go out in the hallway and walk, and just make observations as to her balance, her pace, her stride-length, step-length," said Oak Ridge National Laboratory Physical Therapist Chuck Hochanadel.

"Doing traditional gate analysis with all the high-speed photography, the cameras and everything, big, big bucks," expalined ORNL Research Staff Member Daryl Cox.

Researchers at ORNL hope to bridge the two options with new technology that would give therapists the objectivity without the cost.

Rather than directly tracking changes in Corley's movement, they're tracking the changes in electricity feeding the treadmill she's walking on.

"As your stride changes, you're loading or unloading the treadmill. The weight's changing," Cox said while pointing to a computer screen filled with constantly updating line graphs. "We're monitoring the electrical power to find out what's happening mechanically on the device."

Instead of simply looking at Corley's knees and gait, or hooking her up to a bunch of sensors, the electrical current she's impacting with her step draws a map of her pain and progress.

"The measurement of those gains lets us know where we've come from, where we are now, and where we would anticipate going," Hochanadel said. "It's just an elegant situation to a life-long problem. With the aging population that we all are dealing with, fall prevention, balance, gate efficiency and perhaps even getting to the point where we can teach people with assisted devices to be more efficient, you're really giving them independence and safety."

The new technology comes as good news for Corley, who has her sights set on pain-free gardening someday.

"I'm still young, I'm 29 and I'd like to use my knees for many, many years without pain," she said.

Eventually, researchers hope to use the equipment to prevent certain injuries altogether by tracking joint deterioration in its early stages.

April 2010

Feds Recognize Sandia, ORNL for Recycling and Sustainability

Apr 27, 2010

Bernadette Bazen maneuvers a loader with electronics products destined for reuse and recycling at Reapplication Services as Jeff Adams and Doug Vetter review the full list of e-scrap.

Sandia National Laboratories was one of eight winners among 137 participating federal government agency sites in the Fiscal Year 2009 Electronics Reuse and Recycling Campaign (ERRC), spearheaded by the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE).

The lab contributed 400,119 pounds of electronics toward a total 15.8 million pounds of electronics reused or recycled government-wide in the reuse and recycling challenge. This was the second year in a row that Sandia picked up the award in the category of large civilian facilities with more than 2,500 employees.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that across the federal government about 10,000 computers are disposed of each week. That prompted the OFEE to challenge federal agencies and their facilities to see who can reuse and recycle the most electronic products.

“Sandia’s Pollution Prevention program signed up with the Federal Electronics Challenge in February 2006. One of our stated goals was to recycle 100 percent of Sandia’s excess electronics,” said Ralph Wrons, Pollution Prevention (P2) program coordinator.

The P2 program works with the computer support group to track and report the internal reuse of computing equipment and with the Property Reapplication department to designate, accumulate and recycle excess computing equipment that is not reapplied for other purposes. During Sandia’s third year of participation in the program, ending Sept. 30, 2009, Sandia reapplied more than 13,000 towers, laptops and monitors, and successfully recycled 124,333 pounds of electronics scrap through permitted electronics scrap recycling facilities.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

The Department of Energy's Office of Science recognized Oak Ridge National Laboratory's research and operations programs in sustainability and energy efficiency. ORNL received "best in class" and "noteworthy practice" awards for its Net-Zero Energy Building and Sustainable Campus Initiative programs, respectively.

ORNL's Net-Zero Building program employs state-of-the-art efficiency technologies such as solar and geothermal energy generation, heat-pump water heaters and modular construction techniques toward homes and buildings that in some cases can provide as much power to the electric grid as they consume.

With a long-term goal to develop technologies to meet a net-zero-energy goal at low incremental costs, ORNL has focused on leading new homeowners and builders toward houses that boast high efficiency and use solar panels to generate their own electricity. Net-Zero Energy technologies were used in a Habitat for Humanity-built subdivision near ORNL and have been featured on the television show, "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition."

The laboratory's "Sustainable Campus Initiative ─ Accelerating Sustainable Success Now and in the Future" program integrates energy and resource efficiency, cutting-edge technologies, operational and business processes and individual practices to achieve sustainability at work, at home and in the community.

The Office of Science recognized ORNL sustainability efforts that include waste reduction, solar installations, the steam plant's conversion to biomass and an electric vehicle initiative. In addition, major new facilities that have been constructed as part of ORNL's modernization campaign are LEED-certified for sustainable, green building and development practices.

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy.

'New House' filming segments in Knoxville
Latest DIY show is fresh spin on 'This Old 'House'

By Larisa Brass (
Posted April 6, 2010

Photo by Paul Efird // Buy this photo

From left, Jay Maurer, director of photography, Kevin O’Connor, host of DIY’s “This New House” and Jeff Christian, ORNL building researcher, film an episode of the network’s latest show, “This New House” at the Crossroads at Wolf Creek subdivision in Oak Ridge.

East Tennessee is getting its share of green spotlight in a new series scheduled for launch by the DIY Network this July.

Photo by Paul Efird
Buy this photo »

The Crossroads at Wolf Creek in Oak Ridge will be featured in DIY’s newest show, “This New House.”

“This New House,” produced by former executive producer of PBS’s “This Old House,” and sharing the same host, Kevin O’Connor, stopped in Knoxville last week to film for what will be three segments of an upcoming 13 shows — the local spots will run in the first half of the season, according to O’Connor.

“We’re looking at pretty much any story with what’s new, what’s sexy, what’s up and coming for homes,” O’Connor said. “For me, it’s a great opportunity because there’s a whole body of work that we don’t always talk about in ‘This Old House.’ This is new material, and it’s a great story.”

The magazine-style show, which O’Connor is co-hosting with DIY’s Network’s Amy Matthews, will feature a variety of new housing issues and trends, O’Connor said, including “design, architecture, technology, building processes, appliances (and) energy efficiency.”

DIY Network is owned by Scripps Networks. Scripps’ production operations are based in Knoxville and its corporate headquarters are in Cincinnati.

“This New House” spent time filming a couple of very different types of energy efficient construction projects. First, the crew stopped by Clayton Homes manufacturing plant in Bean Station and its Alcoa sales lot for a feature on Clayton’s modern, green and efficient i-house.

“That could not be more different than the traditional building process,” O’Connor said. “The fact that these guys are building these in a factory and doing things in five days or a week.”

The film crew also stopped by the Knoxville Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where the non-profit homebuilder sells low-cost home and building supplies, typically donated by local retailers and contractors as well as individuals.

“This New House” spent Thursday getting the down and dirty tour of four Oak Ridge homes built by the Zero Energy Building Research Alliance, a partnership that includes Knoxville-based Schaad Companies, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Department of Energy and TVA. The homes feature different structures and technologies, heavily monitored by ORNL, that should render the homes — which eventually will be sold to regular homebuyers — about 60 percent more efficient than traditional new construction.

ORNL’s Jeff Christian served as host and tour guide, as the crew toured the houses in detail, taking in everything from the structural insulated panels, or SIPs, that form two of the homes’ walls to the carefully designed and calibrated plumbing and air conditioning systems to phase-change insulation, which transforms from a solid to a liquid as the outside temperature increases and decreases, shielding the interior from the extremes — a technology that O’Connor said particularly fascinated him.

“There were definitely some things that I had never seen before,” he said. “I didn’t even know such a thing (as phase-change insulation) existed, and I’m seeing it there and it’s not in a laboratory. This is actually in this house performing behind the sheetrock. … You realize there’s a ton of science going on.”

O’Connor seemed to be a quick study, rattling off facts during an interview as he waited for his plane to depart from McGhee Tyson Airport. “When you work with a really smart scientist guy like Jeff Christian, you get fired up,” he said.

“We looked at these excruciating details … in each of the four houses,” O’Connor said, admitting, “we probably filmed for eight hours to make five minutes of TV.

“We have to learn it, so we know the best parts of it to share. Our job really is to expose people to it. … It’s just a little taste.”

“This New House” will be the first major media exposure for the ZEBRAlliance project, which has been under way since the homes’ groundbreaking in September 2008.

“This helps tell our story of dedication and determination in the relentless pursuit of affordable zero energy houses, from price ranges of $100,000 to $600,000,” said Christian in an e-mail following the DIY shoot.

Christian is hopeful the segment will help attract the attention of potential future partners to the research. An official grand opening for the homes is expected later this year.

As for the new show, O’Connor and Matthews are shooting across the country, visiting manufacturers as diverse as a plumbing company that makes bathroom retrofits for baby boomers, a company using beetle-blighted forests in Colorado to make wood pellets for heating and a PVC siding firm.

While green is definitely the hot topic in the construction business these days, the show is careful not to lean too heavily on the trend, O’Connor said.

The series is “definitely going to have lots of efficiency and lots of green stories,” he said, “but we’re fighting hard to have a balance and not too many of those. It’s too overdone. There’s a lot of people out there that are faking it.”

Larisa Brass is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.

March 2010

Michelin more fuel efficient X One helps truckers reduce emissions

Company uses 7 gallons less oil to make each new X One

By Jenny Munro - Staff Writer - March 26, 2010

Michelin North America on Thursday it launched its most fuel efficient X One single tire for tractor-trailers.

The first generation of the X One, designed and developed at Michelin’s research center in Greenville, was introduced in 2000. The new, more fuel-efficient X One XDA Energy tire was announced this week to the public at the Mid-American Trucking Show.

“Michelin is continuously looking for ways to help our customers add to their bottom lines, as well as comply with the advent of more rigorous emission regulations,” said Don Baldwin, product marketing manager for Michelin Americas Truck Tires.

Baldwin said the X One energy tire “is the most efficient drive tire we make and the most efficient on the road in North America.”

Research is continuous into rubber compounding, tread and casing design to lessen rolling resistance, he said. Rolling resistance, which is friction, occurs when a tire with a load above it rests flat against the pavement. As it rolls, it deflects, and that creates rolling resistance, which is a loss of energy in the form of heat.

“The biggest change in this tire is the tread design and compounding,” he said, adding the company reduced the oil needed to make the tire by 7 gallons.

“It’s in our DNA to reduce rolling resistance,” he said of Michelin.

A four-year study by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, released last year, found that Michelin's X One wide single truck tire at the time was up to 10 percent more fuel efficient than the dual tires it would replace.

The tests were conducted in “a variety of real-world conditions,” said Bill Knee, director of vehicle safety research at Oak Ridge. “As we continue the national and global discussion of conserving energy, fossil fuels and other natural resources, this technology is a solution that is making a difference today.”

The market share for the X One series is continuing to grow, Baldwin said, although it is no longer doubling year over year.

“I think it will” become the standard over-the-road tire in years to come, he said, adding the radial tire took 30 years to become a majority of the tire market.

Michelin also makes X One tires at its Spartanburg plant and in Canada for sanitation, dump and logging trucks and RVs. However, the new energy-efficient tire is expected to remain with the large commercial trucks for some time although the company is considering future production of the tire in a smaller size for package vans.

U.S. Directs $36 Million Toward Net-Zero Building Research

March 9, 2010
By Tim McKeough (Architectual Record)

Photo courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $20.2 million in stimulus funds to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The money will be used for research on net-zero energy buildings. The energy department also awarded $15.9 million to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Reflecting the rapidly growing interest in sustainable design and construction technologies, the U.S. Department of Energy has announced new funding to support research on net-zero energy buildings.

In November, the agency awarded $20.2 million to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which is managed by the University of Tennessee and the nonprofit corporation Battelle, and $15.9 million to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, managed by the University of California. The money is part of $104.7 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds that the energy department is spending on a range of new facilities at national laboratories

ORNL will use the money to expand its existing Building Technologies Research and Integration Center, which has equipment for testing sections of roof and wall systems for energy efficiency. It also will build two three-story structures—one with a metal frame, the other made of reinforced concrete—for testing larger scale commercial building envelopes, which it hadn’t done before. “We’re going to be doing the same kind of work, but with different types of facades for commercial structures,” says Jeff Christian, ORNL senior scientist.

Berkeley Lab plans to use the funds to construct a new facility to research net-zero energy buildings. While the lab currently tests building products, “with this new facility, we’re scaling up to full building systems,” explains Stephen Selkowitz, head of the Building Technologies Department in the lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. Plans are still being finalized, but the project is expected to consist of a series of structures, either standalone or within existing buildings on campus, for researching HVAC systems, facade systems, lighting and interiors, skylights, and building sensors and controls. The centerpiece will be a set of three 5,000-square-foot structures where these different systems can be tested together.

Both Christian and Selkowitz say that the labs are coordinating their efforts to prevent overlap and maximize results. And both expect that the new facilities will attract private sector research partners and other interested parties. “This is a facility that’s ultimately designed to have impacts on practice and products,” says Selkowitz.

Green Construction Simulator

March Story Tip – A greener shade of steel – Ability and reputation are the qualities that draw industrial users to ORNL's Building Technologies Research and Integration Center (BTRIC). Manufacturers know that if they need to send energy efficiency data to a building code agency or a potential customer, a report that says "ORNL" on the letterhead guarantees the credibility of the information. The BTRIC boasts a range of sophisticated research facilities. For example, the center's Large-Scale Climate Simulator can enclose building components, such as roof or wall sections, within a highly customizable micro-climate and subject them to a range of temperature, humidity, sunlight, rainfall and several other environmental variables. Industrial users have been particularly enthusiastic about using the simulator to study the efficiency of roofing systems because roofs and attics are responsible for about 25 percent of commercial heating and cooling costs. Currently, the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) is using the simulator to develop new construction methods that will result in more energy-efficient metal buildings. In the longer term, MBMA hopes to work with BTRIC to conduct whole building energy measurements to determine what changes can be made to increase the efficiency of existing buildings, as well as that of new building designs.

February 2010

ORNL research: Catalyst for change

Oak Ridge National Laboratory does a bunch of research that's supposed to help reduce vehicle emissions and, where possible, reduce the cost of reducing those emissions. That means improving catalysts, which requires an understanding of how they work in a very detailed way. One of the techniques used by ORNL researchers is something called "diffuse reflectance infrared fourier transform spectroscopy" or DRIFTS, which can provide great info on the chemical reactions taking place on a catalyst's surface. That's supported by the lab's "barrel ellipse" DRIFTS attachment (top left in photo).

"The barrel is a highly polished miror and it's directing infrared light to the catalyst's surface," Todd Toops, a chemical engineer and research staff member in ORNL's Energy and Transportation Science Division, said this afternoon. "The infrared light hits the surface, and the surface absorbs some of that light and then we measure what's missing. And by measuring what's missing, we can tell what's on the surface. Each species has a unique frequency that absorbs."

The chemistry of what's happening is key, Toops said. "Understanding can help improve catalysts and help improve the understanding of how fast something happens and how the engine is controlled," he said.

According to information provided by ORNL, the lab is using the research to "aid in deploymnt of clean-burning, fuel-efficient vehicles that have very stringent emission control requirements."

Toops said new lean-burn engines require extra fuel to meet emission-control standards. "If we can understand better the chemistry on the surface, then we can use less fuel to meet the emission standards," he said.

In addition, a better understanding of the chemistry may help reduce the amount of platinum that's needed and make other changes that reduce costs, he said.

Posted by Frank Munger on February 19, 2010 at 6:19 PM (Frank Munger's Atomic City Underground -

ORNL Researchers Find Thermochemical Exhaust Heat Recuperation In Internal Combustion Engines Could Provide Substaintial Boosts in Second-Law Efficiency

5 February 2010
Green Car Congress

Schematic of the conceptual ideal piston engine used for the TCR study. The outer control volume (CV0) encloses the entire system. The upper inner control volume (CV1) contains the combustion chamber and piston. The lower inner control volume (CV2) contains the reformer and intercooler. When reforming is not used, the fuel and exhaust pass through CV2 unchanged. Credit: ACS, Chakravarthy et al. Click to enlarge.

Thermochemical exhaust heat recuperation (TCR) in an internal combustion engine could result in substantial boosts in second-law efficiency (as measured in terms of single-stage work output from an ideal IC engine) for a range of fuels, according to a new study by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). A paper on their work was published online 5 February in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

The basic concept of TCR involves using exhaust heat to promote on-board reforming of hydrocarbon fuels into syngas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen). The syngas is then burned in the engine in place of some or all of the original fuel. Because the reforming reactions are endothermic, the researchers note, they provide a means for recycling exhaust energy in a chemical form.

Methanol can be converted directly to syngas by adding heat alone in the presence of a catalyst; other fuels, such as ethanol and isooctane, require additional oxygen or water for complete conversion to syngas.

One important factor that we include in this study is combustion irreversibility. For most fuels, the entropy generated by unconstrained combustion destroys up to a third of the original fuel exergy, making that portion of the fuel energy unavailable for generating work. As we explain below, carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) fuels have the potential to significantly reduce this exergy loss because of their unique thermodynamic properties. The extremely low flammability limit of hydrogen can also be used to extend the lean combustion limit, which can increase expansion work and reduce emissions. We therefore considered it important to include the expected changes in combustion exergy losses as part of our analysis.

TCR is particularly relevant to alcohol-based engine fuels, because combustion exergy losses for direct combustion of alcohols are typically higher than for alkanes and alkenes. In addition, ethanol produced by fermentation typically contains considerable water. Much of the cost associated with removing the water during ethanol production might be avoided if hydrous ethanol could be directly used by engines. Onboard, precombustion reforming could potentially help make use of hydrous ethanol more practical.

—Chakravarthy et al.

To reduce mechanical complexity while considering the fundamental thermodynamics, the team confined its analysis to a frictionless, single-stage IC engine operating over an ideal cycle with the following features: (i) constant pressure or constant volume mixing of gaseous fuel and air in the combustion chamber, (ii) isentropic compression of the fuel and air mixture, (iii) adiabatic constant volume combustion of the mixture at the point of maximum compression, (iv) isentropic expansion of the combustion gases to atmospheric pressure, and (v) operation at steady state, so that the engine state repeats precisely at each point in the cycle.

They also limited the study to work generation by a single-stage expansion of the combustion gases; they did not consider other ways to extract work from the exhaust gases, such as Rankine bottoming cycles.

For an ideal stoichiometric engine fueled with methanol, the researchers found that TCR can increase the estimated second law efficiency by about 3% for constant pressure reforming and over 5% for constant volume reforming. The improvement of constant volume reforming over constant pressure reforming results from the pressure boost caused by themolar expansion. When the engine is operated lean (e.g., at a fuel/air equivalence ratio of 0.4), the expected second law efficiency benefits for methanol could be raised an additional 2%. The estimated second law efficiency increases for constant volume TCR of ethanol and isooctane are 9 and 11%, respectively.

The second law efficiency benefits from TCR in the present study are mainly due to the higher cylinder input exergy for reformate and the pressure boost in the case of constant volume reformation. We note, however, that it will be important in future studies to consider the possibility for using combined cycle work extraction. When additional work can be extracted from the exhaust, the benefits of the reduced combustion irreversibility are likely to be more evident.

In the ideal engine system used here, there is significant potential exergy loss associated with the reformer, where we have made no attempt to minimize the temperature gradient or generate work from the heat transferred between the post-expansion exhaust and reformer. If the proposed engine concept is modified to include a bottoming cycle that uses this heat, one would expect considerable increases in the potential work. Still, even for the relatively simple system considered here, TCR could yield substantial efficiency gains.

—Chakravarthy et al.


  • V. Kalyana Chakravarthy, C. Stuart Daw, Josh A. Pihl and James C. Conklin (2010) Study of the Theoretical Potential of Thermochemical Exhaust Heat Recuperation for Internal Combustion Engines. Energy Fuels, Article ASAP doi: 10.1021/ef901113b

Mechanics, drivers say pure gas beats blended fuels on performance, wear

by Mitchell Kline (The Tennessean) February 12, 2010

  John Goodwin works on a mower at Green Hills Lawn Mower Co. on Tuesday. Co-owner Edward DeMartelly jokes that ethanol is making him rich with the damage it does to small engines. (DIPTI VAIDYA / THE TENNESSEAN)
  A Marathon gas station in Franklin advertises ethanol-free gas, which some customers say gives them better performance from their engines. (SHELLEY MAYS / THE TENNESSEAN)

The difference between pure gasoline and gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol (E10) should be hardly noticed by the average driver, according to fuel experts. Ethanol-free gas may yield better gas mileage and E10 may produce lower greenhouse gas, but not by much.

• Pure gasoline was being sold for $2.59 at Market Master on Columbia Avenue in Franklin on Thursday. Just down the road, E10 was selling for the same price at a Shell station, and 7 cents less at a Mapco Express.

• A gallon of pure ethanol sold for an average of $2.04 last week. A gallon of pure gasoline was $1.98.

• Fuel blenders can receive a 45-cent tax credit for each gallon of ethanol they mix with gasoline.

• Studies show the use of ethanol blends could lead to a 7.7 percent decrease in fuel economy and a 12 percent decline in carbon monoxide emissions. Ethanol blends did cause some small engines to run hotter and clutch engagement when the engines were supposed to be idle.

• A gallon of pure ethanol produces 75,700 Btu, while a gallon of gasoline produces 115,000 Btu. A Btu is a measurement of energy.

• Use of E15 instead of pure gasoline would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 million tons, the equivalent of taking 10.5 million cars off the road.

Sources: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Growth Energy, DTN. Allowing E15 could generate 136,000 new jobs and pump $24.4 billion into the economy.

FRANKLIN — Paul Hoppe saw an immediate surge in sales on the day he placed two banners advertising "100% gasoline, no ethanol" near the road in front of his Franklin market.

In the three months since he started promoting his ethanol-free gas, Hoppe's sales have increased 25 percent. Drivers of antique automobiles and high-performance sports cars have become frequent visitors at his pumps. Hoppe and a handful of other independent gas station owners across Middle Tennessee have tapped into a customer base that includes people who believe ethanol is bad for their engines and lowers gas mileage, or those who hold political views that clash with some environmentalists.

"I'm not anti-green," Hoppe said. "I'm pro common sense. I don't believe plowing up our farmland to grow corn for gas is right. Why destroy farmland when there is plenty of gas? It doesn't make a lot of sense."

There are drivers and mechanics that claim vehicles run better on pure gasoline. Small engine repair shops are advising customers not to fill their lawn mowers and weed eaters with gas containing ethanol. Local marinas sell only 100 percent gasoline to boat owners who worry that ethanol can corrode motors and even eat through some tanks.

More than 70 percent of the state's gas stations sell gasoline blended with ethanol, according to the state's Department of Agriculture. Pure gasoline is becoming a thing of the past, and a lawsuit brought against the state by the American Petroleum Institute could result in that happening sooner rather than later.

The lawsuit challenges the new Tennessee Renewable Fuels Blending Act, which forces big oil companies to sell local wholesale fuel suppliers ethanol-free gas suitable for blending, presumably helping to foster a local ethanol industry.

Big oil companies want to do the blending themselves, ensuring they get tax credits offered by the federal government for using renewable fuels. Wholesalers and state lawmakers say the new state law encourages competition, keeps prices down at the pump and creates a greater diversity of fuel blends.

"We absolutely support bio-fuels and renewable fuels," said Emily LeRoy, executive director of the Tennessee Convenience Store Association, which represents 120 local gas wholesalers. "But we do understand there are niche markets for some types of fuel and do want to respond to what the consumer wants. This new law creates fuel flexibility. Competition is good for everyone. It keeps big industry on its toes."

The API, a national trade association that represents about 400 oil and gas companies, claims Tennessee's new fuels act may prevent oil refiners from blending a sufficient amount of biofuels to meet the federal renewable fuel standard, which is monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Companies that fail to obtain an adequate amount of renewable fuel or renewable fuel credits from another company are subject to a $32,500 per day penalty.

"We really don't have a choice but to sell (gas mixed with ethanol)," said Mike Williams, executive director of the Tennessee Petroleum Council. "A percentage of all fuel has to be renewable."

The state filed a response to the API's complaint on Feb. 2, denying that the new law conflicts with federal law and asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed. The case has not been set for trial.

Problems reported

The possible disappearance of pure gasoline bothers drivers like Gary Campbell, who doesn't want ethanol in his 2008 Nissan 350Z sports car.

"It's just another government intrusion that they force people to put this in their cars," Campbell said. "They haven't done enough research into what it does to engines."

Campbell, who characterized his driving as "aggressive," said his Z performs better on 100 percent gasoline. He said using the most prevalent gas blends, which contain up to 10 percent ethanol, caused his Z to run sluggish and be less responsive when he pressed the gas pedal. Campbell, a Franklin resident, said he has become a regular customer at Hoppe's market because he can't find unblended gasoline anywhere else.

Edward DeMartelly, co-owner of Green Hills Lawn Mower Co., jokes that ethanol is making him rich. He said people have been bringing in their lawn mowers and weed eaters a lot more since E10 became the dominant fuel in the market.

"The biggest problem is it's corrosive," DeMartelly said. "It attacks the rubber and brass and bronze parts in the carburetors. It will separate out if it gets moisture in it. Then you've got straight alcohol and water in the tank and with that things just don't run."

Local marinas sell only 100 percent gas to boat owners. Peter Calcutt, manager of Blackjack Cover Marina on Old Hickory Lake, said ethanol can cause temperature extremes in boat engines, destroy fuel pumps and cause fuel separation in tanks.

"Ethanol in marine fuel is just a bad idea," Calcutt said.

Studies under way

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is participating in ethanol studies, including one in which 82 vehicles would each be driven between 50,000 and 120,000 miles using different blends of ethanol and gasoline. Brian West, deputy director of fuels, engines and emissions research, said the data for the study should be gathered by the end of the year and the results published soon after.

Initial studies on the short-term use of ethanol blends recorded higher exhaust temperatures in some vehicles tested and found that many small engines, such as those in leaf blowers and generators, ran at higher temperatures.

"We did see some operational problems, and performance was affected in the small engines," West said. "There was clutch engagement at idle in some handheld engines. You can imagine a chainsaw engaging when you think it's at idle. That could be a problem, and we are planning additional study of handheld engines."

The EPA is considering the use of up to 15 percent ethanol in gasoline, a move requested by Growth Energy. It's a move that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 11 vehicle makers, said should be delayed until more testing is done. The Department of Energy also is testing the use of a fuel containing between 10 percent and 20 percent ethanol on vehicles to examine the long-term effects on engines and emissions.

"There are some people who just have an impression that pure gasoline with no ethanol is better for their vehicle, although that's getting harder and harder to find," the Petroleum Council's Williams said. "All we can do is base what we do on what the scientists say."

Jonathan Overly, executive director of the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, said the nation should be focused on using more biofuels. That would decrease the United State's dependency on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gasses. And while Overly supports the use of higher blends of ethanol and the creation of more vehicles that can use those higher blends, he said pure gasoline also should be a choice at the pumps.

"But I would put a greater tax on the pure gas," Overly said. "That unblended gas should be more expensive than E85 or E10. Hit them in the wallet."

Contact Mitchell Kline at 615-771-5417 or

"Extreme Makeover" w/Secretary Chu airs Sunday

Jeff Christian (right) briefs Secretary Chu on
details of the 'Exterme Makeover' project.

The episode of "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is scheduled to air at 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 14, on local ABC affiliate channel 6. ORNL's Jeff Christian played a key role in the episode's two projects--the construction of a 2,700-square-foot home and a 6,700-square-foot school.

The show's staff contacted DOE about including the latest in energy-efficient technologies in the buildings, and DOE called in Jeff for his Near-Zero Energy expertise. Secretary Chu visited the site with two other cabinet-level officials.

The show specializes in fast-paced renovations of buildings.

Chu on NPR. Secretary Chu was a guest on NPR's Saturday quiz show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me." Listen.

New System Provides Hybrid Electric Autos With Power to Spare

ScienceDaily (Feb. 5, 2010) — An advancement in hybrid electric vehicle technology is providing powerful benefits beyond transportation.

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have designed, fabricated and demonstrated a PHEV traction drive power electronics system that provides significant mobile power generation and vehicle-to-grid support capabilities.

"The new technology eliminates the separate charging mechanism typically used in PHEVs, reducing both cost and volume under the hood," said Gui-Jia Su of ORNL's Power Electronics and Electric Machinery Research Center. "The PHEV's traction drive system is used to charge the battery, power the vehicle and enable its mobile energy source capabilities."

Providing more power than typical freestanding portable generators, the PHEV can be used in emergency situations such as power outages and roadside breakdowns or leisure occasions such as camping. Day-to-day, the PHEV can be used to power homes or businesses or supply power to the grid when power load is high, according to Su.

The charging system concept, which is market ready, could also be used to enhance the voltage stability of the grid by providing reactive power, Su said.

The Power Electronics and Electric Machinery Research Center is DOE's broad-based research center helping lead the nation's advancing shift from petroleum-powered to hybrid-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The center's efforts directly support DOE's Vehicle Technologies Program and its goal to provide Americans with greater freedom of mobility and energy security while lowering costs and reducing impacts on the environment