INL research scientist Peter Zalupski. Using equations to mine nuclear energy resources

Rising energy demands and environmental concerns have intensified the search for valuable energy resources. As myriad public and private entities pursue increased efficiency, reliable renewable energy or unconventional fossil fuel reserves, a young researcher at DOE's Idaho National Laboratory is focused on recycling.

But INL research scientist Peter Zalupski is taking a modern approach to a mature idea. He's using mathematics and computational science in the quest to mine the most valuable resources from used nuclear fuel. His unique approach and early success recently earned him the 2011 INL Laboratory Director's Award for Early Career Exceptional Achievement, an honor reserved for researchers 35 and younger.

"Such significant accomplishments in this short period of time are very rare among senior researchers, and much more so for a young researcher such as Dr. Zalupski," Department Manager Jack Law said in his nominating letter.

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Physicist Yevgeny Raitses with Washington University undergraduate Mitchell Eagles in the PPPL nanolaboratory.Nano meets plasma at PPPL

Scientists at DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have launched a new effort to apply expertise in plasma to study and optimize the use of the hot, electrically charged gas as a tool for producing nanoparticles. This research aims to advance the understanding of plasma-based synthesis processes, and could lead to new methods for creating high-quality nanomaterials at relatively low cost.

Nanomaterials, which are measured in billionths of a meter, are prized for their use in everything from golf clubs and swimwear to microchips, paints and pharmaceutical products, thanks to their singular properties. These include exceptional strength and flexibility and high electrical conductivity. Carbon nanotubes, for example, are tens of thousands of times thinner than a human hair, yet are stronger than steel on an ounce-per-ounce basis.

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See also…

DOE Pulse
  • Number 374  |
  • October 22, 2012
  • Cold cases heat up through Lawrence Livermore approach to identifying remains

    Bruce Buchholz loads a sample in the accelerator. In an effort to identify the thousands of John/Jane Doe cold cases in the United States, a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researcher and a team of international collaborators have found a multidisciplinary approach to identifying the remains of missing persons.

    Using "bomb pulse" radiocarbon analysis developed at DOE's Lawrence Livermore, combined with recently developed anthropological analysis and forensic DNA techniques, the researchers were able to identify the remains of a missing child 41 years after the discovery of the body.

    In 1968, a child's cranium was recovered from the banks of a northern Canadian river. Initial analysis conducted by investigators, using technology at the time, concluded that the cranium came from the body of a 7-9-year-old child and no identity could be determined. The case went cold and was reopened later.

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  • Coal gasification demonstrated

    Molten catalytic reactor design. Steam and coal react in a bed of molten alkali salts. Isometric and cutaway views. (Furnace not shown.) DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has developed a molten catalytic process for converting coal into a synthesis gas consisting of roughly 20% methane and 80% hydrogen using alkali hydroxides as both gasification catalysts and in situ CO2 and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) capture agents.  This hydrogen- and methane-rich output from the gasifier could be sent to gas turbines or solid oxide fuel cells in order to generate electricity with CO2 emissions significantly less than 1.0 lbs of CO2 per kWh of electricity. 

    A patent application on this topic has been submitted and a paper entitled “Molten Catalytic Coal Gasification With In Situ Carbon and Sulphur Capture” was published by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Energy & Environment Science.

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  • A-tisket, a-tasket, a better greenhouse gas basket

    Flares burn off excess methane at oil and gas refineries, landfills, and other industrial plants. Flares are used to control release of methane into the atmosphere but recovery options are also available that capture methane for use as fuel.

    It's called the global warming potential or GWP for short and it bundles together the importance of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases on future climate change.  Researchers from DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, working at the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI), found that increasing methane's ranking in the GWP made little difference on the overall outcome of climate change projections. JGCRI is a partnership between PNNL and the University of Maryland.

    Carbon dioxide gets most of the press when it comes to greenhouse gas. So much so that it's used as a standard by which researchers and policy makers measure the global warming impact of all other greenhouse gases. Though not as abundant, methane, a gas released by oil drilling, landfills, and other industrial activities as well as by nature, is the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas and traps more heat in the atmosphere per pound than carbon dioxide.

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  • Berkeley Lab researchers propose a practical space-time crystal

    Ultracold ions continue rotating at their lowest energy state. The structure periodically repeats to form a space-time crystal. (Courtesy of Xiang Zhang group)

    Early in 2012, Nobel Prize-winning theorist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology came up with a novel idea: “Inspired by special relativity, or simply by analogy, it is natural to consider the possibility of spontaneous breaking of time translation symmetry” – in other words, the possibility of a space-time crystal, one in which a four-dimensional system adopts a discrete symmetry, an oriented repetitive structure in time analogous to that of a three-dimensional crystal in space.

    In a paper published in Physical Review Letters (PRL), an international team of scientists led by researchers with DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has now proposed a method which could provide the basis for actually constructing such a space-time crystal. The scheme starts with an ion trap, an arrangement of electric and magnetic fields, which confines ultracold particles at their lowest energy state. The mutual Coulomb repulsion of the charged particles arranges them in a ring inside the trap, and if the ring were nudged into rotation, over time the constituent ions would periodically return to the same or equivalent positions. A space-time diagram would reveal that the ring-shaped crystal in space forms a spiral-cylinder crystal in time.

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  • Experiments verify key aspect of nuclear fusion concept

    Sandia researcher Ryan McBride pays close attention to the tiny central beryllium liner to be imploded by the powerful magnetic field generated by Sandia’s Z machine. The larger cylinders forming a circle on the exterior of the base plate measure Z’s load current by picking up the generated magnetic field. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

    Magnetically imploded tubes called liners, intended to help produce controlled nuclear fusion at scientific “break-even” energies or better within the next few years, have functioned successfully in preliminary tests, according to a  research paper from DOE's Sandia National Laboratories accepted for publication by Physical Review Letters (PRL).

    To exceed scientific break-even is the most hotly sought-after goal of fusion research, in which the energy released by a fusion reaction is greater than the energy put into it — an achievement that would have extraordinary energy and defense implications.

    That the liners survived their electromagnetic drubbing is a key step in stimulating further Sandia testing of a concept called MagLIF (Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion), which will use magnetic fields and laser pre-heating in the quest for energetic fusion.

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