In the photo above, a mirrored parabolic dish directs sunbeams to a central point, where a device absorbs the solar heat to make syngas, solar-boosted natural gas. This new system was recognized with a 2014 R&D 100 Award. | Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Lab.
From solar-boosted natural gas to a more efficient electric vehicle battery charger, innovations by the Energy Department's National Labs swept the field in this year's R&D 100 awards, the "Oscars of Innovation." In total, the Energy Department's National Labs won 31 of 100 awards in the competition.
The R&D 100 awards are given annually in recognition of exceptional new products or processes that were developed and introduced into the marketplace during the previous year. To be eligible for an award, the technology or process has to be in working and marketable condition -- no proof of concept prototypes are allowed -- and had to be first available for purchase or licensing during 2013. The awards are selected by an independent panel of judges based on the technical significance, uniqueness and usefulness of projects and technologies from across industry, government and academia.
Some of the highlights from this year include:
Argonne National Lab’s “NanoFab lab…in a box!” is a shoebox-sized mini-laboratory and “printing press” for growing nanowires. The standard technique to make them requires an expensive “clean room,” a lab with extensive filters to keep out the hundreds of thousands of particles usually floating in the air. Nanowires are a relatively new technology, but scientists believe that they could have applications in fabricating transistors, in sensors, in solar cells and as electronic components.
Idaho National Lab’s Multiphysics Object Oriented Simulation Environment (MOOSE) makes it easier for scientists to predict phenomena ranging from nuclear fuel and reactor performance to groundwater and chemical movement. Such simulations can help speed the pace of scientific discovery but have traditionally required more computing resources than most scientists and engineers could readily access.
The HP Apollo 8000 System, developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in collaboration with HP, uses component-level warm-water cooling to dissipate heat generated by a supercomputer, thus eliminating the need for expensive and inefficient chillers in the data center. This innovative design allows waste heat from the computer to be captured and used to heat office and laboratory space, achieving even higher efficiency levels.
The Sandia anthrax detector cartridge, a credit-card sized, inexpensive anthrax detector, works much like a pregnancy detector: the presence of certain chemicals causes a positive reaction in antibodies installed inside the detector. The Sandia system achieves the needed sensitivity through an inventive microculture chamber that encourages a sparse sample of microorganism to grow to a detectable amount. After testing, the detector sterilizes at the push of a button, preventing positive samples from accumulating and falling into the wrong hands.
Since 1962, when the annual competition began, the Energy Department’s National Labs have received over 800 R&D 100 awards.