LabNotes -- Research highlights from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

January 10, 2001

System helps prevent power grid failures - In the age of electricity deregulation, information has become equivalent to power. Providers who know of potential outage conditions often can take action to ensure "the lights stay on" if they have the right information. A system developed using technology from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Bonneville Power Administration soon will provide this key information to California power providers that are challenged by increased loads and decreased supply.

The system, called WAMS for Wide Area Measurement System, continuously monitors grid performance across the Western power system. It provides operators with high- quality data and analysis tools to detect impending grid emergencies or to mitigate grid outages.

WAMS data access and toolsets are being provided to California's Independent System Operator, which manages wholesale power delivery in that state. Funding is being provided by the California Energy Commission and DOE through the Consortium for Electric Reliability Technologies. PNNL is a consortium member. WAMS' initial development was supported by DOE and the Electric Power Research Institute.

DOE named WAMS one of the top 100 innovations since that agency was created in 1977.

Biotechnology strikes out chlorinated solvents - A Pacific Northwest National Laboratory cleanup technology that's attacking chromate seeping into groundwater at the the Department of Energy's Hanford site in Washington state now stands ready to serve the military and commercial companies with another troubling environmental concern: halting the seepage of chlorinated solvents.

In-Situ Redox Manipulation, or ISRM, uses standard groundwater monitoring wells to inject chemical reagents and buffers into the subsurface, creating a barrier that organic contaminants, such as trichloroethylene, move through then are destroyed in the process. Laboratory and field tests conducted at a Washington state Army base have shown positive results in destroying chlorinated solvents.

Field tests indicate ISRM saves time and money over traditional pump and treat methods.

Device delivers on-the-spot warnings - Playing in the dirt was a common lab activity for scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as they created an automated system that purifies soil, as well as air and water samples. Called BEADS, for Biodetection Enabling Analyte Delivery System, it was created for use in a biological warfare detector. BEADS cleans samples so that micro-organisms can be identified in places like food processing lines and water treatment plants. Now, it's being enhanced to monitor health hazards on submarines in a Navy-sponsored program led by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

The system's sample preparation process can be used with existing detectors, which require a person to manually purify samples for identification. BEADS takes the person out of the process by using proprietary microfluidic systems and automated sample cleanup methods. It can be used in chemical, protein, nucleic acid or whole-cell detectors.

Stabilizing plutonium quickly - Sometimes leaving out a step can produce a giant leap in what gets done. Such will be the case when work begins in May to stabilize 1,600 polycubes of degrading plutonium at the Department of Energy's Hanford site.

Collaboration between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Fluor Hanford, which operates Hanford's Plutonium Finishing Plant where the cubes are stored, showed the 40-year-old, deteriorating cubes could be stabilized using existing muffle furnaces at the plant. This determination voided a costly and complicated middle step, which should cut one year off the work schedule and save up to $5 million.

The polycubes were fabricated by combining plutonium oxide and polystyrene in the 1960s and were used for testing criticality geometries in the handling and processing of spent fuel. Over the years, the polycubes began deteriorating, which caused storage challenges and potential environmental risks.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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