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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, June 2017

June 05, 2017

Hydrocarbons - Better oil and gas seeking

Finding optimal locations for extracting petroleum and natural gas from shale could become more economical and efficient thanks to a new approach developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The research team combined two existing statistical models and applied them to publicly available geographic data to accurately characterize the availability of hydrocarbons in five, high-producing shale plays in the United States and Canada. "Mid-size oil and gas companies, plus those outside of industry, could leverage this method to reduce overall production, extraction time and cost and the potential of environmental disturbances," ORNL's Joanna McFarlane said. The research, published in the Journal of Natural Gas Science and Engineering, was led by former student Elisabeth Gallmeier with Shichen Zhang, who both participated in Oak Ridge High School's Senior Math Thesis program. [Contact: Sara Shoemaker, (865) 576-9219;]


Caption: A novel approach developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory could streamline processes for locating oil and natural gas in shale.

Nanoscience - Inseparable states of matter

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory-led team discovered a link between electrochemistry at the surface and ferroelectricity within the bulk material of ultrathin crystalline films. The findings, published inNature Physics, explain a decade of anomalous thin-film behavior observations and offers a new mode for control. "We show that surface chemistry can be a third method, besides using traditional substrate strain and octahedral rotation, to achieve similar effects for memories, tunneling junctions, memristors and neuromorphic computing," ORNL's Sergei Kalinin said. The research team will explore new opportunities for controlling ferroelectric materials. For example, because light couples weakly to ferroelectricity but strongly to surface chemistry, the discovery may accelerate designs of next-generation detectors and photovoltaics. [Contact: Dawn Levy, (865) 576-6448;]


Caption: ORNL's Sergei Kalinin and Rama Vasudevan (far left) used scanning probe microscopy to discover inseparable interplay between bulk ferroelectricity and surface electrochemistry in a 30-nanometer-thick film of barium titanate, a crystalline material employed in electronics. Photo by Jason Richards, Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Dept. of Energy

Magnets - Momentum licenses ORNL technology

Dallas-based Momentum Technologies has non-exclusively licensed Oak Ridge National Laboratory's 3D-printed magnet technology and plans to commercialize the first 3D-printed magnet made from recycled materials. ORNL has demonstrated that 3D-printed magnets can outperform those created by traditional methods and could be used in electric vehicles, wind turbines and high-speed rail. Momentum holds two other ORNL technology licenses related to the recovery of rare earth minerals and magnets from electronic waste. "Bringing together these technologies through the Department of Energy's Critical Materials Institute and ORNL allows us to create a sustainable domestic supply of low-cost magnets made from recycled materials recovered from hard disk drives," said Momentum's CEO Preston Bryant. [Contact: Stephanie Seay, (865) 576-9894;]


Caption: Momentum Technologies has licensed Oak Ridge National Laboratory's 3D-printed magnet technology and plans to produce the first 3D-printed magnet made from recycled materials for use in electric vehicles, wind turbines and high-speed rail.

Catalysis - Simple synthesis

A "lucky finding" by Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists has led to a simple, nontoxic method to synthesize inexpensive ordered mesoporous materials from plant products. These materials will allow larger molecules to transfer more easily during catalysis, separations and other energy-related applications, said ORNL's Pengfei Zhang, whose team was originally evaluating tannin, a biomolecule found in plants, for other studies. As they mixed tannin with metallic salt cross-linkers, without applying heat or solvents, the molecules surprisingly self-assembled into hexagonal cylinder-shaped mesostructures with large, uniform pore size. The solid-state process took only one hour as opposed to days when using traditional solution methods. Results of the synthesis process are detailed inNature Communications. [Contact: Sara Shoemaker, (865) 976-9219;]


Caption: An ORNL-led team discovered a simpler, quicker nontoxic method to synthesize biomass materials without applying heat or solvents. The molecules self-assembled into large-pore-sized hexagonal cylinder-shaped mesostructures suitable for large molecule transfer during catalysis.

Materials - Transferring heat

Reducing the energy and water that power plants require to convert heat to electricity could become easier with a novel heat exchanger designed and 3D printed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A research team achieved a 500 percent increase in thermal conductivity using a new thermoplastic composite made of copper fibers mixed with nylon. Developed in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, the material and design can be used in creating heat exchangers for other applications as well. "Additive manufacturing gives us the flexibility to customize the heat exchanger for the task, tailoring the design and scaling the size as needed," ORNL's Vlastimil Kunc said. [Contact: Kim Askey, (865) 946-1861;]


Caption: At the Department of Energy's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, a research team achieved a 500 percent increase in thermal conductivity using a thermoplastic composite made of copper fibers mixed with nylon.

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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