Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, July 2019

July 01, 2019

Materials--Soft drink science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory has teamed with Cornell College and the University of Tennessee to study ways to repurpose waste soft drinks for carbon capture that could help cut carbon dioxide emissions. In a collaborative study, researchers used a simple chemical process on a variety of regular and diet sodas and discovered that regular sodas containing citric acid made the most efficient porous carbon structures for carbon dioxide adsorption. The unconventional approach follows interest in other low-cost feedstocks, such as banana peels and coffee grounds, for adsorbents to capture carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and other fossil-fueled industries. "Our process is unique in avoiding harsh chemicals typically used to activate carbon, resulting in eco-friendly and easily recyclable adsorbents," said ORNL's Shannon Mahurin. Transforming discarded sodas into raw materials could also bring energy and environmental solutions to waste-heavy soft drink production at facilities worldwide. [Contact: Ashley Huff, (865) 241-6451;]

Image 1:

Caption: ORNL and university researchers use waste soft drinks as a low-cost alternative to filter carbon dioxide emissions. Credit: Adam Malin/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Image 2:

Caption: ORNL's Shannon Mahurin, in collaboration with Cornell College and the University of Tennessee, discovered that regular sodas containing citric acid made the most efficient porous carbon structures for carbon dioxide adsorption. Credit: Carlos Jones/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Quantum--Widening the net

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory studying quantum communications have discovered a more practical way to share secret messages among three parties, which could ultimately lead to better cybersecurity for the electric grid and other energy assets. Current protocols such as quantum key distribution, a prevailing approach in cybersecurity research, are designed for only two parties and, in one instance, uses a pair of light particles called entangled photons. Securely extending quantum cryptography to three parties usually requires the difficult step of creating a three-photon entangled state. "In our experiment, we were able to add the laser source as a third active participant while only needing to produce one pair of photons," said ORNL's Brian Williams, lead author of the study published in Physical Review A. "Our method removes the need for producing a third photon, which dramatically improves operation efficiency." This finding could inspire improved security for existing and future computer networks. [Contact: Sara Shoemaker, (865) 576-9219;]


Caption: A new study by ORNL has revealed a more practical way to share secret messages among three parties by including the laser itself as a third active participant. Their approach could ultimately lead to better cybersecurity for the electric grid and other energy assets. Credit: Genevieve Martin/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Batteries--Polymers that bind

A team of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated that designed synthetic polymers can serve as a high-performance binding material for next-generation lithium-ion batteries. Binders serve a critical role in battery performance by maintaining electrochemical balance of materials and extending battery life-span. "We demonstrated how polymers perform as a binding agent during charging and discharging of lithium-ion batteries," ORNL's Tomonori Saito said. The team discovered that stronger adhesion strength alone does not always improve binder performance. Rather, performance is significantly influenced by several factors working together during the battery's operation. "Our results indicate that rational design of polymer binders is a key enabler for high-capacity anodes in next-generation batteries," Saito said. The results, published in ACS Energy Letters, could impact batteries in future consumer electronics and electric vehicles. [Contact: Jennifer Burke, (865) 576-3212;]


Caption: This illustration shows how polymers perform as a binding agent during the charging and discharging states of lithium-ion batteries. Credit: Tomonori Saito/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Nuclear--More than the core

Researchers have developed high-fidelity modeling capabilities for predicting radiation interactions outside of the reactor core--a tool that could help keep nuclear reactors running longer. The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, headquartered at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has integrated the new capability into its code suite VERA, or Virtual Environment for Reactor Applications. Working with the Tennessee Valley Authority, CASL simulated the refueling of the Watts Bar Unit 1 nuclear power plant. When comparing VERA's results to the detector measurements in the ex-core--the region outside a reactor's pressure vessel--the simulation of detector response closely tracked the measured data. "Not only is this advancement more accurate than other tools, it also significantly improves the computing efficiency needed to perform these high-fidelity simulations," said ORNL's Eva Davidson. The technique will provide industry and regulators better predictions for ex-core issues of current reactors, including material degradation that could affect performance and license renewals. [Contact: Jason Ellis, (865) 241-5819;]


Caption: The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors' code suite VERA now offers a new capability to simulate neutron transport outside of the reactor's pressure vessel. During simulations of the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar 1 nuclear power plant, VERA calculated the expected source range detector response during eight fuel cycles. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Computing--Building a brain

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are taking inspiration from neural networks to create computers that mimic the human brain--a quickly growing field known as neuromorphic computing. By replacing traditional memory and CPUs with electronic neurons and synapses, scientists aim to create systems that solve complex problems more quickly using less power. "The computing community is starting to understand that this future beyond the GPU-CPU environment is coming," ORNL's Catherine Schuman said. As scientists imagine supercomputers after ORNL's Summit, the world's fastest supercomputer, and its successor Frontier, they will look for ways to surpass power and performance limits of traditional computing. "One of those paths forward is to incorporate more novel computing architectures into the supercomputer," she said. ORNL will host the second annual International Conference on Neuromorphic Systems in Knoxville from July 23-25, bringing together government, industry and academic professionals to collaborate on neuromorphic computing.--Abby Bower [Contact: Sara Shoemaker, (865) 576-9219;]


Caption: With applications ranging from autonomous vehicle sensing to daytime astronomy to robotics, researchers attending the ORNL-hosted ICONS conference are interested not only in novel uses of neuromorphic computing, but also in the role it might play in building future supercomputers as traditional systems hit power and performance limits. Credit: Jason B. Smith/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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