INEEL competes successfully for DOE EMSP funding

November 11, 2002

The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory's investment in subsurface science is starting to pay off.

INEEL researchers won funding for seven U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management Science Program (EMSP) projects, and will support three additional projects led by other institutions. This research will bring $6.2 million to the Laboratory over the next three years.

EMSP sponsors basic environmental and waste management research. Results are expected to lead to reduced costs, schedule, and risks associated with cleaning up the nation's nuclear complex. This year, the EMSP awarded seven of 35 projects to INEEL researchers, who will directly support the DOE's mission of environmental science through this research.

"This was a great year for the INEEL and I am very pleased with the contribution made by scientists working in the Subsurface Science Initiative," said INEEL Subsurface Science Initiative director Michael Wright. "We wrote good, solid proposals and the reviewers saw the merit of our ideas."

"This research will result in significant new knowledge of the movement of contaminants through the subsurface of the INEEL site," said George Schneider, the DOE Director of Environmental R&D.

Through their EMSP research projects, INEEL scientists will study how contaminants move through the subsurface, taking into account flow through cracks, flow conditions, and pollutants that attach to suspended particles. A separate team plans to create tiny particles of material that degrade solvents, and study how well they can be put into the subsurface and be controlled to move to where solvent contaminants exist. Tests will show how well engineered particles can clean subsurface contaminants.

Researchers will study how quickly naturally-occurring microbes can degrade a common solvent pollutant, trichloroethylene, a remediation approach being used at the INEEL. The goal is to determine the rate of degrading and the signs that tell the process is successful and continuing. Another team hopes to adapt a measurement technique that uses magnetic fields and pulsed radio waves to locate solvents (degreasers) in the subsurface.

INEEL's new Geocentrifuge Research Laboratory will be put to use to study the theory that soil moisture content controls the chemical reactivity of contaminants in the vadose zone (the saturated area between the surface and the water table).

And researchers focused on metals in the subsurface will conduct two projects. The first will study feasibility of using metal-reducing microbes to create passive barriers to immobilize heavy metals in the subsurface and degrade chemical compounds of carbon and halogen. The second project will evaluate how stainless steel alloys survive three decades of underground storage. Since most long-term waste repositories and disposal facilities will be underground, test results will help understand long-term integrity, corrosion impacts, and contaminant transport from containers.

"Since 2000, INEEL has heavily invested in increasing the Laboratory's capabilities to conduct state-of-the-art subsurface research by hiring additional staff and building research facilities. Our success in competing for EMSP funding is validation that we're on the right track," said Wright.

In developing their proposals, INEEL researchers placed strong emphasis on compelling collaborations with other institutions to leverage research resources. INEEL staff will be working with researchers from three other national laboratories, 11 universities and five corporations. One collaborating industry is North Wind Environmental, Inc., an INEEL spin-off company located in Idaho Falls.

The INEEL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to supporting the DOE's missions in environment, energy, science and national security. The INEEL is operated for the DOE by Bechtel BWXT Idaho, LLC.
-end-
Technical contact: P. Michael Wright, 208-526-3315 or wrigpm@inel.gov, or Michael McIlwain, 208-526-8130, mem@inel.gov.

Media contact: Deborah Hill, 208-526-4723 or dahill@inel.gov

For media representatives interested in additional information about the individual research projects, brief summaries follow.

INEEL physicist Paul Meakin will lead a team studying fluid flow in fractured material to test the idea that focused flow on fractures (cracks in the rock), intermittent fluid flow conditions, and the transport of pollutants firmly attached to suspended particles play important roles in rapidly transporting subsurface contamination. Part of this research will be conducted at the INEEL's Matched-Index-of-Refraction Facility, one of the largest fluid dynamics experimental facilities in the world. Other collaborators include researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Oslo in Norway.

Geophysicist Russel Hertzog and his team will study how solvents (dense, nonaqueous phase liquids commonly used as degreasers in industry) move through the subsurface using a measurement technique called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). NMR uses magnetic fields and pulsed radio waves to measure the hydrogen content in fluids and their pore-space environment. Researchers want to adapt the technique for near-surface environmental applications. His collaborators include researchers from Schlumberger in Connecticut, Stanford University, Montana State University, and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Geochemist George Redden and his team plan to create particles 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair out of a solvent-degrading material, and then modify the surface properties so the particles will migrate to places where the pure solvent contaminants are present. A major challenge will be to learn more about how such particles (colloids) move through the subsurface, and how well their movement can be controlled. The team hopes to test the hypothesis that engineered particles could be used for active environmental cleanup in a subsurface environment. Redden will be collaborating with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

Microbiologist Rick Colwell and his team plan to determine how quickly native microbial populations can degrade the contaminant trichloroethylene (TCE) through a natural subsurface process that is being used at the INEEL. The goal of the research is to determine the true rates of this microbially-driven environmental remediation, and to recognize the microbial signals that indicate that the process is successful and continuing. Colwell will be collaborating with researchers from the University of Idaho, and North Wind Environmental in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Hydrologist Carl Palmer plans to use INEEL's new two-meter geocentrifuge to test the hypothesis that soil moisture content controls the chemical reactivity of contaminants in a vadose zone environment. The vadose zone is the variably saturated zone of earth between the surface and the water table. If the hypothesis is true, then researchers speculate that contaminant reactivity can be derived from laboratory and field tracer experiments using environmentally benign tracers.

Geologist Mariana K. Adler-Flitton and her team plan to evaluate how stainless steel alloys have survived three decades underground. Since most long-term waste repositories and disposals facilities will be underground, data from this project will significantly advance our understanding of long-term metal integrity, corrosion mechanisms, soil microbiology, and contaminant transport. Adler-Flitton will be collaborating with researchers from Boise State University, Diversa Corporation in California, Edward Escalante, Ph.D., in Maryland, Gold Sim Consulting Group in Washington, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland.

Microbiologist William Apel and his team will investigate the feasibility of using metal-reducing microorganisms to create a passive barrier that will immobilize heavy metals and degrade halocarbons (chemical compounds made of carbon and halogen). Apel's collaborators include researchers from Montana State University and Washington State University.

INEEL staff is also supporting three projects led by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (New Mexico), and the University of Idaho.

University of Idaho's Robert Smith will lead a team to investigate the feasibility of immobilizing heavy metals within calcite minerals by encouraging calcite growth in a subsurface environment. By stimulating naturally occurring urea hydrolyzing bacteria, geochemical conditions conducive to calcite precipitation and co-precipitation of contaminants can be created. INEEL biologist Yoshiko Fujita will collaborate with Smith on this project.

University of Idaho's Mike Nicholl and INEEL researcher Tom Wood will conduct research to better understand how the physical form (gas or solute) of a contaminant affects its transport in a highly fractured, porous subsurface environment. Nicholl's collaborators include researchers from Savannah River Site Technology Center in South Carolina, and the University of Colorado.

Los Alamos National Laboratory's Robert Roback will work with INEEL's Larry Hull to studying field-scale fluid flow and transport processes in the vadose zone. The vadose zone is the variably saturated zone of earth between the surface and the water table. Roback's collaborators also include a researcher from the University of New Mexico.

DOE/Idaho National Laboratory

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