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

November 16, 2000

Electronics - New transistor on the block . . .

Nano-transistors 10 times smaller than conventional ones and being developed at ORNL could change the complexion of the electronics industry. Transistors, which can be used as amplifiers, detectors or switches, are integral parts of computers, telephones and virtually all electronic components. Traditional transistors are based on single energy barriers that electrons either tunnel through or attain sufficient energies to overcome. The electron device being developed at ORNL is based on multiple energy barriers, resulting in an effective energy barrier that can be either raised or lowered, thereby modulating electron flow. The device is also potentially much faster than a conventional transistor. [Contact: Panos Datskos]

Environment - Manure: The other energy resource . . .

Manure from the hundreds of millions of farm animals is a big problem, but it's one that, with some work, could become a strong renewable energy resource. As farm animal production has become more concentrated, handling the manure and run-off have become a serious problem. But animal manure, a valuable fertilizer, also represents a gold mine as an energy source if the farmers can get enough economical and technological help in putting it to use. ORNL, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Tennessee's Joint Institute for Energy and Environmental Studies have held national workshops and are collaborating on ways to help farmers install manageable and economical systems to treat farm waste and put it to good use. [Contact: John Sheffield]

Energy - Fuel of the future? . . .

Methane hydrate isn't a familiar term to most people, but it's gaining popularity in the energy sector. Researchers believe there may be enough of this resource, which is methane locked in ice-like crystals, to supply energy for perhaps hundreds of years. Methane hydrates, which form at low temperatures and high pressure, are found in sea floor sediments and the arctic permafrost. The question is whether the resource can be tapped economically without hurting the environment by releasing methane, a greenhouse gas. There is even some evidence that methane hydrates have released methane gas to the atmosphere via natural processes. Another immediate concern is whether methane hydrate deposits in the ocean floor sometimes destabilize, thus resulting in seafloor instability that damages oil and gas production platforms. Researchers at ORNL hope to answer some key scientific questions by using a new seafloor process simulator, which is the world's largest, most highly instrumented pressure vessel for methane hydrate studies. [Contact: Gary Jacobs]

Environment - Solving the mercury mystery . . .

In a project called Metaalicus, researchers at ORNL hope to learn once and for all what happens to fish mercury concentrations when there is a change in the levels of mercury released into the environment. Despite massive amounts of scientific information published on mercury contamination, there remain very basic questions about the environmental behavior and effects of mercury. A critical question is whether a reduction in atmospheric mercury deposition will reduce mercury concentrations in fish. Proposed controls on industrial emissions of mercury could cost billions of dollars per year, yet it's not known precisely what effect the new controls will have on mercury in fish. This study, which will take place in the Experimental Lakes Area in Northwestern Ontario, is expected to be conducted over five years. [Contact: Steve Lindberg]
To arrange for an interview with any of these researchers, please contact Ron Walli of Communications and Community Outreach at (865) 576-0226;

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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