Science of Doing Business
A technology developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that uses light rather than heat to read the amount of radiation measured by a dosimeter is shining with potential uses.
With Optically Stimulated Luminescence, a tiny crystal traps and stores energy from exposure to ionizing radiation fields. The amount of exposure can be determined by shining a green light on the crystal and measuring the intensity of the blue light emitted. This technology allows for instantaneous readings that can be repeated. Traditional dosimeters take 20 or 30 seconds for a one-time-only reading. Other benefits include less handling, less packaging and lower life cycle costs.
The U.S. Department of Energy funded the research and development of the technology along with private companies. The use of Optically Stimulated Luminescence for personnel and environmental dosimetry is now licensed to Landauer Inc., of Glenwood, Ill.
Sunna Systems Corp., a company formed by two Pacific Northwest employees on entrepreneurial leaves of absence, is licensed for other specific applications, including high-dose dosimetry. This technique may be used in the medical industry and in the emerging market for food irradiation.
"Now that the FDA approved high-dose irradiation for red meat, high-dose dosimetry will get a lot of attention," said Steve Miller of Pacific Northwest's dosimetry research and technology group and an owner of Sunna. "They're going to need a low-cost way to measure how much radiation the meat is getting."
For medical applications, the same materials used to make tiny crystals for personnel dosimeters are fabricated into flat sheets. Two-dimensional dose mapping of radiation fields can help ensure that devices used to treat cancer are working correctly and delivering radiation to the appropriate parts of the body.
Flat sheets of the material also can be used to detect defects in materials such as airplane wings. This use of Pacific Northwest's technology, called industrial radiography, also is licensed to Sunna. Miller said that Sunna is seeking investment capital to help further its marketing, manufacturing and distribution efforts.
At the same time, Pacific Northwest is exploring opportunities to commercialize even more ways that the technology can be used. For example, it could be used in medical imaging as an alternative to typical x-rays and has high-density storage capabilities better than compact discs and even digital video discs or "DVD."
In the world of science and technology, earning an R&D 100 Award is like hitting a ball out of the park—it's a highly prized sign of accomplishment. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory had a winning season in 1999 with six technologies appearing among R&D Magazine's top 100 technologies of the year.
Each year, R&D Magazine honors the scientists, engineers and technicians who contribute to the 100 most significant technology products and advancements. Since 1969, Pacific Northwest has received a total of 51 R&D 100 Awards.
These award-winning technologies represent the innovation and dedication of some of Pacific Northwest's most valuable players.
The Centrate Ammonia Recovery Process controls the spread of ammonia and resulting nitrates to waterways and drinking water. The cost-effective process extracts ammonia from sewage treatment liquid and livestock waste and converts it to standard, commercial-grade ammonium sulfate fertilizer, which is dry and odorless.
The Compact Microchannel Fuel Vaporizer brings cars powered by fuel-cells one step closer by shrinking the fuel vaporization component to the size of a soda pop can with a weight of only 4 pounds. The technology contains integrated microcombustors and microchannel heat exchangers and makes it possible to manufacture compact fuel processing units for portable applications.
Another microtechnology, the MicroHeater, is a palm-sized combustion unit weighing less than 5 ounces that can provide heat for portable personal heating and cooling devices, indoor heating devices, in-line water heaters and fuel cell systems.
The Electrodynamic Ion Funnel greatly increases the sensitivity of analytical devices such as mass spectrometers by focusing the ions in gases and improving the process by which they are transmitted into the devices (see related story).
Molecular Sciences Software Suiteis the first general-purpose software that provides access to high-performance, massively parallel computers for chemists on a broad range of applications. MS3, the comprehensive, integrated suite of software, enables computational chemists to focus their advanced techniques on finding solutions to complex environmental issues involving chemical systems.
The PUMA Fiber Optic Neutron and Gamma Ray Sensor is a revolutionary radiation monitoring system that uses glass fibers to detect the presence of radionuclides such as plutonium. It has potential applications in countering the threat of nuclear terrorism and nonproliferation efforts.
Industry is warming up to a new way to treat contaminated soil and groundwater that uses electricity to heat soil and strip contaminants from the ground.
Commercial and industrial sites around the country are using Six-Phase Heating™ to remove contaminants such as gasoline, chlorinated solvents and other volatile and semi-volatile compounds from the soil and groundwater quickly and cost effectively.
"One advantage of Six-Phase Heating is that there is no need to excavate contaminated sites," said Bill Heath, a senior development engineer at Pacific Northwest who helped develop the technique. Heath is on part-time entrepreneurial leave to serve as the vice president of technology for Current Environmental Solutions, a limited liability company that was formed in 1997 to offer the technology commercially.
The process uses electric current to create heat, raising the temperature until the moisture in a contaminated aquifer boils and turns to steam.
The steam, carrying the stripped contaminants, rises to the surface where it is captured by extraction wells and treated. Compared to traditional vapor extraction methods, Six-Phase Heating is much less sensitive to the type of soil being treated or how easily the contaminants will vaporize. "It works well in tightly packed soil such as clay or silt or very wet soils that would otherwise be difficult if not impossible to treat." Heath said.
The process separates standard three-phase electrical current into six electrical phases and delivers each phase below the surface through separate electrodes. The electrical gradient between the electrodes causes electrical current to flow through the soil and groundwater, creating a uniform heating zone.
Earlier this year, Six-Phase Heating was used to remove tetra-chloroethylene from the soil beneath a former dry cleaning business and the adjacent alley where the chemicals had spread. While the actual storefront was closed, neighboring retail shops and the alley remained open throughout the entire cleanup process.
Pacific Northwest developed Six- Phase Heating for the U.S. Department of Energy as a faster and cheaper cleanup method for difficult-to-treat sites. Battelle, the company that operates Pacific Northwest, is a partner in Current Environmental Solutions, which is completing its fifth project to date.