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Technology Transfer

Study: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory a major contributor to Washington state economy

The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory directly and indirectly supported more than $1.3 billion and 6,800 jobs in the Washington state economy last year, as well as another $1.2 billion dollars and over 6,400 jobs through closely related economic activities. Those and other findings regarding PNNL's economic impact on the Evergreen State are the subject of a comprehensive analysis prepared by laboratory economists and released this week. The report, titled "Economic Impact of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on the State of Washington in Fiscal Year 2013" can be viewed here. It quantifies economic impacts such as PNNL's funding and total spending, jobs, wages, purchased goods and services, healthcare, visitor spending, spinoff companies, education support and corporate charitable contributions. "The community has long recognized the economic impact of PNNL is significant. Seeing the impact actually quantified in this report should be a real eye-opener here locally and to the entire region," said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council. "PNNL is really an economic engine for all of Washington and I hope business leaders and legislators from across the entire state recognize PNNL's impact in terms of spending, employment, in-state purchases and taxes paid." PNNL is one of Washington's largest scientific research centers. Interdisciplinary teams at PNNL address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Seventy percent of its funding comes from DOE, while the rest is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, National Institutes of Health, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other federal agencies and private industry. PNNL is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, and is managed and operated by Battelle for DOE's Office of Science. The laboratory is the largest employer in the Tri-Cities and one of the largest in eastern Washington. Of PNNL's 4,344 staff, 94 percent reside in Washington, working mostly at PNNL's main campus in Richland, but also at its Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim and offices on Lake Union in Seattle. The laboratory's unique facilities attract thousands of visiting scientists each year, who, according to the report, also help fuel the local and state economy. Report Highlights Highlights from the report include the following. Data in most cases are for fiscal year 2013 (Oct. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013) and in some cases calendar year 2013, which was the latest available data at the time the report was compiled. -Expenditures in Washington state were about $377 million in salaries and wages, and $48 million in purchased goods and services. Through multiplier effects, these direct expenditures supported $1.31 billion in total economic output in Washington state. -An additional $1.21 billion in economic output was created by PNNL-related health care, spinoff companies, visitors and retirees in Washington. -Seventy-six spinoff companies located in Washington earned an estimated $570 million in revenue and employed 2,219 people, -PNNL, as well as Battelle staff at PNNL, paid nearly $23 million in taxes to state and local governments, Nearly 200,000 visitor-days at PNNL from university, industry and government partners and others led to $31 million in visitor spending, and about 450 jobs supported by visitor spending, -Battelle, as the operator of PNNL, received $5.6 million in royalty income and license fees, which were reinvested in the laboratory and communities where it has a presence, -PNNL staff and their households spent $42 million in purchase of health-related services funded by PNNL health insurance in fiscal year 2013, -Retired staff living in Washington state spent over $22 million through Medicare and other health providers in 2013, -Battelle and Battelle staff at PNNL contributed more than $1 million to philanthropic and civic organizations. This included $324,000 for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, education.

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Technology Transfer

Commercialization license to advance batteries for renewable energy storage

A Massachusetts startup has signed a license agreement with Battelle to commercialize battery technology that can help store large amounts of renewable energy and improve the reliability of the nation's power grid. The license with Lowell, Mass.-based WattJoule Corporation is expected to advance the commercial use of redox flow battery technology. "Redox flow battery technology is well-suited for storing intermittent, renewable energy on the electric grid. The technology can help balance supply and demand, prevent disruptions and meet the grid's varying load requirements," said Imre Gyuk, energy storage program manager at DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability, which supported the licensed technology's development at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "Successful commercialization of DOE-sponsored technology development is vital for creating the grid of the future, and sustaining U.S. leadership in advanced technology," Gyuk added. Smoothly integrating intermittent renewable power such as wind and solar onto the electric grid while also maintaining grid stability has been challenging. First developed in the 1970s, the redox flow battery shows promise in meeting this challenge. Until recently, these batteries have been limited by their ability to only work well within certain temperature ranges, their relatively high cost and their low energy density. But researchers at PNNL, which is managed by Battelle, have made significant progress in improving the performance of redox flow technologies. PNNL developed novel vanadium electrolytes that overcome the limitations of earlier redox flow batteries. The result is a dramatically improved operating temperature range, higher energy density and lower cost for vanadium redox flow batteries. WattJoule plans to combine its own proprietary technology with PNNL's to develop an energy storage platform for a broad variety of energy companies, including those involved in wind and solar power. This is the third and final license granted for PNNL's technologies to all-vanadium, mixed acid redox flow battery developers.

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Technology Transfer

Refrigerated trucks to keep their cool thanks to fuel cell technology

Grocery merchants in Texas, California and New York will soon have ice cream, frozen foods and fresh produce delivered by tractor trailers whose refrigeration units are powered by fuel cells, a clean technology that makes energy silently and with dramatically reduced emissions. The fuel cells will do the work normally done by a small diesel engine, which keeps the cargo at the proper temperature while the trucks are making deliveries. Each of the four trucks will still be equipped with a main diesel engine that actually powers the truck. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is overseeing the project, believe this will be the first time that refrigerated trucks making deliveries have been equipped with a fuel cell — a device that creates electricity by driving chemical reactions using hydrogen and air. The only byproducts are heat and water. "This is a great application for a fuel cell," said Kriston Brooks, the PNNL researcher leading the project. "A trailer refrigeration unit traditionally is powered by a small diesel engine or electric motor that drives compressors to provide cooling to the cargo. A fuel cell can potentially provide a clean, quiet and efficient alternative by powering the electric motor." Two leading fuel cell manufacturers, Massachusetts-based Nuvera and Albany, N.Y.-based Plug Power Inc., will each receive $650,000 from DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The companies will provide matching funds and labor of their own. A PNNL team led by Brooks will oversee and evaluate the two-year program. Industry officials estimate that approximately 300,000 refrigerated trucks with auxiliary power units are on the road in the United States. By replacing the small diesel engines with the more efficient fuel cell, users will see fuel savings of approximately 10 gallons a day per unit, in addition to reduced emission of pollutants and significantly quieter operation. "Accelerated fuel cell use in this application is also expected to create jobs in the energy sector, increase fuel cell manufacturing volume, decrease costs, and catalyze a stronger domestic supplier base," said Jamie Holladay, PNNL's sector manager for fuel cell technologies. Fuel cells are becoming more common as energy sources in buildings and in vehicles such as buses. While the devices are generally more expensive than traditional forms of energy generation, many scientists and product developers expect that as they become more widely adopted and production levels increase, their cost will come down, similar to what has happened to products like cell phones. "One of the goals is to accelerate fuel cell use in industry," said Brooks. "In spite of their higher costs now, the higher efficiency and zero emissions from fuel cells are enough to convince many companies not to wait to implement this technology. Fuel cell products are already used widely in warehouses, and this project broadens their reach." In one project, Nuvera will work with Thermo King, a manufacturer of transport temperature control systems for a variety of mobile applications, to develop the refrigeration unit to keep the truck cool using Nuvera's Orion™ fuel cell stack. That truck will make deliveries for a Sysco Corp. food distribution facility in Riverside, Calif., and for a San Antonio, Texas, food distribution center for the H-E-B grocery store chain. In the other project, Plug Power will work with Carrier Transicold and Air Products to equip trucks making deliveries for a Sysco Corp. food distribution facility on Long Island. The trucks will be equipped with Plug Power's GenDrive fuel cell product. Both the Sysco and the H-E-B facilities already use forklifts powered by hydrogen fuel cells, part of a trend fostered by DOE to increase the use of the technology in industry. At both companies, the infrastructure to provide hydrogen for the fuel cells is already in place; the hydrogen is generated on site from natural gas and water using Nuvera's PowerTap™ hydrogen generator and refueling system. For the site using the Plug Power technology, the hydrogen will be supplied by Air Products using an outdoor hydrogen dispenser. Each fuel-cell powered refrigerated trailer will run for at least 400 hours at each demonstration site, delivering goods from the distribution centers to stores or other outlets.

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Technology Transfer

PNNL-developed injection molding process recognized with emerging technologies award

An injection-molding method that can reduce costs and increase the use of titanium and other durable, lightweight and corrosion-resistant metals has earned a 2013 TechConnect National Innovation Award. Researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed an organic binder to reduce the impurities in reactive metals, allowing them to be utilized in a powder injection molding process. Standard binders used to hold metal powders together in high volume molding processes can introduce oxygen, nitrogen or carbon into the metal as impurities, which can result in impacts to their mechanical properties (i.e. potentially making machine parts less structurally sound). But the PNNL-developed method uses a novel binder system that leaves very few impurities when it is completely burned up during a later stage of fabrication. The innovation also reduces or eliminates the swelling, cracking or other distortions to the component that can result from traditional binders used in powder injection molding processes. The result is faster production time and lower costs. The TechConnect Innovation awards are given annually to top early-stage innovations from around the world by TechConnect, a global outreach and development organization based in Austin, Texas. TechConnect honors technologies based on the potential impact they will have on specific industrial sectors. "Titanium is strong and corrosion resistant, making it ideally suited to the automotive, aerospace, chemical production, and biomedical implant or equipment industries," said PNNL commercialization manager Eric Lund. "However, until now, use of injection molding to produce titanium components has been severely limited by the introduction of impurities with the binders, which then degrade the component properties." Lund noted the PNNL-developed method overcomes this problem by using an organic binder that is cleanly removed during sintering and leaves few or no impurities that can cause degradation in material properties.

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Technology Transfer

License will lead to faster-charging batteries for phones, electric vehicles

An enhanced battery technology that can potentially reduce the time it takes to charge cell phones, electric vehicles and other battery-powered devices from hours to minutes is the subject of a commercial license agreement between Battelle and Vorbeck Materials Corp. of Jessup, Md. Battelle operates the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. The agreement will allow Vorbeck to bring lithium batteries incorporating Vor-X® graphene technology to market for use in consumer portable electronic and medical devices, tools and electric vehicles. Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable and are widely used in electronic devices such as laptops and smartphones, and to power electric cars and trucks. "Today, a typical cell phone battery takes between two and five hours to fully recharge, and an electric vehicle has to be plugged in most of the night to recharge," explained John Lettow, president of Vorbeck Materials. "The pioneering work done by Vorbeck, Princeton University, and PNNL is leading to the development of batteries that recharge quickly, reducing the time it takes to charge a smartphone to minutes and an electric vehicle to just a couple of hours." Lettow noted the research effort also could lead to the development of batteries that are more stable, have a longer life and store larger amounts of energy. "We are very pleased to add this substantial portfolio of graphene-based battery technologies, developed with PNNL and Princeton, to our already very strong graphene patent portfolios in conductive inks, printed electronics, composite materials, and energy storage," added Lettow. "This license is the culmination of a substantial investment of laboratory-directed research and development funds, innovative work by our researchers and a proactive patenting strategy recently deployed at PNNL," said Cheryl Cejka, the national laboratory's director of technology commercialization. "PNNL is a leader in linking research to real-world impact, so we are thrilled to see a company like Vorbeck bring our technology to US consumers." Electronics and auto manufacturers would like to develop the next generation of batteries using low-cost materials such as titanium dioxide to replace the more expensive materials used today. But titanium dioxide on its own doesn't perform well enough to serve as a replacement. Recently, PNNL researchers collaborated with Vorbeck to develop a method for building tiny titanium oxide and carbon structures and then demonstrated that small quantities of Vor-X® graphene — a good electronic conductor made from ultra-thin sheets of carbon atoms — can dramatically improve the performance of the batteries, especially with respect to how rapidly the batteries can be charged. Structural analysis studies of the material were conducted with scientists at EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE national user facility located at PNNL. When they compared how well the new combination of electrode materials charged and discharged electric current, the electrodes containing graphene outperformed the standard titanium dioxide by up to three times. Lettow noted the Vorbeck-PNNL team recently received a grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, to develop advanced battery chemistries, and has contracts with major manufacturers for graphene-based printed electronics and battery systems. "As a result, Vorbeck anticipates continued breakthroughs, new patents and rapid commercialization of the new technology in consumer goods," he said. "Prototypes of Vorbeck's battery technologies were already on display earlier this month at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas."

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Technology Transfer

Technology identifies anomalies in complex financial data

Identifying atypical information in financial data early could help determine problematic financial trends such as the systemic risk that recently put the U.S. and global financial systems in a downward fall. Recognizing such anomalous information can also help regulators understand markets, and identify the potential need of new rules and regulations. Additionally, it can help investors and advisors better manage their investment and savings portfolios.

The AnomalatorTM software, developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, uses advanced mathematical algorithms to identify unusual trends in complex financial data and graphically show how it compares with larger datasets. Licensed to Spokane-based V-INDICATOR ANALYTICS, LLC, the Anomalator software tracks performance, monitors risk, and detects potential scams.

V-INDICATOR's President learned that PNNL researchers had a long history of visually analyzing data for homeland security applications. In 2008 he utilized the Laboratory's Economic Development Office's Technology Assistance Program (TAP) to investigate whether any of the Laboratory's available technologies would suitably augment and better track anomalies in investment banking, and visualize them in a user-friendly manner. While the TAP work revealed that none of the existing software packages would readily address his needs, technology maturation funds were provided by PNNL operator, Battelle, to fund development of a new software solution.

The resulting Anomalator software is considered a best-of-breed anomaly detection tool for complex financial data that qualifies what is happening in the finance world. Licensed to V-INDICATOR specifically for the financial industry, the Anomalator also has the capability to provide trends and overviews for many areas including health care and credit card fraud.

V-INDICATOR is currently working with financial industry leaders and regulators to apply Anomalator software to critical problems addressed by the Dodd-Frank legislation and its regulations. Applications span systemic risk to funds, derivatives, stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments-and uses including regulatory, wealth management, fiduciary, forensic, advisory, and asset management and monitoring.

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Technology Transfer

PNNL-developed technologies licensed via Startup America

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has signed option agreements with three companies that will lead to products designed to increase the storage capacity of batteries used to power portable devices and electric vehicles, reduce the cost of fuel cells used to generate electricity from hydrogen, and detect pests hidden behind walls in buildings. The agreements include two with Maryland and California companies that are part of the White House's Startup America initiative, which was launched in January and is designed to help young companies grow, move innovative technologies into the marketplace and create good-paying jobs in the United States. All were signed with a $1,000 fee to provide entrepreneurs a low-cost way to examine each technology's suitability for their business plans. The PNNL-developed technologies were made available the on the laboratory's Available Technologies website as well as on DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, the Energy Innovation Portal. "PNNL is focused on driving emerging technologies toward outcomes that solve issues of national importance," said Cheryl Cejka, PNNL's director of technology commercialization. "We have a long history of working closely with entrepreneurs and early stage companies to develop and adapt our innovations into new or improved products and services. The Startup America options are just a few of our latest examples." Vorbeck Materials, based in Jessup, Md., optioned a PNNL-developed method for building tiny titanium oxide and carbon structures that greatly improve the performance of lithium ion batteries. The rechargeable batteries are widely used in portable devices such as laptops, and are used in most electric vehicles. Vorbeck, a manufacturer and developer of applications using its proprietary graphene material, optioned the technology for use in a graphene-based electrode for lithium air and lithium sulfur batteries. The new material stores twice as much electricity at high charge/discharge rates as current lithium ion batteries, and creates increased battery capacity and a longer cycle life. A PNNL technology that supports the minimization of high-cost platinum use in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells was optioned by startup Evaxa Energy Systems, LLC. Headquartered in Corona Del Mar, Calif., Evaxa optioned the fuel cell technology with the goal of incorporating it into a low-cost PEM fuel cell. PEM fuel cells are primarily used for backup power. The optioned technology reduces the cost of manufacturing the fuel cells by up to one-third without decreasing overall performance, and improves stability and life of the fuel cell. A third option was granted based on PNNL's award-winning millimeter wave technology. Originally developed to protect air travelers, the technology utilizes millimeter waves that penetrate clothing and reflect off the body, sending signals back to a transceiver. Newly formed VisiRay, located in Corvallis, Ore., signed an option agreement for a new application of the technology. The company's business plan is based on manufacturing devices to detect pests in buildings. Each year, pests cause many millions of dollars in damage to homes and commercial buildings. If successfully developed, VisiRay's intended products will allow inspectors to see through drywall particle boards, and view clear images of pests on the other side of the wall. The company was started by University of Oregon Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship MBA students participating in PNNL's University Technology Entrepreneurship Program. As part of the Startup America Partnership, DOE initiated the "Next Top Energy Innovator" program, which reduces the cost of options to license available patents to U.S. start-up companies to $1,000-a fraction of the usual cost. The agreement provides the company a one-year to option to obtain an exclusive license to the technology for a specified field of use.

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Technology Transfer

Biodegradable polymer delivers more effective, safer therapeutic radiation

As part of a broader mission to develop better alternative treatments for diseases such as cancer, Battelle researchers at PNNL and the University of Utah co-developed a way to use a commercially available radioactive isotope, Yttrium-90, to deliver radiation by surgically implanting seeds holding the isotope into tumors. Yttrium-90 has characteristics that make it a good radiation source for killing cancer cells-namely, a shorter physical half-life and effective confinement of radioactivity to the placement site-but it cannot be delivered in metal brachytherapy seeds as some other medical isotopes are.

To overcome this, researchers developed a fast-dissolving, or resorbable, polymer seed to be used in place of metal as a delivery device for the therapeutic radioisotope. The result is a potential cancer treatment-called the resorbable brachytherapy seed-that can be less expensive, can deliver more effective radiation, is less hazardous to hospital workers, and is biocompatible with-and bioabsorbed (naturally removed) from-the body.

Advanced Medical Isotope Corp (AMIC) of Kennewick, Washington, showed an interest in further developing the technology for potential commercialization, sparking further research collaboration with Battelle and co-developers at the University of Utah. This working relationship led to industry funded research and development work at PNNL and at University of Utah to mature the resorbable brachytherapy seed technology that AMIC then exclusively licensed in late 2010.

The company is now working toward commercialization, with plans to perform further research and development of the new brachytherapy seeds, which resemble conventional metal brachytherapy seeds and may be placed by direct injection using standard tools. AMIC anticipates the use of these seeds for treatment of prostate cancer, as well as for many of the more radiation-resistant cancers including brain tumors, head and neck tumors, and liver cancer.

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Technology Transfer

Biomass gasification licensed for international markets

Under appropriate conditions, algae can grow extremely fast while absorbing carbon dioxide via photosynthesis. Another benefit is that algae production can use land and water not suitable for food crops, and the methane produced as a fuel to generate renewable electricity can use the existing natural gas infrastructure as a fuel to generate renewable electricity - a desirable outcome for gasification companies, utilities, and the electricity-consuming public.

Genifuel Corp, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, develops equipment to make renewable methane from wet organic material. Suspecting that large quantities of wet biomass could be efficiently gasified to methane, the company sought out a catalytic wet gasification process developed by PNNL researchers. In 2008 Genifuel applied for a Technology Assistance Program (TAP) project to work with the PNNL research team, utilize Laboratory equipment to test various water plants including algae, and compare the results to terrestrial biomass through a process known as Catalytic Hydrothermal Gasification (CHG). CHG uses a wet process catalyzed to yield rapid and almost complete conversion of the biomass, producing a clean renewable fuel as the end product. This process operates at much lower temperatures than other gasification methods, making the construction and operation of the equipment easier and less costly.

The CHG technology was licensed domestically by Genifuel in 2009 for a specific list of feedstocks; in 2011, Genifuel contracted to extend the license to all international countries covered by the patents. The international license allows the company to pursue the same opportunities overseas that it previously only had license coverage for in the U.S. 

Today, Genifuel is pursuing the international market due to an increasing number of inquiries from outside the United States-mostly from Europe and Asia-aimed at biofuel technology. Since receiving the international license, a number of promising leads for designing machines of various sizes to process a wide range of feedstocks have been generated in Europe.

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Technology Transfer

Millimeter wave technology helps shoppers find better fitting clothes

Originally designed to protect air travelers, the 3-D holographic technology employed in body-scanning kiosks uses harmless millimeter waves that penetrate clothing and reflect off of the body, sending signals back to a transceiver. The transceiver sends the signals to a high-speed computer, which then reconstructs them to create a visualization tool for security applications, or compiles detailed body measurements for clothing fitting and health/wellness applications.

Me-AlityTM has exclusively licensed the technology to help clothing shoppers find better fitting clothes easily and quickly, as well as assess their overall fitness. The company plans to revolutionize the apparel industry by introducing scanning kiosks near retail locations that will provide-at no cost-the best fitting and most flattering styles for a shopper's unique body measurements from many of the largest brand name apparel lines.

The PNNL-developed technology was previously licensed, and is currently being deployed by the Transportation Security Administration for airport security across the U.S. to identify hidden objects-including plastic, ceramic and other non-metallic weapons.

The scanning systems can also be used to quickly and accurately collect useful and relevant body measurement data during the scanning process, which can be used for a variety of purposes, including clothing fitting, but also eventually for helping individuals track their fitness and wellness goals. An earlier application of the technology in the apparel industry won the prestigious R&D Magazine's Editor's Choice Award as "Most Promising New Technology" in 2004.

Me-Ality installed its first kiosk at Pennsylvania's King of Prussia Mall in early 2011. In July, the company announced that it had received a $30 million investment to implement its business plan. An aggressive rollout includes plans to install over 400 body scanning kiosks in large shopping centers and other high-traffic venues within the next two and a half years.

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Technology Transfer

Global mass spectrometer company reaps the benefits of long-term partnership

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The relationship between PNNL and Agilent Technologies dates back to the Agilent's inception in 1999 as a spin-out of Hewlett-Packard. Since then, the collaboration has been a critical and ongoing part of new product development for Agilent, a company that develops cutting edge analytical instrumentation and methodologies for engineers, scientists, and researchers around the globe to meet communications, electronics, life sciences, and chemical analysis challenges.

Through several collaborative research projects over the years, Agilent and PNNL have shared a common focus on advancing the state of the art in the measurement industry in terms of not only instrumentation, but also methodologies and software. One important goal for Agilent as an industry leader was to find new ways to address the most important aspect of mass spectrometry-the ability to achieve trace-level analysis. To do so requires the utmost in instrument sensitivity.

Agilent had found what they were looking for in PNNL's award-winning ion funnel technology, which vastly improves ion transmission in mass spectrometry, thus improving detection and measurement capabilities. The company has been able to achieve factors-of-10 greater sensitivity with this technology. And in 2010, Agilent introduced a new mass spectrometer incorporating dual ion funnel technology- the 6490 Triple Quadrupole LC/MS. This new device achieves unprecedented sensitivity in part by including dual ion funnel technology, designed to dramatically increase the number of ions that enter a mass spectrometer.

Today, Agilent continues to collaborate with researchers at PNNL and expand the scope of their research and development to solve emerging challenges posed by the scientific community.

Awards

  • 2004 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer
  • 1999 R&D 100 Award

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Technology Transfer

Device breathes life into study of cell interactions

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IncubATRTM-the Live-Cell Monitor was developed as a tool to study cells in near-real time by utilizing and improving on existing attenuated total reflection (ATR)-Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) technology. It functions as a specialized containment device, creating an environment that is conducive to live-cell growth, propagation, and longevity. When a FTIR spectroscope is attached to this device, cell response to physical, chemical, or biological stimuli can be monitored and recorded in real time.

Before the IncubATR, researchers often had to rely on results from studies performed on cells that were fixed, dead, or had limited longevity. The ability to study living cells in near real-time is ideal for a broad range  of applications, from pharmaceutical testing, to biomolecular studies, to environmental impact studies involving biological exposures, and includes many other potential uses in between.

Research and development that resulted in the IncubATR was done by researchers at PNNL, initially only existing as a conceptual invention report. The team identified Wisconsin-based Simplex Scientific, LLC as the right fit to produce a prototype of PNNL's design. Through partnership between PNNL and Simplex, and funding provided by PNNL operator Battelle, the concept was developed, tested, submitted for patent, exclusively licensed to Simplex, and converted into a commercial product in less than two years.

Today, Simplex continues to work with researchers and commercialization staff at PNNL to evaluate the many applications and extensions for the IncubATR device. As it is, the technology will speed up scientific discovery, reduce costs, and curtail the need for live animal testing in some cases.

Awards

  • 2011 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer
  • 2010 R&D 100 Award

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Technology Transfer

Laser power source turns down the volume, allows more accurate chemical detection

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Quantum Cascade Lasers (QCLs) are high-performance semiconductor lasers for chemical sensing that serve a wide range of applications including biomedical, imaging, spectroscopy, remote sensing, military, aerospace, communications, and material processing. Montana-based Wavelength Electronics, Inc. had identified a new market opportunity for QCLs that incorporate low-noise drivers. When used in the laser-based gas sensors, a low-noise power source would enable scientists to more accurately detect smaller levels of trace gases than would otherwise be possible.

Wavelength is a manufacturer of high-performance power supplies for laser diodes used by high-tech original equipment manufacturers and researchers. Known for delivering instrument-level performance in small, cost-effective modules, the company was convinced by an important customer that it should adopt and license a PNNL-developed technology.

Through the Laboratory's Technology Assistance Program, researchers performed measurement of spectral current noise density from three of Wavelength's current controllers, as well as two developed at PNNL. The project resulted in several findings, clearing the path forward for Wavelength Electronics to leverage the PNNL-developed technology into a commercially viable controller.

Wavelength and PNNL worked together to test the newly developed current controller units on laser-based sensor equipment made by Wavelength customer Aerodyne Research Incorporated. The improved performance was found to significantly reduce the noise levels and increase the sensitivity of Aerodyne's sensors.

The results of this collaboration quickly prompted Wavelength to license the technology, which paid off with an immediate sale to Aerodyne.

Awards

  • 2011 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer

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Technology Transfer

Renewable process makes big impact with global agricultural processor

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More than two billion pounds of petroleum are consumed each year to meet the current demand for propylene glycol (PG), used to manufacture chemicals needed to produce a broad range of common industrial and consumer products including paint, printer ink cartridges, and cosmetics, among numerous others. Now a new process developed by researchers at PNNL offers a commercially proven, cost-effective way to make PG from renewable sources.

Development of the Propylene Glycol from Renewable Sources (PGRS) process began nearly a decade ago with a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between PNNL and a national agricultural association. What resulted was a new set of catalysts and the discovery that glycerol could be converted to PG, meaning what was once made only from petroleum could be made entirely using a renewable feedstock.

One of the PNNL researchers introduced Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) to the collaboration, which led to a new CRADA for additional work between PNNL and ADM to optimize the catalyst for potential commercial application. In 2006, ADM licensed the process and initiated plans for a pilot plant. After successfully constructing and operating a pilot plant in 2009, ADM completed construction of a full-scale production facility for the sole purpose of commercially producing PGRS. The new multi-million dollar facility, which began operations in early 2011, is expected to achieve up to 200 million pounds annual production capacity.

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Technology Transfer

Licensed to kill—metal contaminants

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Researchers at PNNL had already developed the award-winning Self-Assembled Monolayers on Mesoporous Supports (SAMMS) technology — a revolutionary material that can economically remove dangerous metals such as mercury from the environment, to levels below 1.3 parts per trillion—before meeting Steward Advanced Materials. A leading manufacturer of alloys, magnetic materials, and industrial components for addressing environmental and industrial problems, Steward was looking for a new coating to use with their magnetic materials when they found that PNNL might have their solution.

Through the Laboratory's Technology Assistance Program (TAP), engineers from Steward visited PNNL to learn more about the SAMMS technology. What they found was that SAMMS was not only an excellent mercury adsorbent—they were able to get mercury levels down to lower than 5 parts per trillion—but it also could be used on other heavy metals and in harsh environments such as sulfuric acid. Through their trial of the technology, Steward determined that SAMMS was indeed ideally suited to clean heavy metals out of waste streams, a requirement in many industries.

Following the TAP project, with a license in hand, Steward initiated production and began marketing its products based on the SAMMS technology. A number of successful tests followed at U.S. mining sites and with commercial engineering firms looking for adsorbents for a variety of clean-up applications.

Today, Steward continues to test SAMMS on a variety of applications, including in the pharmaceutical industry for capturing high-value catalysts for recycling.

Awards

  • 2006 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer
  • 1998 R&D 100 Award

Videos

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Technology Transfer

New ‘expert’ keeps tabs on energy use in buildings

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Energy Expert is the commercial name given to a newly-adapted version of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's (PNNL’s) Whole-Building Energy (WBE) Diagnostician tool, which monitors energy use in buildings and/or by major building systems. Using trend data to automatically detect and provide alerts for anomalies in energy consumption, as well as supporting information on impacts, the technology automatically creates a model of energy use as data are accumulated. The model is then used to predict future energy use and alerts building operations staff to variances between actual and expected consumption measurements.

In 2004, NorthWrite, Inc., an energy software company, visited PNNL to learn more about the software. Shortly after the visit, a partnership between the organizations was formed, and the team enhanced the tool to increase its flexibility and usability by converting it to a Web-based application called the Energy Expert.

PNNL and NorthWrite entered into a non-exclusive license that returns a use fee to the Laboratory based on sales of Energy Expert, which uses the WBE base technology. Following the license agreement, through Technology Assistance Program projects, which provide up to one week’s worth of a PNNL researcher’s time in a fiscal year, the Energy Expert product was further enhanced. It is now the centerpiece in NorthWrite’s energy business development efforts and is available for commercial use through NorthWrite’s suite of Web-based facility management software tools called WorkSiteTM.

This ability to continuously monitor energy usage means expensive fluctuations in energy performance can be addressed sooner, resulting in greater energy efficiency and lower energy costs. Other industries have observed the potential of the Energy Expert through NorthWrite’s marketing efforts, and have entered into discussions with PNNL and NorthWrite to adapt the technology for monitoring climate control in grocery stores, as one example.

Awards

  • 2008 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer (shared with NorthWrite)

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Technology Transfer

Unique partnership brings new cancer treatment to life

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In 1998, a company co-founded by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) retiree Lane Bray, an internationally recognized expert in medical isotopes, came to PNNL for technical assistance. The company, IsoRay Medical, Inc., now produces Cesium-131 radiochemical brachytherapy "seeds" used in facilities across the country to treat prostate and other cancers. The Cesium-131 seed offers a significantly shorter half-life than the two other isotopes commonly used for brachytherapy, allowing faster delivery of therapeutic radiation to the prostate gland, reduced incidence of common brachytherapy side effects, and lower probability of cancer cell survival.

"IsoRay literally started in Lane Bray's basement, with about three employees," said Larry Greenwood, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) technical lead for the IsoRay project. In 1998, Bray, a PNNL retiree and internationally recognized expert in medical isotopes and Don Segna, a retired engineer, formerly with the U.S. Department of Energy, met with Greenwood to discuss technical issues related to the fledgling company.

This meeting led IsoRay to PNNL's Economic Development Office and access to PNNL expertise in the form of a Technical Assistance Program (TAP) project. Five additional TAP projects and seven years later, IsoRay was producing and marketing its Cs-131 seeds, which are now being used in 36 medical centers and clinics across the nation.

As a small start-up company, IsoRay did not have the physical or financial resources to conduct extensive testing in a radioactive environment. The company began by performing non-radioactive testing in a technology incubator facility before conducting the radioactive work at PNNL. In addition to providing a radiological lab and expertise, PNNL offered its regulatory experience.

IsoRay developed all of the intellectual property and holds all of the patents for the separation and purification of Cs-131. They recently built their own radiological laboratory in Richland, Wash., where they are now producing the seeds.

Awards

  • 2006 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer

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Collaboration yields big step forward for titanium production

The Titanium Metal Injection Molding (Ti MIM) technology—a quantum leap forward in titanium metallurgy—overcomes barriers of impurity intrusion to enable cost-effective production of small, precise titanium parts that is finally on par with steel and stainless steel manufacturing. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) initially funded the development of Ti MIM through an internal investment program.

In 2006, Praxair, Inc. and PNNL joined forces, each bringing a missing piece to the titanium manufacturing puzzle. Praxair, a global, Fortune 300 supplier of atmospheric, process, and specialty gases, was interested in opening new markets for its gases. The company brought its knowledge of industry, contacts in the manufacturing world, and financial support to the licensing agreement. At the same time, PNNL, with more than $100,000 of internal funds invested, brought its titanium metal injection molding process. Paired together, the organizations innovated and succeeded.

Following an additional internal investment to examine the use of titanium hydride powder in the Ti MIM process, PNNL pursued further research into the potential for expanding applications into larger scale manufacturing. The Laboratory is currently leveraging the Ti MIM technology to develop prototype aircraft components for a U.S. aerospace manufacturer.

Awards

  • 2006 R&D 100 Award

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Technology Transfer

PNNL scientists make quick work of homeland security solution

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL’s) Integrated Cargo Container Control System (IC3) is a software system and Web-based application that integrates data from multiple cargo inspection technologies and provides timely remote access to inspections and information.

The PNNL team conceptualized, developed and transferred the technology to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the country of Pakistan in a matter of months. During the latter part of 2006, PNNL identified the challenges and solutions for creating an integrated system and built a demonstration tool, adapting the technology to the needs of DHS and Pakistan.

Within three months of conceptualization, PNNL and DHS entered into an agreement that allowed PNNL staff to train Pakistani customs officers on the technology using the initial version of the IC3 system. The full system was launched in Washington D.C. and Pakistan in early 2007, only six months after the effort began.

The benefits derived from implementation of the IC3 technology are widespread. Shipments bound for the U.S. from foreign ports are under tighter control, reducing the risk that potentially dangerous cargo will be allowed access into our country. Areas identified for additional research include improvements in information proximity, which would facilitate better integration of data and images on a single screen, and a feasibility study for adding audio recordings, which could prove critical for emergency response applications.

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Technology Transfer

Thick films show promise in hydrogen sensors

Apollo, Inc is a general contracting firm specializing in infrastructure and industrial projects such as water treatment, wastewater treatment, bridges, laboratories, wineries, manufacturing facilities, commercial buildings, and environmental remediation. Apollo needed help developing hydrogen sensors to identify leaks and gas concentration for its digital control systems, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) was in search of a U.S. business partner to commercialize such a technology.

The two partnered to develop and commercialize the technology using an Initiative for Proliferation Prevention (IPP) Cooperative Research And Development Agreement (CRADA). An IPP is a mechanism for engaging weapons scientists, engineers, and technicians from the former Soviet Union and other regions of proliferation concern, and redirect their expertise to peaceful work through partnerships with U.S. commercial enterprises.

In collaboration with the Karpov Institute in Moscow, Russia, the research yielded two applications that appeared promising as potential solutions to the technology need. Eventually, the metal oxide thick films application was chosen to move forward, and a new approach to the sensor technology was created by scientists at the Karpov Institute, which retains invention ownership rights within the former Soviet bloc countries.

In 2006, Battelle exclusively licensed patent applications based on inventions made under the CRADA to Apollo, Inc. of Kennewick, Wash. and gained ownership under the IPP. Apollo then developed a prototype sensor, which was met with positive feedback, and significantly scaled up development of the thick film. The company can now process up to 50 batches per unit, and plans to add gas sensing equipment to its product line.

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Enhanced imaging technology sends great signals

The Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Spectroscopy (CARS) technology represents a new, three-dimensional, general purpose imaging technology that does not use intrinsic or extrinsic fluorescent labels, but is instead based on molecular vibrations, making it theoretically applicable as an analytical tool for identifying chemical or biological samples.

Although the CARS process is not new, recent developments and resulting commercial licensing have enabled the CARS process to become more practical for implementation in biological and other research. The high degree of spatial resolution at high levels of sensitivity represents a significant advance in imaging and mapping fundamental molecular processes.

To date, several non-exclusive licenses have been executed with industry clients, beginning in 2004 with Olympus, a camera giant and world leader in research and clinical microscopes and diagnostic testing. Royalties derived from the license were then used to fund the development of a new laser prototype for which a patent is pending. In 2006, PNNL executed a non-exclusive license with Leica, a leading global designer and producer of high-tech precision optics systems. Carl Zeiss licensed the technology in 2007.

PNNL’s improvements in CARS technology was an early outcome of work with staff and equipment at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a scientific user facility located on PNNL’s campus. Extensive development work on the CARS technology continues at Princeton University under the leadership of former PNNL staff member Dr. Sunney Xie.

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PNNL software helps airlines be proactive about flight safety

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory raised the bar on proactive airline safety when they developed a software technology called The Morning Report. The breakthrough technology provides commercial airlines, the federal government, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration the ability to gain insight into potentially unsafe flight practices and conditions.

The Morning Report technology was developed by PNNL in collaboration with Battelle, NASA-Ames, ProWorks, Flight Safety Consultants and Safe Flight. It is licensed to Sagem Avionics Inc., a Texas-based provider of technical support, MRO services, and marketing and sales of commercial aerospace products.

The technology uses sophisticated multivariate statistical algorithms to analyze massive amounts of flight data from on-board instrumentation on thousands of aircraft, distinguishing between common patterns and atypical events. A report of the findings is available for review each morning, allowing safety inspectors to quickly identify anomalies, share pertinent information with other decision makers, and possibly, prevent accidents.

The algorithms developed by the researchers at PNNL are so effective at identifying typical patterns, atypical events, and pre-cursors to significant events that they are now being adapted for other applications such as monitoring the electric power grid, with the expectation that they may help avoid electrical blackouts and other significant events in the future.

Awards & Recognition

  • 2005 R&D 100 Award
  • 2005 R&D Magazine Editor’s Choice for Product with the Greatest Impact on Safety
  • 2007 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer

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Two PNNL technologies provide springboard for mass spectrometry

Two innovative mass spectrometry technologies developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)—the Inductively Coupled Plasma/Mass Spectrometry (ICP/MS) Collision/Reaction Cell (CRC) technology and the Electrodynamic Ion Funnel—have advanced the analysis capabilities of mass spectrometer instruments worldwide. Both technologies have been licensed to a number of companies that manufacture mass spectrometers.

The CRC technology was first licensed to ThermoElectron Corporation in 2002. Today, it is estimated that 80 percent of all new ICP/MS instruments sold incorporate some form of PNNL’s CRC technology, which removes interferences, enabling the mass spectrometer to better detect and measure environmentally significant metals compared with conventional technology.

The Electrodynamic Ion Funnel technology, which greatly improves the sensitivity of analytical devices such as mass spectrometers, is licensed to several companies including Bruker Daltonics. The company introduced the first commercial mass spectrometer products incorporating the technology in 2005. "Only a small fraction of the ions that are created for analysis are ever transmitted through the mass spectrometer and ultimately detected. This limits sensitivity and is a major problem. The Ion Funnel helps address this problem," said the device's inventor, Richard Smith, a laboratory fellow at PNNL.

Advanced versions of the Ion Funnel are being used in research funded by both the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health at Pacific Northwest. The technology is particularly suited for use in conjunction with ion mobility spectrometry/mass spectrometry (IMS/MS). Potential applications involve new ways to diagnose diseases, and research applications focused on the immune system, cellular signaling processes related to diseases such as cancer, and environmental effects on health.

More information about the Ion Funnel technology

Awards

  • 1999 R&D 100 Award (Electrodynamic Ion Funnel)
  • 2004 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer (Both)

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PNNL sheds light on need for more efficient bulbs

Reflector Compact Fluorescent Lamps (R-CFLs) were initially developed as an alternative for incandescent reflector lamps commonly found in popular recessed can lighting fixtures. During the course of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL’s) lighting work, researchers discovered the number and types of existing R-CFLs was limited, and that the R-CFLs experienced high failure rates when used in existing residential recessed downlight fixtures. Additionally, they didn’t deliver enough light, were not ENERGY STAR® compliant, and were more expensive.

PNNL’s Emerging Technology Program initiated the R-CFL Technology Procurement – Phase 1 to spur the introduction of improved, energy efficient, R-CFL products into the marketplace. By identifying improvements and developing new specifications for advanced, high-performance R-CFLs, PNNL provided lighting manufacturers and buyers with minimum specifications for energy-efficient R-CFL models that operate reliably while also delivering the desired light levels, and that fit into existing light fixtures.

The Technology Procurement project was so successful in aiding technology transfer that it became self-sustaining, and the R-CFL testing specifications developed by PNNL were adopted by DOE in the latest draft of the revised ENERGY STAR specification for the reflector lamp category of CFLs.

Sixteen new R-CFL models are now available for purchase in the marketplace, including from major retailers such as Costco, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. PNNL continues to serve as a distribution point of contact for these 16 models.

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