ORNL Invention Alert for July 2023

ORNL Invention Alert for July 2023
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Artificial intelligence for science at ORNL

Artificial intelligence is no longer just a subject of science fiction. From personal assistants to self-driving cars, AI is revolutionizing everyday life. It’s also revolutionizing scientific discovery with new algorithms and giant leaps in computing power. ORNL is leading efforts to bring AI into the scientific mainstream with Frontier, the world’s fastest supercomputer, which is designed to excel at AI calculations.


New ORNL inventions

Liquid Metal-Suspended UO2 Fuel
202205051 // Energy and Utilities // Healthcare and Biology
Current fuel used in nuclear light water reactors that generate energy for the grid use a solid form of uranium that is heated and processed to form pellets. The fission reactions they make when burned generate a large amount of heat, but uranium oxide (UO2) is a very poor heat conductor. So reactors must be cooled by a constant flow of water and power that cannot be disrupted. This technology proposes to mix UO2 with a liquid metal that conducts heat more efficiently. This fuel would form the basis of a new reactor design that does not require constant, uninterrupted cooling, resulting in a simpler and potentially safer nuclear reactor. 

Sensor Augmentation for Early Detection of A3 Flammable Refrigerant Leaks with Self-Check and Diagnostics
202205101 // Detectors and Sensors // Energy and Utilities

Current technology for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning and other uses such as vending machines rely on refrigerants that have high global warming potential (GWP). Due to regulatory, public policy, and environmental reasons, low GWP refrigerants such as those classified as A3 are increasingly used. Propane is one such refrigerant, but it is flammable. Therefore, leak detection is critical for safety. This new technology is an inexpensive sensor platform with corresponding software and circuitry that detects propane leaks rapidly and sends an alert for immediate remedial action. 

Additive Manufacturing of Multi-Functional/Graded Materials for Improved Tooling Performance
202205248 // Energy and Utilities // Manufacturing
In manufacturing parts for industry using traditional molds and dies, the cooling process accounts for about 70 percent to 80 percent of the time it takes to create a part. Additive manufacturing enables the performance improvement of mold/die tooling due to its ability to manufacture structures comprised of multi-materials with various composition grading. Copper is an excellent thermal conductor and provides better heat transfer than traditional steels used in molds. This technology adds a small amount of copper very precisely in a multi-material structure to significantly decrease the amount of time needed for cooling, which would significantly reduce the manufacturing cycle time. 

Friction Pressure Welding of Similar and/or Dissimilar Materials
202305333 // Manufacturing // Transportation
Welding high temperature and/or high strength materials for aerospace or automobile manufacturing is always challenging. A conventional friction-based joining technique tool uses a specially designed pin that rotates under axial force and creates frictional heat that can consolidate a weld joint. However, the pin can deteriorate, impacting mechanical performance due to hook formation and limited weld size. This new technology welds materials without a pin, increasing the tool’s lifespan and performance, and avoiding cracking and deterioration in materials. 

Salt Hydrate-Based Thermal Energy Storage Material with Near Ambient Phase-Change Temperature
202305336 // Energy and Utilities
Phase-change materials (PCMs) can be used as thermal energy storage media in building applications. Despite its promising properties, stable PCM with near ambient phase temperature and low supercooling is scarce due to some inherent challenges of the inorganic PCMs. Therefore, the discovery of new phase-change materials with a near ambient phase change temperature and with no or minimal supercooling is a significant development. A new material has the potential to solve these challenges, as it can efficiently store and release thermal energy at near-ambient temperatures without having a supercooling problem. The new material could be used in a variety of applications, including building insulation and heating/cooling units.

Hydrothermal Co-Precipitation Method for Next-Generation Lithium-Ion Ammonia‐Free Cathode Materials
202305363 // Manufacturing // Materials
ORNL has developed a new hydrothermal synthesis route to generate high quality battery cathode precursors. The new route offers excellent compositional control, homogenous spherical morphologies, and an ammonia-free co-precipitation process. Precursors synthesized with this method also boast high tap densities, which will generate significant savings by increasing the amount of active material loaded into battery electrodes and reducing the necessary amount of electrode layers in battery cells. 

Thermal Energy Storage Fin and Tube Heat Exchanger for Low Conductivity PCMs
202305369 // Energy and Utilities // Manufacturing
ORNL has developed a new thermal energy storage design utilizing low conductivity organic phase change materials. The new design offers low costs along with charge/discharge times appropriate for building thermal mass—even when there is a small temperature difference between the heat transfer fluid and the material’s phase change temperature.  

Addressing Sodium Metal Anode Stability with a New Hybrid Membrane
202305380 // Energy and Utilities // Materials
ORNL has developed a new hybrid membrane to improve electrochemical stability in next-generation sodium metal anodes. The membrane material is composed of a porous substrate and sodium exchanged Nafion—a common ionomer—and offers improved mechanical qualities in addition to its resistance to capacity fade in sodium metal batteries. 

Variable-Cured Shaping of Additively Manufactured Thermosets
202305388 // Energy and Utilities // Manufacturing
ORNL has developed a new hybrid additive manufacturing technique to create complex three-dimensional shapes like air foils and wind generator blades much more quickly. By depositing materials at various stages of curing, technicians can use the mix of flexible and solid structures during the pre-cure state to create complex geometries in a fraction of the time when compared to traditional methods.

To learn more about these technologies, email partnerships@ornl.gov or call