The Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) — located in Aiken, SC — is the applied research and development laboratory at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Savannah River Site (SRS). The laboratory applies state-of-the-art science to provide practical, high-value, cost-effective solutions to complex technical problems. SRNL technologies are used to detect weapons of mass destruction, clean up contaminated groundwater and soil, develop hydrogen as an energy source, support the need for a viable national defense, and safely manage hazardous materials.

The Authenticated Sensor Interface Device reads data, encrypts the information, and distributes it electronically to multiple locations, providing a one-way data pathway that segregates each destination to prevent cross-party data manipulation.

The SRS was constructed to produce the basic materials necessary in the fabrication of nuclear weapons — primarily tritium and plutonium-239. Five reactors were also built in an effort to produce these materials for the nation's defense programs. In support of these efforts, the Savannah River Laboratory was created in 1951 and soon became the second-largest research facility for operator E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company.

The original Savannah River Laboratory included five main facilities: a main laboratory for process development and experimental research; the Waste Disposal Facility to handle waste created by the laboratory; the Pile Physics laboratory, which contained experimental reactors; and CMX and TNX. CMX was established to determine the treatment needed for cooling water in reactor heat exchangers and TNX was used to determine operational information for separations. The laboratory quickly expanded to include a health physics laboratory, equipment engineering laboratory, and temporary labs such as a fluid pressure bonding laboratory and a mockup of a reactor tank. Since that time, the lab changed its name to the Savannah River Technology Center and is now the Savannah River National Laboratory.

SRNL has evolved to be designated as the only national laboratory for the Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management and is the nation's only complete nuclear material management facility. Since its earliest days, SRNL has developed technologies to enhance the safety and cost-effectiveness of the Savannah River Site's work with tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen gas that is a vital component of the nation's nuclear defense. SRNL continues its support of a robust nuclear weapons stockpile through deployment of improved technologies and testing of components to ensure stockpile safety and reliability.

Research includes technologies to separate, stabilize, package, transport, store, account for, and dispose of spent fuel, plutonium, and other nuclear materials to ensure they do not represent a proliferation or environmental risk and to support global threat reduction. SRNL provides support for homeland security initiatives in fields that include emergency response, urban search and rescue, border protection, and law enforcement support.

Homeland Security

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Historically, the laboratory's experts have developed highly sensitive analytical equipment and techniques to measure the environmental impact of the Savannah River Site's radiological operations. That same expertise goes into the development of technologies and techniques for detecting and identifying chemical, biological, and radiological materials to address homeland security goals. SRNL's expertise in robotics, surveillance systems, and specialty equipment is being applied to a broad range of needs, from vision systems for use in search and rescue missions, to low-cost robots for disabling improvised explosive devices, to medical devices for first responder physicians.

Successful technologies in homeland security include the Intelligent Personal Radiation Locator, the Standoff Radiation Detector System, the CRAWDAD boat-mounted radiation detector test, and the DOLPHIN small vessel radiation detector test.

In collaboration with Hadron Technologies, SRNL has developed a microwave system to support gas sample analysis as part of the SRS national defense mission. Laboratory experimentation has shown that the new form of hybrid microwave is capable of performing functions that traditional microwave systems could not achieve. The system achieves extremely high temperatures by enabling materials that usually do not react to absorb microwave energy and rapidly heat up. Metals — which normally cannot be introduced into a microwave system — not only can be treated in the system but are actually used to help increase the temperature of the lower chamber, enabling faster degradation of waste materials. Equipment using these technologies could destroy a wide variety of substances ranging from medical wastes to harmful viruses and drugs such as methamphetamine, while still allowing for DNA analysis of the destroyed material.

SRNL has extensive experience in supporting the intelligence needs of the United States. SRNL employs its expertise in nuclear technologies, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) signatures, and regional security analysis to examine foreign programs in support of DOE, the intelligence community, and other U.S. government organizations.

Forensics and Law Enforcement

In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and SRNL opened a new laboratory for the forensic examination of radiological material and associated evidence, located at SRNL. These laboratory facilities provide the FBI with a flexible radiological containment laboratory where experts can safely conduct forensic examinations on items of evidence associated with radiological material. SRNL conducted several years of development to adapt FBI forensic protocols for application in radiological labs. SRNL also provides radiological crime scene training to FBI agents from around the country who are members of the FBI's Hazardous Materials Response Teams and provides training for the FBI Laboratory's Hazardous Evidence Analysis Team.

Radiation detection and the creation of new technology is vital to the security of public and private interests. From government facilities, to sports venues and utilities, the need for technology detection is paramount. SRNL offers numerous NIST-traceable sources, specialized nuclear materials, and calibration equipment and assists in the development and testing of that equipment.

Atmospheric Technologies Group

The Atmospheric Technologies Group (ATG) at SRNL supports a comprehensive program of applied atmospheric research, technology development, and operational support for the SRS and other federal agencies involved in national and energy security. The general focus encompasses emergency response, international nuclear nonproliferation, climate change, and renewable energy. Specific areas of current interest are:

  • Technologies leading to improved prediction and assessment of the transport of air- and water-borne contaminants through novel applications of model ensembles and robust methods for synthesizing predictive models and field measurements.

  • Regional to local assessments of long-term climate change to predict potential vulnerabilities to future industrial activity or identify/predict weather phenomena that trigger adverse ecosystem response.

  • Techniques to bridge gaps between model predictions and meteorological observations leading to improved predictions of the contribution of renewable energy generation to the electrical grid.

ATG conducts a comprehensive meteorological monitoring program that includes a local network of 12 meteorological towers with extensive databases. Two of these towers are located in industrial corridors of Augusta, GA as part of mutual aid agreements with local county emergency management agencies. These data are linked to a suite of environmental transport models for predicting the potential hazards of routine or unplanned contaminant releases to workers or the public. Additional assets managed by ATG include a tower facility near the SRS equipped for meteorological and trace gas measurements at multiple levels up to 329 meters, the 30-m Aiken Site Ameriflux tower equipped for measurements of carbon and water vapor flux within a forested canopy, and a vertically pointing lidar (ceilometer) for detecting clouds and aerosols in the atmospheric boundary layer.

Instrumentation that can be deployed for intensive short-term data collection includes SODAR, tethered and free release sondes, a portable in-situ meteorological station, and a variety of specialized radiometers. The result is an extensive observational resource to support research requiring thorough characterization of the atmospheric boundary layer over a large forested landscape. Capabilities include:

  • Mesoscale meteorological modeling, hydrological modeling, contaminant transport, and fate modeling and assessment on regional to local scales.

  • Meteorological instrumentation, real-time data collection systems, and database management.

  • Design and execution of data collection and analysis objectives for field experiments involving tracer releases.

  • Emergency response hazard consequence modeling and assessments.

  • Weather forecasting, climate characterizations, and severe weather phenomena risk assessments.

  • Regulatory air quality modeling and assessments.

  • Climate predictions and long-term vulnerability assessments.

Environmental Cleanup

A passive high-temperature sealing device acts as a high-temperature shutoff valve for pipes and ducts. This device can be used to stop the flow of gas or liquid in conditions of sudden overheating. (Top: before; bottom: after)

SRNL applies its expertise and applied technology capabilities to assist DOE sites across the nation in meeting cleanup requirements. SRNL has deployed more than 1,000 technologies for protecting and cleaning the environment, spanning the fields of soil and water cleanup; hazardous material stabilization, processing, and disposal; and facility disposition.

SRNL's environmental scientists and engineers identify and characterize a variety of hazardous and radioactive contaminants in manmade, enclosed, and open environments. They develop or select, deploy, and optimize remediation strategies, methods, and technologies, and develop strategies and technologies to meet regulatory requirements. This has led to the development and maintenance of some of the most extensive environmental databases available to solve national environmental issues.

Clean Energy

The expertise of SRNL is a valuable resource for new, clean, safe, secure methods of obtaining energy sources. In particular, hydrogen is proving to have tremendous potential for providing energy for vehicles, homes, and industries. SRNL has expertise related to nuclear technology, materials science, geosciences, microbiology, modeling, atmospheric technologies, and biotechnology, all of which contribute to helping the nation meet the crucial need for energy independence. The SRNL Energy Security Program provides technology-based solutions for meeting energy security objectives by providing applied technologies through multidisciplinary programs of scientific research and applied engineering.

SRNL — in collaboration with Ford Motor Company, BASF, and the University of California, Berkeley — was awarded a grant to develop vehicles fueled by natural gas. This research will explore an innovative low-pressure material for use in fuel systems for automobiles and other light vehicles and use high-surface-area materials within a heat exchange system to increase natural gas density. This research is part of the Department of Energy's Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE) program, which is aimed to engineer lightweight, affordable natural gas tanks for vehicles.

Fuel cells have been studied and developed extensively throughout the world as one of the most feasible next-generation clean energy devices. Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert a fuel such as hydrogen, methanol, or natural gas directly to electricity through an electro-catalytic process. The Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC) is considered an ideal system because it produces electric power by the direct conversion of the methanol fuel at the anode.

Science and Innovation

In accident conditions, nuclear fuel cladding material must remain strong and avoid chemical reactions like those that released hydrogen and caused the Fukushima reactor explosions. MAX phase ceramics are similar to titanium metal in density but are three times as stiff. The compounds have good thermal conductivity, elevated temperature ductility, and fracture toughness, and are “weldable.” The material has a high resistance to chemical attack and resists heavy ion irradiation damage. The coating demonstrates remarkable promise to provide increased reaction time under accident conditions.

The electrical transmission infrastructure in the United States needs to be updated to improve efficiency, reliability, and security. Central to that update is the development and certification of new technologies that can be added into the existing electrical grid and meet this challenge. The nation lacks a high-fidelity, independent capability for testing, validating, and certifying new electrical power system technology without the risk of service disruption or grid collapse. A paradigm shift in the electric power industry is vital in meeting the needs of the future. This shift begins with the creation of a high-power grid simulator that puts real hardware to the test.

The Pipe Traveler (Orangutank™) is a remote-controlled, tethered robotic platform for traveling from one pipe to another using a network of vertical pipes for support. It delivers payloads for various applications including sampling equipment, spray nozzles, radiological analysis equipment, or other equipment for cleanup and remediation activities.

SRNL and Clemson University have joined in the design and construction of an electrical grid simulator for testing multimegawatt power systems. The system will be capable of testing, certifying, and simulating the full-scale effects of new large-scale power system technology under stressed or hypothetical operating conditions. This unique grid simulator capability with appropriate programmatic focus will accelerate innovation and commercialization of new power systems by reducing risk to utilities and rate payers. The Smart Grid Simulator will allow for the testing of cybersecurity approaches and technology in order to eliminate vulnerabilities. The simulator will rigorously test equipment at full scale for code compliance, examine energy storage and distribution capabilities, and investigate wireless sensors and cyber security — all without exposing transmission systems to risks. The 15-MW grid simulator will be the highest-power experimental utility-scale facility in the world, combining testing of energy sources with advanced power instruments and systems.

The current practice for energy storage in many concentrating solar power (CSP) systems is to produce more hot molten salt during daylight hours than is needed to run the turbine to produce power. The excess hot salt is kept in a large-volume insulated tank to be used for power production when the Sun is not available. Using molten salts as heat transfer fluids and reaction media at high temperatures is common in industrial processes such as metal refining, but more understanding is needed on high-temperature heat transfer fluids and corrosion at high temperatures because advanced power cycles at high temperatures are needed to increase CSP system efficiency.

The Tamper Resistant/Tamper Indicating Aerosol Containment Extractor (TRI-ACE) is about the size of a small cooler and can immediately collect airborne particles such as plutonium, uranium, and other nuclear material before it is able to settle on a surface, and determines if radioactive isotopes are present. It could be a valuable asset to organizations responsible for monitoring nuclear activities worldwide.

A multi-disciplinary team led by SRNL is researching the durability of high-temperature alloys in molten chloride and molten fluoride salts and testing the effectiveness of proposed corrosion mitigation methods. Through this project, SRNL will develop an increased understanding of high-temperature corrosion and how to minimize it for CSP applications. Today's state-of-the-art heat transfer fluids are capable of operating at temperatures up to about 550 °C. Temperatures in excess of 650 °C are needed to reach efficiencies greater than 50%, which allows CSP plants to capture more energy. This SRNL project focuses on identifying corrosion-resistant materials and corrosion prevention strategies that will allow operation at temperatures up to 1000 °C.

Technology Transfer

Savannah River National Laboratory scientists and engineers develop technologies designed to improve environmental quality, support international nonproliferation, dispose of legacy wastes, and provide clean energy sources. SRNL is responsible for transferring technologies developed in pursuit of its mission at the Savannah River Site to the private sector so that these technologies may have the collateral benefit of enhancing US economic competitiveness.

SRNL provides a variety of business arrangements whereby technologies or capabilities can be utilized to benefit the general public. SRNL welcomes opportunities to bring new technologies to the marketplace by closely working with industry, universities, or state and local government agencies. With its wide spectrum of expertise in areas such as homeland security, hydrogen technology, materials, sensors, and environmental science, SRNL's technology delivers high dividends to its customers.

The Technology Transfer Office is responsible for transferring technologies developed in pursuit of its mission at the Savannah River Site to the private sector. The program provides companies with opportunities to acquire rights to inventions or copyrights in order to manufacture and distribute the end product in the commercial marketplace.

For information on SRNL technologies available for licensing, visit here . Contact Jennifer Holroyd, Commercialization Program Manager, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 803-725-8482.

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2019 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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