U.S. National Laboratory System Is A Key Resource

Aug. 13, 2003
Many of its technologies have found industrial uses

The U.S. National Laboratory system is a unique resource. While the labs primary function was the development of technology for the production, processing, storage, and disposal of nuclear materials for military purposes, the measurement science developed to serve this function has many industrial uses.

In the late 1970s to early 1980s, Tomas Hirschfeld was using proprietary optical probes to monitor liquid streams for pH as well as specific ion concentrations at the Savannah River nuclear plant in South Carolina. This was well before the technology was commercialized for industrial use. Hirschfeld, then resident at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, is renowned for his pioneering work in FTIR, NIR, and other optical spectroscopies.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash., established in 1965, is operated by Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio, for the U.S. Dept of Energy. The lab employs 3,800 researchers and support staff, approximately half of which are dedicated to national security projects. PNNLs annual budget is $600 million, of which 80% is funded by DoE with the balance coming from other federal agencies including EPA, DoD, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security. In addition to the industrial instrumentation development discussed here, PNNL also is active in building automation and energy conservation. Maintaining safe, comfortable indoor environments while minimizing energy usage is an ongoing concern at PNNL.

In researching specialized measurement requirements for use in nuclear remediation at Hanford and other sites, PNNL has found ultrasonics to be a particularly useful technique. Ultrasonics also is well-suited to multi-phase heterogeneous measurements common problems in the pulp & paper, food processing and mining industries.

In the year 2000, PNNL opened its Food Science and Process Measurements Laboratory. The labs technical specialties in the advanced sensor and measurement systems fields include:

* Non-invasive, on-line technologies that use ultrasound and radioanalytical characterization to measure the physical and chemical properties of process streams

* Smart, wireless transponders for sensing and conveying process information

These specialties, combined with expertise in chemical sensors, biosensors, infrared technology, and electronics, enable PNNL researchers to provide innovative solutions to many pressing industrial needs.

Ultrasonic Doppler velocimetry (UDV) employs ultrasound to measure the viscosity and other physical properties of liquids and slurries flowing in closed conduits. Originally developed to monitor nuclear waste streams and identify potential plugging hazards, UDV is being tested with consumer and food products such as shampoo and tomato sauce quantifying quality-related parameters such as texture and consistency.

Electrokinetic Sonic Amplitude (ESA) is a technology bridging electromagnetism and ultrasound. With funding from DoEs Office of Industrial Technology, ESA is being tested for non-invasive measurement of electrical charges on low-density fibers in wood pulp slurries. This assay could be critical to minimizing the demand for chemical additives, ultimately reducing process water requirements and energy consumption.

The Ultrasonic Densimeter monitors fluid or slurry density in real-time. These data can signal the onset of conditions such as solids settling or other anomalies. This is a radiation-hardened sensor " compact, rugged, accurate.

In the area of radiological species monitoring, PNNL has developed sensors for strontium 90, cesium 137, and other fission products as well as transuranics. The measurements are based on high-resolution gamma ray spectroscopy and help ensure that the processed stream is within specifications for radionuclide content.

For use with plutonium processing, PNNL has designed protective canisters housing wireless sensor that can be placed within the stream itself. Key measurements, including the integrity of the canister, can be monitored continuously from inside the vessel. In addition, the sensors can detect if the canister was moved or otherwise tampered with, a critical safeguard in nuclear materials processing.

PNNL has a strong commitment to collaboration with industrial research organizations. The Process and Measurement Technology website address is: www.pnl.gov/etd/product/ptd.htm . The individual to contact for pursuing these collaboration opportunities is Walter Weimer, PNNL Environmental Technology Div. ([email protected]).

Terrence K. McMahon

McMahon Technology Associates

135 Fort Lee Road

Leonia, NJ 07605

Tel: 201-585-2050

Fax: 201-585-1968

[email protected]

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