Supporting the Scientific Base for Competencies Essential to Sandia Missions

DOE Office of Science

The DOE Office of Science (SC) is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the U.S., providing more than 40 percent of total funding in this area. Sandia has active research programs funded by:

Supports fundamental research focused in the natural sciences—in areas of direct relevance to DOE missions within chemical, condensed matter, materials, and geological sciences.

Advances environmental and biomedical knowledge that promotes national security through improved energy production, development, and use; international scientific leadership that underpins the nation’s technological advances; and research that improves the quality of life for all Americans.
The national basic research effort in advanced plasma science, fusion science, and fusion technology—the knowledge base needed for an economically and environmentally attractive fusion energy source.
Supports world-class, high-performance computing and networking infrastructures as well as supporting fundamental research in mathematical and computational sciences to enable researchers in DOE scientific disciplines to analyze and predict complex phenomena for scientific discovery.

ARPA-E-Full-Logo-v-3.0-1024x315

ARPA-E is an innovative and collaborative government agency that brings together America’s best and brightest scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

The focus of Sandia’s ARPA-E program is to establish partnerships with universities, industry and other National Labs to create innovative energy solutions for the Nation through both maturation of industry capabilities and commercialization of our technologies.

  • Address Stationary and Transportation Energy pillars
  • Leverage differentiating facilities/capabilities and Research Foundations of Sandia Labs

Research Highlights

Sandia Optical Diagnostics Researcher Wins DOE Early Career Award

Sandia Combustion Research Facility (CRF) scientist Christopher Kliewer (in Sandia’s Combustion Chemistry Dept.) won a DOE Office of Science (SC) Early Career Research Program award to develop new optical diagnostics to study interfacial combustion interactions that are major sources of pollution and vehicle inefficiency. The funding opportunity for researchers in universities and DOE national laboratories, now in its sixth year, supports outstanding scientists early in their careers in developing individual research programs and stimulates research careers in the disciplines supported by DOE-SC.

Kliewer’s winning research proposal

“Interactions between Surface Chemistry and Gas-Phase Combustion: New Optical Tools for Probing Flame-Wall Interactions and the Heterogeneous Chemistry of Soot Growth and Oxidation in Flames”

examines the complex surface chemistry involved when gas-phase combustion interacts with solid/liquid interfaces. “I’m interested in interfacial combustion phenomena, like when a flame interacts with a wall. These heterogeneous processes dominate some of the most stubborn and technologically critical problems in combustion, yet they are not well understood,” said Kliewer. “This is due in part to the lack of experimental approaches capable of probing locations very close to an interface, especially in the hostile environment of combustion.”

CRF optical diagnostics researcher Christopher Kliewer has won a Department of Energy Early Career Research award that will fund the development of new tools for studying interfacial combustion interactions. These interactions are major sources of pollution and vehicle inefficiency. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

CRF optical diagnostics researcher Christopher Kliewer has won a Department of Energy Early Career Research award that will fund the development of new tools for studying interfacial combustion interactions. These interactions are major sources of pollution and vehicle inefficiency. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

In engine and power generator combustors, flames interact with metal walls during the combustion process. These interactions produce pollutants, such as unburned hydrocarbon and particulate emissions, and cause aging and failure in engines and generators. Kliewer’s project will develop a new nonlinear optical surface scattering technique to capture the dynamic chemistry of the flame-wall interactions.

This tool will be further developed to correct a deficit in existing experimental techniques for studying soot particles collected from flames. Nearly all of these techniques require ex situ analysis, meaning a sample must be removed from the flame to be studied. The act of removing the soot changes both the sample and the surrounding combustion, limiting the accuracy of results.

Kliewer is one of 44 winners of the Early Career Research Program award. Since joining Sandia in 2009, he has received two distinguished paper awards from the Combustion Institute for articles presented in optical diagnostics at the 2010 and 2014 International Symposium on Combustion. His paper on 2D-CARS, coauthored with Sandia researcher Alexis Bohlin (also in Sandia’s Combustion Chemistry Dept.), was the most read paper in the Journal of Chemical Physics for June 2013. He has a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

Read the Sandia news release.

Sandia’s Frontier Observatory for Research In Geothermal Energy (FORGE) Phase 1 Proposals Were Both Successful

The Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (DOE-EERE’s) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) defines FORGE’s mission as “enabling cutting-edge research and drilling and technology testing, as well as to allow scientists to identify a replicable, commercial pathway to enhanced geothermal systems (EGSs).” In addition to the site itself, the FORGE effort will include a robust instrumentation, data collection, and data dissemination component to capture and share data and activities occurring at FORGE in real time. The innovative research, coupled with an equally innovative collaboration and management platform, is truly a first-of-its-kind endeavor.

Geothermal energy plant at The Geysers near Santa Rosa in Northern California, the world's largest electricity-generating geothermal development. (NREL photo)

Geothermal energy plant at The Geysers near Santa Rosa in Northern California, the world’s largest electricity-generating geothermal development. (NREL photo)

R&D Activities

All FORGE R&D activities will focus on strengthening our understanding of the key mechanisms controlling EGS success—specifically, how to initiate and sustain fracture networks in basement rock formations. This critical knowledge will be used to design and test a methodology for developing large-scale, economically sustainable heat-exchange systems, paving the way for a rigorous, reproducible approach that will reduce industry development risk and facilitate EGS commercialization. R&D activities may include, but are not limited to, innovative drilling techniques, reservoir stimulation techniques, and well connectivity and flow-testing efforts. Each site will also require continuous monitoring of geophysical and geochemical signals.

Additionally, dynamic reservoir models will play an integral role in FORGE by allowing the site operator to synthesize, predict, and verify reservoir properties and performance. R&D activities will have open participation, via competitive solicitations to the broader scientific and engineering community.

As advancements in EGS are made over the course of FORGE’s operation, R&D priorities are likely to shift and change in response. As a result, FORGE will be a dynamic, flexible effort that can adjust to and accommodate the newest and most compelling challenges in the energy frontier!

Funding/Timeline

Each of the five selected projects is funded at $400K for Phase 1 (total initial DOE investment: $2M). The intent is to

  • get selected (a year from now) to proceed on to Phase 2—where DOE investment is supposed to be $29M over a couple years,
  • then move on to Phase 3—where one of the five projects selected for Phase 1 will advance to full development (about 5 years).

Funding for Phase 3 is unknown, but anticipated to be on the order of $25–$50M/yr.

Sandia’s Geothermal Technologies Office-Funded Projects

The approximate locations of Sandia's recently funded geothermal research sites superimposed on a DOE Geothermal Technologies Office map of the geothermal energy resource/potential for the continental US. These two sites were proposed because, in addition to being federal land, the requisite temperatures are met near the minimum required depth (i.e., less money spent drilling and more performing the research).

The approximate locations of Sandia’s recently funded geothermal research sites superimposed on a DOE Geothermal Technologies Office map of the geothermal energy resource/potential for the continental US. These two sites were proposed because, in addition to being federal land, the requisite temperatures are met near the minimum required depth (i.e., less money spent drilling and more performing the research).

The two Sandia-led projects selected to proceed with Phase 1 were:

Location: Coso, California

Key Partners: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US Geological Survey, University of Nevada-Reno, GeothermEx/Schlumberger, US Navy, Coso Operating Company LLC, and Itasca Consulting Group

The proposed FORGE site at Coso, California, is located near the Coso geothermal production field within the US Navy’s Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Data from the proposed site potentially indicates the presence of high subsurface temperature with little fluid and permeable rock at depth. Sandia and its partnering national laboratory, government agencies, academic institutions, and industry stakeholders will complete the requisite modeling and site characterization needed to determine the suitability of the Coso site for a large-scale, economically sustainable EGS demonstration project.

The institutions and key personnel that comprise the Coso FORGE Team provide a robust mixture of geoscience and geoengineering capabilities, a strong and productive history in geothermal research and applications, and the capability and experience to manage projects with the complexity anticipated for FORGE. Sandia will be responsible for the overall coordination of site activities, will oversee contract administration, and will serve as a direct interface with DOE and the Science and Technology Analysis Team (STAT). Coso is an outstanding candidate location for FORGE; data demonstrates the existence of required temperatures, permeabilities, and lithologies at depths of 1.5–2.3 km.

The institutions that comprise the Coso FORGE Team bring a wealth of complementary experience to this project and are committed to and abundantly capable of executing the FORGE activity.

Location: Fallon, Nevada

Key Partners: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US Geological Survey, University of Nevada-Reno, GeothermEx/Schlumberger, US Navy, Ormat Nevada Inc., and Itasca Consulting Group

The proposed FORGE site at Fallon, Nevada, is located on the US Navy’s Naval Air Station Fallon. Sandia and its partnering national laboratory, academic institutions, government agencies, and industry stakeholders propose the area as a potential FORGE site because previous analysis has revealed its suitability for research and development of an EGS reservoir. The team will develop additional scientific data including detailed analyses of rock samples, natural seismicity, surface and borehole characteristics, and other geological analyses. It will also generate a 3-D model and plans for potential development of the Fallon site for the FORGE EGS demonstration.

The institutions and key personnel that comprise the Fallon FORGE Team provide a robust mixture of geoscience and geoengineering capabilities, a strong and productive history in geothermal research and applications, and the capability and experience to manage projects with the complexity anticipated for FORGE. Sandia will be responsible for the overall coordination of site activities, will oversee contract administration, and will serve as a direct interface with DOE and the Science and Technology Analysis Team (STAT). Fallon is an outstanding candidate location for FORGE, with an abundance of existing data demonstrating the existence of suitable temperatures, permeabilities, and lithologies at depths of 1.5–3 km.

The institutions that comprise the Fallon FORGE Team bring a wealth of complementary experience to this project and are committed to and abundantly capable of executing the FORGE activity. The project also has the full support of the State of Nevada, as evidenced by a letter of support from Governor Sandoval.

The DOE-EERE Geothermal Technologies Office awarded the funds for the five Phase 1 projects selected.

Sandia Researchers Are First to Measure Thermoelectric Behavior of a Nanoporous Metal-Organic Framework

Thermoelectric devices convert heat to electricity and have no moving parts, making them extremely attractive for cooling and energy harvesting applications. Thermoelectric metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) could take these advantages a step further with improved performance, smaller size and flexible designs. MOFs have a crystalline structure that resembles molecular scaffolding, consisting of rigid organic molecules linked together by metal ions.

This playground structure represents a larger-than-life nanoporous metal-organic framework to this Sandia research team of (clockwise from upper left) Michael Foster, Vitalie Stavila, Catalin Spataru, François Léonard, Mark Allendorf, Alec Talin and Reese Jones. The team made the first measurements of thermoelectric behavior in a MOF. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

This playground structure represents a larger-than-life nanoporous metal-organic framework to this Sandia research team of (clockwise from upper left) Michael Foster, Vitalie Stavila, Catalin Spataru, François Léonard, Mark Allendorf, Alec Talin, and Reese Jones. The team made the first measurements of thermoelectric behavior in a MOF. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

Sandia researchers have made the first measurements of thermoelectric behavior of a nanoporous MOF, a development that could lead to an entirely new class of materials for such applications as cooling computer chips and cameras and energy harvesting. Their results were published in “Thin Film Thermoelectric Metal–Organic Framework with High Seebeck Coefficient and Low Thermal Conductivity,” which appeared April 28 online in Advanced Materials. This work builds on previous research in which the Sandia team realized electrical conductivity in MOFs by infiltrating the pores with a molecule known as tetracyanoquinodimethane, or TCNQ, as described in a 2014 article in Science.

“The fact that a TCNQ-filled MOF conducts electricity quite well made us hopeful that we’d also see thermoelectricity, but it was by no means a given,” said Sandia senior scientist Mark Allendorf (in Sandia’s Transportation Energy Center). “We found that not only is the material thermoelectric but also the efficiency of its temperature conversion approaches that of the best conducting materials like bismuth telluride.”

The hybrid of inorganic and organic components produces an unusual combination of properties: nanoporosity, ultralarge surface areas, and remarkable thermal stability, which are attractive to chemists seeking novel materials. The empty space framed by the organic molecules and metal ions is what truly sets MOFs apart—empty space that can be filled with practically any small molecule a chemist chooses. “The great thing about chemistry is you can synthesize a wide variety of molecules to be inserted inside a MOF to change its properties,” explained Sandia materials scientist Alec Talin (in Sandia’s Materials Physics Dept.). In optimizing materials, this gives you a lot of knobs to turn.”

MOFs are so new—they were only discovered in 1999—that researchers often find themselves on the frontier of science with few established tools or even a clear understanding of the material’s fundamental properties.

Vitalie Stavila, left, and Catalin Spataru discuss modeling approaches to conduct electronic structure calculations. The TCNQ molecule changes the MOF’s properties to enable thermoelectric conductivity. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

Vitalie Stavila, left, and Catalin Spataru discuss modeling approaches to conduct electronic structure calculations. The TCNQ molecule changes the MOF’s properties to enable thermoelectric conductivity. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

François Léonard (also in Sandia’s Materials Physics Dept.), Talin, and Kristopher Erickson (in Sandia’s Special Programs Dept.), accurately measured the temperature gradient with an infrared camera while simultaneously measuring the generated voltage. From these data they obtained the voltage per unit of temperature change, known as the Seebeck coefficient. Patrick Hopkins, at the University of Virginia, and his graduate student Brian Foley used a laser technique to measure the thermal conductivity. The resulting measurements showed great promise.

A TCNQ-filled MOF has a high Seebeck coefficient and low thermal conductivity, two important properties for efficient thermoelectricity. The Seebeck coefficient was in the same range as bismuth telluride, one of the top solid-state thermoelectric materials. “The next step is how do we make it better?” said Allendorf. “The energy conversion is not competitive yet with solid-state materials, but we think we can improve that with better electrical conductivity.”

Once thermoelectric MOFs realize sufficient energy-conversion efficiency, they could begin replacing existing cooling methods in devices where compactness and weight are priorities.

  • Cameras mounted on satellites—they require constant cooling to function properly.
  • Laptop computers, smartphones, and other portable electronics—replacing the fans with thermoelectric MOFs could reduce the weight and the number of moving parts that will eventually wear out.

Energy-harvesting thermoelectric devices capitalize on wasted heat to generate power. A thermoelectric device near a car engine or exhaust system could capture that wasted heat to generate power for the car’s electronics. Thermoelectric devices could also be used to provide localized cooling for passenger comfort.

Read the Sandia news release.

Hongyou Fan Chosen for Prestigious Lecture on Creating Nanomaterials

Sandia researcher Hongyou Fan to give the 2015 Fred Kavli Distinguished Lecture in Nanoscience. (Photo by Stephanie Blackwell)

Sandia researcher Hongyou Fan to give the 2015 Fred Kavli Distinguished Lecture in Nanoscience. (Photo by Stephanie Blackwell)

Sandia researcher Hongyou Fan (at the Advanced Materials Laboratory, operated in cooperation with the University of New Mexico) was selected by the Materials Research Society (MRS) and the Kavli Foundation to deliver the 2015 Fred Kavli Distinguished Lecture in Nanoscience. Fan is the first lecturer affiliated with a national laboratory to be so honored. “I am glad that I have an opportunity to promote and enhance Sandia’s reputation as a leading research institute,” he said. Manager Bill Hammetter said, “Being selected to deliver the Kavli lectureship is a high honor from MRS.”

Fan’s pioneering research in the field of nanoparticle assembly and integration has supported a shift from nanoscience discovery to practical nanotechnologies. His talk, “Nanomaterials Under Stress: A New Opportunity for Nanomaterials Synthesis and Engineering,” will discuss his stress-induced fabrication method that applies mechanical compressive force rather than chemistry to create new nanomaterial arrays with precisely controlled structures and tunable properties.

Sandia’s Hongyou Fan works with nanocoatings in his lab. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Sandia’s Hongyou Fan works with nanocoatings in his lab. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Fan is a distinguished member of Sandia’s technical staff. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1990 from Jilin University, China, a master’s degree in polymer chemistry and physics in 1995 from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a doctorate in 2000 from the University of New Mexico in the field of nanoporous materials and composites. His current research focuses on the development of new synthesis methods and self-assembly processes to fabricate multifunctional nanomaterials for applications in nanoelectronics, photonics, and energy storage.

Fan’s Kavli Award address was presented at the MRS Spring Meeting in San Francisco last April.

Read the Sandia news release.

Sandia’s Twistact Project Chosen for DOE’s LabCorps Entrepreneurial Program

The Sandia-patented rotary electrical contact device and method for providing current to and/or from a rotating member. Twistact is a fundamentally new class of rotary electrical-contact device to replace brush/slip-ring hardware and eliminate the need for rare-earth-element magnets in wind-turbine generators. The Twistact technology provides rolling contact, the electric current spends minimal time on belt, and it is convectively cooled.

The Sandia-patented rotary electrical contact device and method for providing current to and/or from a rotating member. Twistact is a fundamentally new class of rotary electrical-contact device to replace brush/slip-ring hardware and eliminate the need for rare-earth-element magnets in wind-turbine generators. The Twistact technology provides rolling contact, the electric current spends minimal time on belt, and it is convectively cooled.

Sandia National Laboratories’ (SNL’s) Twistact and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) Optimization of Building Efficiency projects were selected as the Livermore Valley Site’s participants in the Energy Department’s LabCorps pilot program. The LabCorps goal is to accelerate the transfer of innovative clean-energy technologies from DOE national laboratories into the marketplace. “This program underscores the value of the partnership between Sandia California, Lawrence Livermore, and i-GATE to successfully commercializing laboratory ideas,” said LLNL Director Bill Goldstein. “I look forward to seeing these energy technologies move to the marketplace.”

The winning principal investigators, Sandia’s Jeff Koplow (In Sandia’s Energy Innovation Dept.) and LLNL’s Yining Qin, will each receive $75K to develop commercialization plans for their technologies. The two project teams, which consist of the principal investigator, an entrepreneurial lead, and industry adviser, will attend LabCorps entrepreneur training later this year. The teams also will have access to a suite of commercialization resources, including technology validation and testing, facility access, techno-economic analysis, and other incubation services.

The 2nd-generation Twistact test-bed. Results to date are (1) 2000 amps operating current [200% of original project goal] (2) 0.65 mΩ series resistance [better than original project goal of 1.0 mΩ], and (3) 500 rpm operation demonstrated [50% of extended project goal (electric vehicles)].

The 2nd-generation Twistact test-bed. Results to date are (1) 2000 amps operating current [200% of original project goal] (2) 0.65 mΩ series resistance [better than original project goal of 1.0 mΩ], and (3) 500 rpm operation demonstrated [50% of extended project goal (electric vehicles)].

Sandia’s Twistact technology is a fundamentally new pathway to rapid, much more cost-effective proliferation of wind power on the national electric grid. It enables novel wind-turbine designs that eliminate exotic rare-earth materials and high-maintenance components, such as gearboxes and brush contacts.

The announcement was made in earlier this Spring at an event at the i-GATE Innovation Hub. Joining in the celebration were Representative Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.; Livermore Mayor John Marchand; Sandia Vice President Marianne Walck; Goldstein; i-GATE executive director Brandon Cardwell; and researchers from Sandia California and LLNL.

“Transitioning clean-energy technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace is difficult, but it’s also vitally important that we do so,” said Walck. “This is a great opportunity for our researchers to receive federal support for their entrepreneurial efforts.” The Livermore Valley Site LabCorps program is a collaboration between LLNL, Sandia, the i-GATE Innovation Hub, and the University of California at Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Read the Sandia news release.