Story tips: Carbon goes to space, cybersecurity put to the test, fusion’s power trip, cost-cutting controls and fungal infusion

Credit: ORNL, Sandia/U.S. Dept. of Energy

Manufacturing – Carbon goes to space

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have developed a novel process to manufacture extreme heat resistant carbon-carbon composites at a faster rate. The performance of these materials will be tested in a U.S. Navy rocket that NASA will launch this fall.

Made of graphite reinforced with carbon fiber, the composites use a pure graphite matrix instead of epoxy to bind the fibers. Researchers manufactured a nose cone and fins embedded with temperature sensors for the launch, which is designed to expose the material to the harsh environment of high-speed flight.

“This launch will allow us to collect data and characterize the temperature performance in extreme environments, which are difficult to reproduce in a laboratory at full scale,” ORNL’s James Klett said. “The nose cone and fins were produced using a method that significantly cut production time.”

Potential applications for the materials include airplane and space travel.

Media contact: Jennifer Burke, 865.414.6835, [email protected]

Image 1: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/2021-09/NASA-rocket1_0.jpg

Image 2: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/2021-09/NASA-rocket2.jpg

Caption: ORNL researchers developed a novel process for manufacturing extreme heat resistant carbon-carbon composites at a faster rate and produced fins or strakes made of the materials for testing on a U.S. Navy rocket launching with NASA. Credit: ORNL, Sandia/U.S. Dept. of Energy

Cybersecurity – Put to the test

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have created a technology that more realistically emulates user activities to improve cyber testbeds and ultimately prevent cyberattacks.

The Data Driven User Emulation, or D2U, uniquely uses machine learning to simulate actual users’ actions in a network and then enhances cyber analysts’ ability to thwart, expose and mitigate network vulnerabilities.

“Understanding and modeling individual user behaviors is critical for cybersecurity,” said ORNL’s Sean Oesch. “D2U can create unlimited, realistic test users of a particular network for developers of cyber tools to improve their products.”

Where other user models need large numbers of testers or make assumptions about their behavior, D2U needs a small number of users and emulates actual user behavior.

The software is currently deployed to help evaluate defensive cyber technologies but could have benefits to the broader cyber community. – Liz Neunsinger

Media Contact: Eric Swanson, 865.206.5794, [email protected]

Image: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/2021-09/User%20Emulation%20Graphic%20v1.jpg

Caption: The D2U model categorizes user data by capturing behavior in all open programs throughout a user’s day. Credit: Nathan Armistead/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

US ITER – Power trip

Staff at Oak Ridge National Laboratory organized transport for a powerful component that is critical to the world’s largest experiment, the international ITER project.

After a successful journey to France, a 1,200-ton magnet coil arrived in September at the ITER site. ITER will demonstrate the feasibility of fusion energy for practical electricity, including achievement of a 500-megawatt burning plasma. US ITER, managed by ORNL, is contributing the 60-foot-tall central solenoid magnet, plus other hardware systems, to ITER’s first plasma.

This first module’s journey followed years of meticulous planning from California, where it was fabricated by General Atomics. The solenoid will be the world’s most powerful pulsed, stacked superconducting magnet.

“US ITER has never shipped anything of this mass and value before,” said ORNL’s Kevin Freudenberg, analysis and design integration manager for US ITER, whose team made the complex trip look routine. 

The second module will be delivered to ITER later this month. – Kristen Coyne

Media contact: Lynne Degitz, 865.466.6383, [email protected]

Image: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/2021-09/CS_mod1_hiway_20210702_DJI_0028V.tif_.jpg

Caption: ORNL staff contributed to the successful transport of ITER’s first central solenoid module, which crossed the Brazos River in Texas on a specially equipped girder trailer as it neared the port of Houston en route to France. Credit: Yesenia Rodriguez/US Ocean

Image: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/2021-09/central_solenoid_module_1.jpeg

Caption: The first central solenoid module arrived at the ITER site in St. Paul-lez-Durance, France on Sept. 9. Credit: ITER Organization

Transportation – Cost-cutting controls

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers developed and demonstrated algorithm-based controls for a hybrid electric bus that yielded up to 30% energy savings compared with existing controls.

The Integrated Eco-Drive technology used a combination of powertrain control techniques, advanced machine learning and multiple sensors to determine an optimal driving speed that conserves the most energy. The technology, developed in collaboration with the University of California, Riverside, and US Hybrid Corporation, offers significant energy savings for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles operated on defined bus and delivery truck routes. The system was subsequently licensed by US Hybrid.

“Co-optimizing the combustion engine output, electric motor output and battery state of charge – and taking into account the repeated route – helps us ensure the best performance,” said ORNL’s Zhiming Gao.

“We can apply this same strategy to light-duty cars and trucks, especially networks of connected vehicles, and realize significant energy savings,” ORNL’s Tim LaClair said.

Media contact: Stephanie Seay, 865.576.9894, [email protected]

Image: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/2021-09/pheb.jpeg

Caption: Researchers from ORNL’s Vehicle and Autonomy Research Group created a control strategy for a hybrid electric bus that demonstrated up to 30% energy savings. Credit: University of California, Riverside

Bioenergy – Friendly fungi

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory team has successfully introduced a poplar gene into switchgrass, an important biofuel source, that allows switchgrass to interact with a beneficial fungus, ultimately boosting the grass’ growth and viability in changing environments.

Scientists observed the ectomycorrhizal fungus Laccaria bicolor as it enveloped the plant’s roots. This behavior, not known to occur naturally between these fungi and switchgrass, helps the plant to efficiently take up nutrients and water. This symbiotic relationship results in switchgrass that is more disease- and drought-resistant.

“We’ve engineered switchgrass to grow where it would typically struggle, that is, marginal land that is unsuitable for food crops,” said ORNL’s Jay Chen. “The fungus allows the switchgrass to absorb minerals from the soil.”

In a previous study, the team identified the receptor gene that looks out for friendly fungi. Next the team will validate the laboratory findings with a field study. – Karen Dunlap

Media contact: Kim Askey, 865.576.2841, [email protected]

Image: https://www.ornl.gov/sites/default/files/2021-09/fungi_switchgrass.png

Caption: The ectomycorrhizal fungus Laccaria bicolor, shown in green, envelops the roots of a transgenic switchgrass plant. Switchgrass is not known to interact with this type of fungi naturally; the added PtLecRLK1 gene tells the plant to engage the fungus. Credit: ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


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