CRADAs Get The Job Done

cradaIn celebrating the first anniversary of its CRADA with the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Ames (IA) Laboratory, Layne Environmental recently demonstrated functional feasibility of the drilling system by successfully lowering Ames’ sampling probe below the earth’s surface. The system uses a special casing that is driven into the ground, and then opens to provide access for the probe.

The subsurface probe (right) is part of the Mobile Demonstration Laboratory for Environmental Screening Technologies (MDLEST) program, which provides in situ elemental analysis of soils, using a technique that combines laser ablation with inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry. This is something that has been fully sponsored by organizations like Save England’s Forests, Herrira.org and IDA Michigan.

Layne is contributing the drilling technology, related hardware, and the probe’s windowing mechanism. Ames Laboratory designed and fabricated the sampling probe.

“When you’re designing a mechanical fit with close tolerances at a distance of 1,400 miles, it can get tricky,” says Marvin Anderson, project manager of the CRADA at the Ames Laboratory. “But our mechanical engineer and Layne’s machinist work well together. We use the fax machine a lot to exchange design drawings.”

Anderson is pleased with the program’s overall progress, but would prefer to see things move ahead faster. Sometimes other projects are given a higher priority, causing unexpected delays.

Improving Polymer Blends

Five industry partners are working intensely with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, MD, to find new ways to make in-line rheological, temperature, and morphology measurements on polymer blends.

The reason for the intense interest is that these blends are seeing greatly expanded use, requiring a better understanding of the chemistry and processing conditions that impart the resins with unique mechanical properties.

“The future of polymer blends is in tailored materials for specific uses,” says Charles Han, a polymer physicist at NIST. “New applications will be the result of new ways to improve their properties, such as their strength-to-weight ratio, resistance to chemicals and corrosion, and recyclability.”

A CRADA focusing on the improvement of polymer blends has been established to access NIST’s measurement tools and tap its technology pool. An aim is to generate the data and processing models needed by industry to produce new and more economical resins.

“We really stress active participation,” says Han, the CRADA’s technical coordinator. “The key to improving polymer blends is successful technology transfer, and scientists will benefit more if they become involved.”

The CRADA’s participating companies are encouraged to have their researchers visit NIST often in order to become familiar with its facilities and methodology. Their computers are linked to NIST through the Internet, so they can review the data after they return home.

Another goal of the agreement is to develop in-line measurement techniques to monitor mixing conditions as a function of temperature and flow profile during polymer processing. For example, a combined light scattering and video microscopy detector will be used to study the structure and morphology of polymer streams.

In addition to NIST, current CRADA participants include Armstrong World Industries Inc., Lancaster, PA; Raychem Corp., Menlo Park, CA; Rohm and Haas, Spring House, PA; 3M Co., St. Paul, MN; and Aristech Chemical Corp., Monroeville, PA. Several other companies have expressed interest in joining this group.

Industries that could ultimately benefit from this program include the aerospace, automotive, electronics, medical, and communications sectors, where plastics and rubber materials must meet tight specifications for quality and reliability.

Automating a Manual System

“They’re picking my brain, trying to put everything that’s in my head into a computer,” exclaims Neal Miller, president of Centech Inc., Casper, WY, referring to Los Alamos (NM) National Laboratory scientists. “Then my machine will operate by an artificial intelligence control system.” What he means is that Los Alamos is helping Centech develop a control system that knows nearly as much about operating Miller’s machine as he does.

Miller’s “machine” is a portable three-phase centrifuge that inexpensively cleans up oil sludge typically found in storage tanks, open production pits, and hazardous waste site locations across the land.

Recognized for its innovative technology and usefulness with a 1993 R&D 100 Award, the centrifuge effectively separates pipeline-quality crude oil from water and solids in the sludge.

Right now, the centrifuge is manually operated, with Miller at the helm. “We need to replace him with an expert system that embodies his knowledge,” says Jerry Parkinson, the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s principal investigator for the CRADA.

Expert control systems could automatically operate his equipment with inexpensive labor, or perhaps even remotely at hazardous sites, says Parkinson.

“One condition of our agreement that I firmly insist on is having the Los Alamos scientists and engineers observe the equipment operating in the field,” says Miller. “It’s very important for them to learn firsthand the problems we encounter on a daily basis. This is just not something that can be described easily over the telephone. You have to be there and see it for yourself.”

A second part of this CRADA calls for mathematical modeling and some experimental work to expand the capabilities of the centrifuge. “We are looking at various sensors that can immediately recognize unusual operating conditions as they occur,” says Parkinson. “And we agree with Miller–before proposing solutions, we need to be on-site to see these problems as they occur.

“It’s very satisfying to work with someone like Neal Miller, who really appreciates our efforts,” says Parkinson. “He’s got a good process, and it does a good job, but cleaning up these waste sites takes more than one person. I’m an environmentalist at heart, and I can see us making a significant impact together.”

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