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July 5, 2006

Berkeley Lab Wins Four Prestigious 2006 R&D 100 Awards for Technology Advances

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BERKELEY, CA — Four of R&D Magazine's prestigious R&D 100 Awards for 2006, the editors' choices for the 100 most significant proven technological advances of the year, have gone to researchers at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and their colleagues.

The 2006 award designees are:

  • The Carbon Explorer, created by members of the Earth Sciences Division, working with colleagues at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and WET Labs of Portland, Oregon — a free-drifting instrument that submerges to measure particulate carbon in the upper layers of the ocean and returns to the surface to report by satellite from the most remote regions of the globe;
  • A High-Efficiency Multiband Semiconductor Material for Solar Cells, discovered and developed in the Materials Sciences Division — a semiconductor alloy of zinc, manganese, and tellurium treated to have multiple band gaps, so that a single junction of the material may be able to convert virtually the full spectrum of sunlight to electrical current;
  • The Laser Ultrasonic Sensor, developed by members of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division and colleagues at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology — a sensor and control system to ensure optimum paper quality and efficient use of trees, chemicals, and energy by measuring stiffness and shear strength as paper speeds through the production web;
  • The High-Output Coaxial-Target Neutron Generator, invented and engineered by members of the Accelerator and Fusion Research Division and the Engineering Division — a compact cylindrical neutron generator capable of emitting quadrillions of neutrons per second, enough to compete with large accelerator facilities.

"I congratulate the researchers who have won these awards, which highlight the power and promise of DOE's investments in science and technology," said Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman. "Through the efforts of dedicated and innovative scientists and engineers at our national laboratories, DOE is helping to enhance our nation's energy, economic and national security."

Cheryl Fragiadakis, who heads Berkeley Lab's Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Management Department, says, "Winning four awards, given the size of our Lab, is a tremendous achievement and speaks very highly of the strength of our science and its relevance to solving complex global problems." Fragiadakis points out that this year's four R&D 100 awards are the most for a single year since 1987, bringing the Lab's total for these "Oscars of Invention" to 41. "I am particularly pleased to note that, for the most part, this year's winners are already being further developed by partners in the private sector." 

The Carbon Explorer

Under the leadership of oceanographer James K. Bishop of the Earth Sciences Division, Carbon Explorer floats are equipped to continually measure and report via satellite on carbon biomass and carbon flux at depths up to two kilometers, completely independent of manned research vessels. Carbon Explorers are based on autonomous SOLO floats originally developed by Russ Davis and colleague Jeffrey Sherman at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; instruments were developed in cooperation with Casey Moore, president of WET Labs of Oregon.

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The Carbon Explorer can descend up to two kilometers and return to the surface to transmit data on carbon biomass at specific depths.

In order to understand the global carbon cycle and particularly the exchange between atmospheric and oceanic carbon mediated by the sea's abundant zooplankton, Carbon Explorers float freely in ocean currents, descending and rising on schedules that can be reprogrammed by satellite. Carbon Explorers were the first instruments to observe natural fertilization of a plankton bloom in the North Pacific by iron-rich, wind-blown dust from a storm in Central Asia — a phenomenon predicted but never seen before. Carbon Explorers recorded the first evidence of carbon exported to the ocean depths by artificially fertilized plankton in the Southern Ocean; reporting for over a year, the Explorers operated through the Antarctic winter, long after the plankton bloom had dissipated. Carbon Explorers instrumented with new sensors operated for months in the Atlantic to record coccolithophore blooms. Carbon Explorer research payoff has been momentous and promises to become even more significant in future.

High-Efficiency Multiband Semiconductor Material for Solar Cells

A multiband semiconductor has been created by Wladyslaw Walukiewicz and Kin Man Yu by splitting the normal band gap of a highly mismatched alloy. The band gaps of most photovoltaic materials respond to a narrow range of energies, but sunlight spans energies all the way from low-energy infrared to high-energy ultraviolet. No solar cell made of a single material can efficiently respond to the entire spectrum; typical silicon cells on the marker are 15-percent efficient.

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A High-efficiency Multiband Material for Solar Cells can convert most of the sun's widespread energy into electricity with a single layer of semiconductor.

The concept of multiband cells proposed in 1960, never previously realized, suggested that a properly doped single–junction solar cell could absorb photons with different energies. A split conduction band was inadvertently produced in a photovoltaic material in 1999; Walukiewicz set out to produce narrow bands well below the conduction band using the right dopants and specific kinds of highly mismatched alloy. By adding oxygen impurities to zinc manganese tellurium, Walukiewicz and Yu produced three well defined, widely split band gaps. Energy-level differences between the two split bands, between the valence band and lower split band, and between the valence band and the upper split band form gaps responsive to virtually the entire solar spectrum, with remarkable 63-percent calculated efficiency. Four-band materials now in development could reach 73-percent efficiency.

Laser Ultrasonic Sensor 

Developed by Rick Russo and Paul Ridgway of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division in collaboration with Emmanuel Lafond, Chuck Habeger, and Ted Jackson of Georgia Tech's Institute of Paper Science and Technology, the laser ultrasonic sensor will greatly improve the cost and efficiency of paper manufacturing. Currently paper is either overengineered, with added costs of raw materials, chemicals, and energy, or each three-ton paper roll is manually tested after it has been made — and the whole thing rejected if doesn't meet specs. The new sensor measures quality on the fly at 30 meters per second without touching the paper.

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The Laser Ultrasonic Sensor tracks and measures shock waves from laser ablation without stopping the paper or touching it during manufacture.

The sensor measures the time it takes ultrasonic shock waves to propagate from a laser-induced excitation point, a function depending upon the paper's bending stiffness and out-of-plane shear rigidity. A detection beam is reflected from a rotating mirror in a circular pattern, briefly traveling with the paper as it courses along the production belt. When the beam is perpendicular to the paper, a laser fires a nanosecond pulse that causes a microscopic thermal expansion, too small to mar the paper or affect how it absorbs ink but strong enough to send ultrasonic shock waves through the sheet. The waves propagate until they're registered by the detection beam. Once the technology is widely in place, savings could reach hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

High-Output Coaxial-Target Neutron Generator

Developed by Ka-Ngo Leung and Jani Reijonen of the Accelerator and Fusion Research Division and Frederic Gicquel and Stephen Wilde of the Engineering Division, the compact neutron generator is only 40 centimeters in diameter by 70 centimeters in length, plus its shielding — small enough to be used in a laboratory or clinical-treatment setting while generating neutron flux comparable to the experimental stations of large accelerators.

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The High-Output Coaxial-Target Neutron Generator generates hundreds of billions of neutrons per second, yet easily fits inside a laboratory or clinical treatment facility.

A rod-shaped ion source emits beams of deuterium radially along its length; accelerated by radio frequency, these strike a large target wrapped around the source. Most of the beam is composed of single atoms instead of molecules, so the generator emits more neutrons having the same energy, at a high power otherwise achieved only by much larger sources. The target is a thin layer of titanium bonded to a layer of copper, which is pierced with water-cooling channels; since the deuterium is continually loaded onto the titanium, the target cannot be depleted. Fusion of deuterium with deuterium releases a hundred billion neutrons per second. Tritium-deuterium beams will yield even more power. The generator is currently being tested as a treatment for brain cancer at the University of Turin, Italy, but the generator can also be made small enough to descend into a borehole, peer inside airport luggage, or perch on a laboratory bench.

The R&D 100 Award-winning technologies were nominated by Berkeley Lab's Technology Transfer Department. All winners of the 2006 award will receive a plaque at R&D Magazine's formal awards banquet in Chicago on October 19.

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