Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
LLNL harnesses the power of science and technology to solve critical national security challenges. In energy and environment research, LLNL is applying its capabilities and strengths to develop efficient, affordable, sustainable and secure energy technologies that don't harm the environment. The Laboratory is also a leader in advancing the scientific understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change and in developing effective strategies to mitigate the possible risks associated with climate change.
LLNL in Livermore, California, is a scientific research laboratory founded in 1952 by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ernest O. Lawrence and renowned physicist Edward Teller. It is primarily funded by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and managed and operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS), a partnership of the University of California, Bechtel Corporation, Babcock and Wilcox, the URS Corporation, and Battelle Memorial Institute. On October 1, 2007, LLNS assumed management of LLNL from the University of California, which had exclusively managed and operated the Laboratory since its inception 55 years before.
Activities and operations at LLNL require a highly skilled and dedicated workforce and over the years, LLNL researchers have won numerous awards and recognitions, including:
- Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2003
- MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, 2005
- Contributed to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize
- Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, 2009
- Enrico Fermi Awards
- Gordon Bell Prizes
- Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers
- Ernest O. Lawrence Awards
- R&D 100 Awards
International technical support
Algeria: Technical support for the In Salah Project. The In Salah Project injects one million tons of pure carbon dioxide (CO2) underground for the purpose of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Through a project jointly funded by U.S. Department of Energy/Office of Fossil Energy (DOE/FE) and BP, LLNL provides technical support through scientific investigation of two key topics. The first is the geomechanical consequences of injection at large scale, including surface deformation and the risk of fault reactivation, fault-fluid flow, and induced seismicity. The second is the geochemical reactions of well-bore cements, fault minerals, and reservoir rocks. This work helps contribute to the safe and effective operation of a world-class sequestration project and helps build DOE technical capabilities through testing, validation, and development in the field.
China: Technical support for Shenhua direct coal liquefaction project. The Shenhua direct coal liquefaction plant in inner Mongolia will be the site for a large-scale carbon sequestration pilot (100,000 tons) and commercial project (~3,000,000 tons/y). Through the Annex II agreement between DOE and China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a team of investigators from West Virginia University and LLNL have completed a pre-feasibility study of the site to determine suitability for large-scale CO2 injection. Based on these findings, Shenhua has committed to a pilot project to be followed by a large injection. The DOE is likely to continue to grow their commitment in parallel. LLNL's contribution includes site characterization, advanced simulation, laboratory geochemistry, development of and integration of a monitoring program, site hazard assessment, and determination of the long-term fate and transport of CO2.
China: MOUs with Thermal Power Research Institute and ENN. LLNL has established memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with two large entities in China. The Thermal Power Research Institute (TPRI) is a state-sponsored technology arm of the five largest power generation companies in China. TPRI has developed novel gasifier technologies, has designed and will implement the GreenGen project, and has designed and deployed novel post-combustion capture technology. LLNL has entered into an agreement to help with sequestration, material science, and capture technology development. ENN is China's largest private natural gas distributor and a marquis energy innovation company. Their MOU includes development of novel gasification technology including catalytic gasification and underground gasification. ENN and LLNL have proposed a joint field program to DOE to begin 2010.
China: Leader in the WRI-Tsinghua CCS guidelines project. The World Resources Institute (WRI) completed a project in 2008 to create guidelines for CCS project operators. Following that project, they have received funding through the State Department and the Asian Pacific Partnership to work closely with Chinese technology and policy elites and U.S. technical elites to create guidelines for CCS decision making in China. This project has involved reciprocal study tours and visits, and will conclude with a document recommending how CCS deployment should proceed in China.
Technologies in energy and environment
LLNL researchers are developing technologies to use the country's vast energy resources with the goal of eliminating carbon dioxide emissions:
Nuclear energy is a proven carbon-free energy source that holds great promise for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. But the enduring concerns of proliferation risk and waste management must be addressed as nuclear energy expands. We are exploring alternative nuclear fuel cycles that render extraction of plutonium from used nuclear fuel more difficult using traditional chemical separations techniques. Our strength in materials design and simulation is enabling the development of new fuels and materials for reactors that provide reduced radiation damage and extended reactor life.
Combustion and fuels
Energy research at LLNL is devoted to discovering sustainable, carbon-free combustible fuels for the future. We are using a set of highly detailed combustion kinetics models to simulate the characteristics and behavior of existing and new fuels in combustion engines. Innovative experiments are tied to these simulations to identify critical processes affecting efficient combustion. We examine traditional carbon based fuels as well as carbon free fuels such as hydrogen. To advance biofuel developments, we couple these simulation skills to unique experimental capabilities to examine in great detail the processes critical to degradation and processing of biofuel components.
Battery research at Livermore Laboratory started in the 1970s with aluminum-air batteries, as part of DOE's electrical storage program. The current incarnation of battery research also includes electromechanical battery technologies. In addition, material scientists at Livermore Laboratory are developing a nanolaminate fabrication process that can be used to create high-performance dielectric layers to maximize the energy storage in capacitors. Our materials research is developing new lithium-based batteries with greatly improved power densities and cycle-lifetimes as well as substantially improved safety.
For more than a decade, LLNL has worked on alternative environmentally clean energy technologies for transportation, including HCCI, advanced Diesel, and Hydrogen SI engines. Working with industrial partners in industry, other national labs and academia, Lawrence Livermore is a world leader in using simulations and experiments to guide the development of high efficiency and low emissions operating strategies. Other projects have included the development of advanced strategies for large stationary engine used for power generation.
Hydrogen fuel is attractive for environmental reasons as it is virtually pollution-free at the point of use. That's why the DOE Hydrogen Program technical plan calls for the development and commercialization of economical hydrogen production, generation, and distribution technology by the year 2015 and market incorporation by 2020. LLNL is a world leader in hydrogen storage – our cryogenic hydrogen storage capability has demonstrated over 1000 kilometers on a single tank of hydrogen fuel, more than tripling the previous record. This design is already being applied to a production vehicle due on the market place within 3 years. Livermore Laboratory is also exploring the use of exotic microbes as hydrogen generators. For use in hydrogen fuel production, the most promising microbes are Pyrococcus furiosus. P. furiosus can consume extracts of starchy plant matter, digesting the carbohydrate in a way that not only provides energy but also releases hydrogen gas.
Greenhouse gas information system
In partnership with other DOE National Laboratories as well as NASA and NOAA, Lawrence Livermore is developing a global observational network comprising satellites, aircraft, and ground observations to monitor the emissions of greenhouse gases across the globe. Applying LLNL’s excellence in atmospheric transport and radiocarbon analysis, our laboratory will deliver the national capability to detect and attribute fossil fuel emissions on a regional scale; this capability will be required when climate treaties and/or cap-trade agreements for carbon reduction are established to report, measure, and verify adherence to treaty agreements and ensure mitigation efforts are successful.
Researchers at LLNL use their expertise in rock physics and geomechanics, modeling, geochemistry and geophysical exploration to help address the challenges of increasing the nation’s geothermal energy. LLNL has a long history of combining experimental, theoretical and modeling capabilities to solve geothermal problems. We currently have staff and projects focused on Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), advanced drilling technologies, exploration and resource identification, reservoir characterization and modeling, fracture detection and maintenance and induced seismicity.
LLNL has the tools and expertise to achieve urgent renewable energy goals by forecasting winds using computer models. To be accurate wind forecasts must account for complexities of microclimates, both horizontally across land mass and vertically above the earth's surface using very-high-resolution spatial computer simulations. Such simulations provide useful information to wind power plant developers and operators.
Underground coal gasification
Underground coal gasification (UCG) technology gasifies coal in the subsurface bringing a syngas mixture of CO, CO2, and H2 to the surface, from which multiple fuels can be created, including liquid fuels, methanol, hydrogen fuel, and assorted and related products. Since UCG does not rely on mining and extraction, its environmental impacts are hugely reduced; moreover, UCG expands our national reserves of secure coal by three and electricity produced directly from syngas is cheaper and used less water than traditional coal energy production. LLNL is among the world's foremost authorities on science, technology, and operations of UCG projects. LLNL is leveraging computer model and simulation to provide insights into UCG site selection and development. Computer software can render models of ground level, water table, rock formations and coal-seam dimensions, densities and other physical characteristics at the UCG site, and also generate simulations of hydrological and chemical processes that occur underground. LLNL is also working with companies in North America, China, and India to develop and test monitoring technologies to improve environmental and economic performance of UCG projects.
Geologic carbon sequestration
LLNL’s strength in geomechanics and geochemistry is allowing greatly improved understanding of the processes determining the safe long term storage of CO2 in the subsurface. LLNL has world-class expertise in geomechanics simulation that allows us to simulate key processes, predict specific outcomes and events, and assess field-monitoring data to verify predictions. We are applying this expertise in several large CO2 injection projects, most notably at In Salah and Weyburn, and are a lead institution in DOE’s National Risk Assessment Program in predicting natural seal integrity. Our depth in geochemistry studies coupled fluid movement and chemical reactions in geologic media in a non-isothermal/thermal, unsaturated/saturated, flow and transport model with associated geochemical databases. For many decades, LLNL has played a central role in developing geophysical approaches to subsurface characterization. Two methods of particular interest for CO2 plumes are Electrical Resistance Tomography (ERT) and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR). We have developed low-cost capture technologies ranging from advanced membrane technologies to CO2 capture catalysts that can reduce capital expense for capture by 30-80%. We expect to expand our current work with companies and government agencies to accelerate deployment of carbon capture services that can in turn accelerate job growth and reduce both the costs and risks of deployment in coal power, natural gas, biofuel, and industrial sectors. This work has taken LLNL into partnerships with companies in North America, China, and Europe in support of large commercial field projects through public-private support.
At LLNL, the primary objective of vehicle aerodynamics research is to improve the fuel economy of Class 8 tractor-trailers by reducing drag by at least 25 percent. This 25 percent reduction in drag would represent a 12 percent improvement in fuel economy at highway speeds, equivalent to the oil in 130 midsize tanker ships per year. LLNL’s work helps develop innovative drag reducing concepts that are operationally and economically sound and performs simulations to assess their effectiveness. We establish a database of experimental, computational, and conceptual design information and use that information help lead efforts in large scale experiments and field demonstrations to demonstrate the potential of new drag-reduction concepts
Analysis in energy and environment
LLNL combines a long-standing tradition of deep systems thinking with the computational power and network bandwidth to process massive amounts of data. Building on experience from climate data intercomparison and intelligence community analytics, Lab scientists and engineers are developing informatics technologies to enable the next generation of energy infrastructure to be efficient, reliable and secure. Visualization tools provide information to policymakers in a format suitable for developing appropriate management plans, while predictive and probabilistic computer models provide assurance that policy goals can be reached. An understanding of energy and material flows at multiple spatial and temporal scales provides the technical basis for transforming our energy system.
LLNL is playing a critical role in working with DOE as well as private and public utilities to identify ways to reshape regional and national energy systems for the 21st century. They are considering how to continue deliver the power generation people need but within the context of ongoing climate change, growing and changing demographics, physical and cyber security issues, and policy decisions such as renewable energy portfolio standards. Of critical concern is the role of climate change to our energy system, including the potential ramifications of reduced fresh water availability and carbon emission reduction scenarios and treaties. Our focus is on technology solutions, how-where-when to deploy, and how the energy system would optimally operate.
Multi-discipline science groups at LLNL that support energy and environment research include: