2022 General Meeting Presentation: Mark Lower

90th General Meeting Speaker Presentation
“Oak Ridge National Laboratory: Its Impact and Influence on Pressure Safety”
Mark Lower

The following presentation was delivered at the 90th General Meeting Monday General Session, May 2, 2022. It has been edited for content and phrasing.

INTRODUCTION: Mark Lower, Ph.D., P.E. is Program Manager at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. For over 30 years, Mr. Lower has worked in operations and energy-related R&D, with over 20 years’ experience with ASME Code in design, analysis, and fabrication of pressure equipment. Lower has performed accident investigations for the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and authored multiple papers on pressure safety. He currently serves as the vice-chair of the BPV VIII Standards Committee and is a member of other Section VIII committees. He is a member of the National Board Advisory Committee representing boiler and pressure vessel users.

Mr. Lower's slide presentation can be found here.

MR. LOWER: It's always a pleasure to be here and I appreciate the opportunity. I do want to talk about a few things today regarding the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but also, I want to talk about a number of things that I'm interested in, and I think are exciting that I also think you will enjoy.

Let me give you the overall spiel — kind of where ORNL is today, what our signature strengths are, specifically computational science, materials science, and neutron experience, if you want to call it that.

Neutrons are hard to make. We'll talk about that in just a little bit. But there are some impacts here that have had a great impact on the pressure systems world.

I'm going to reserve the right to go on rabbit trails and talk about things that are interesting and fun. So let me start out with a little bit of history. I love World War II. It seems like every time I can be in the vicinity of one of your directors, we always have lots of opportunities to talk about World War II experiences, but it all kind of started in 1939, when Albert Einstein noticed that there was something happening in Germany about the development of "extremely powerful bombs of a new type." It's how he worded it. There were two paths: Germany took one path; the United States took both paths. We all know how that ended up.

In 1942, the Army Corps of Engineers formed the Manhattan Engineer District, which turned into the Manhattan Project. And it led to a decision to buy 59,000 acres in east Tennessee. One of the jokes is typically when they went out and built the fence around a number of acres in east Tennessee, they found a few people sitting on tree stumps, they gave them a badge and put them to work.

The world's first operational nuclear reactor, the graphite reactor, served as a plutonium production plant during World War II. And it operated until November 1963. There were three facilities, X-10 being Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12, and K-25. K-25 was a uranium production plant and Y-12 a weapons facility. And X-10 facilities, the graphite reactor specifically, was the pilot plant for the complex built in Hanford, Washington to produce the plutonium needed for the Fat Man bomb.

After the war, there was a transition to a peacetime laboratory. What's going to be the purpose? We really have a lot of people congregate in east Tennessee that had a lot of nuclear pioneering experience essentially. This is a completely new concept. Where does the Oak Ridge National Laboratory go? They looked at the construction of a number of research reactors. We have several reactors, some of them operational, some of them never became operational. And they used a lot of that interest and the expertise there in Oak Ridge to look at a number of nuclear applications.

Just to run down a few interesting things that happened right after World War II: ORNL became the first nuclear power plant in 1948 to actually transfer electricity back into the grid. The nuclear process, in being able to use the neutrons, helped them disconnect, in discovery of RNA and DNA.

There was a lot of radiation exposure discussion going on at the time if you remember back in the '50s and '60s with the Cold War going on. And this was a big place to look at those kinds of applications.

Nickel 63 isotope — ORNL is the only producer of that. It's used in airport detectors. They also looked at the design of a compact pressure water Army Package Power Reactor. And that went critical in Virginia in 1957. It was made for an application where the Army could go and build something quickly where no other fuel source was available. A number of applications happened right after the labs had transitioned to peacetime.

Materials research — this has been a huge piece of the ORNL history. I put some in here that are more applicable to the pressure safety application that I'm more familiar with. A lot of interest went into nuclear applications, pressure containment vessels, and a lot of thick steel sections.

And more personal to me, I went back about 15 years ago to school. And one of the guys that was there, John Landis, was big in the fracture mechanics piece of some of the research. It dawned on me that a lot of these forefathers were at Oak Ridge. And I have worked with them and interacted with them. And you're just working with John and Tom and Wally and they're just the guys. And then you start to realize that they're the forefathers of what they brought to this industry and the impact ORNL has had over the years. You step back and realize just how monumental that is and it gets lost in the day-to-day operations.

The picture there on the right is one that's on our mural now, a big application for creep-strength enhanced ferritic steels that was a big production and a big event that ORNL was involved in quite a few years ago.

Again, these things, when I want to think about this stuff, this was 1982, it doesn't feel like it's been that long ago. And a lot of us can still remember when some of this stuff first came into the industry.

I want to talk about supercomputing. This is probably one of the big ORNL aspects here. Oracle came out in the '50s, and you can see, as time progressed, ORNL has been at the forefront. This is kind of interesting as far as pressure safety goes, because we're now to a point, we partnered with IBM, and now we're into some very complex machines, but a lot of the issues now in supercomputing is how do you remove heat? These chillers and piping and all of those kinds of things become a really big issue.

I noted there that ORNL has been number one in supercomputing for on and off. I think Japan now is number one and ORNL is going to debut a new supercomputer coming up here very shortly. It's starting to come online. They're starting to get it configured. It's probably coming online very quickly. And I think the intent is if it's not number one at least for some period of time, there's going to be a lot of disappointment.

I think it's very interesting. I'll note here that Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows, because — if you watch Big Bang Theory — these are actually how some of these scientists are, unfortunately, where one of the comments in one of the shows was "What did you do today?"

"Well, I thought great thoughts and I wrote some of them down."

And that's exactly the people I work with. And in one particular show they were trying to figure out a card trick. So he hacked into the Oak Ridge National Laboratory supercomputer and ran those algorithms to see how he could figure out the card trick. He didn't figure it out. So I guess the implication maybe is the computer didn't run fast enough, I don't know, but it is interesting they get about a million attacks on the supercomputer per day. Quite interesting. I've heard some of those IT guys said they can track people and actually follow them around and watch how they try to come in from a different angle, so those guys are pretty sharp.

Another thing they're working on is data transfer, a lot of darknet lines and trying to figure that out. We've all experienced the YouTube videos that don't quite play. I'm hoping mine do so I don't have to look at that, but the data transfer and trying to get things through and trying to get things through quicker, we'd all like to see that happen faster.

Let's talk about neutrons. Neutrons are very hard to make. They're very expensive to make. And I heard we made one gram of neutrons in 50 years. Now, granted, one gram is a lot of neutrons, but we still only made one gram. A little-known fact generally about the National Labs is Fermi, which is located in Chicago. It was about a year or two away from discovering the Higgs boson. They knew where it was. They isolated where it was. They were looking for it in a specific area and it just happened that CERN found it exactly where they told them to go find it.

We had two facilities. These were kind of the premiere facilities. And I would like to mention, too, supercomputing, the neutron facilities, and even the additive manufacturing facility, which I'll talk about, are all kind of user facilities. If any of you have a great proposal of national interest, if you get any sort of proposal and it gets accepted, you can use the facilities to move on with your discovery.

So how do we make neutrons? We have two facilities. One is the High Flux Isotope Reactor. It's kind of a pool reactor with uranium-235. The other one is the accelerator facility, the Spallation Neutron Source.

What happens is we create a proton, get it excited, shoot it down a long LINAC tunnel, it spins in the ring until it has enough energy to break loose, it flies to a target, it hits the target, it spallates mercury, the mercury throws off a neutron and it goes out to the instruments.

Let me talk about the High Flux Isotope Reactor first. This was first constructed in the 1960s. It has a Section VIII reactor vessel. This is kind of interesting, built in the '60s. Now, we're regulated by DOE.

As you can see, they're showing you what the core looks like. There are four tubes. Three of them come off at an angle. And there's one that looks directly at the core. Those neutrons that come off are very, very hot, very fast, so they can do a lot of heavy thick dense material research with that. Coming off of the other two, which is one and three, kind of somewhere in the middle. And the fourth goes down a cold tube. You can see that on the right side of the picture. Those get bathed in liquid hydrogen at 20 Kelvin. So this was about 20 years that I got to be involved in this process as well.

Where do you go to find codes and applications for 20 Kelvin? I think B31 tells you to go test at temperature. Testing at 20 Kelvin is impossible trying to get that cold. But anyway, they produce a lot of liquid heat, a lot of liquid hydrogen at 20 Kelvin.

One of the primary purposes then and today is to produce californium-252. If the reactor goes down for any length of time, we get lots of call and people are very anxious, because they're relying on these isotopes. And when you look at, again, the picture on the upper right, there are a number of vertical tubes so we can put things down in those vertical tubes and radiate those.

The missions now include materials and radiation, neutron activation, neutron scattering, they can put materials, they can put biological things in the beam line, put molecular structures in a way that they never could before. And as we continue to refine this process, the resolution just gets tighter and tighter. Again, that's part of the whole Higgs boson discovery. The target provides neutrons to 24 beam lines. The proton beam comes in the mercury target, hits the targets, spallates the mercury and then sends those neutrons out to all the beam lines.

This is a stainless-steel vessel with mercury inside. If you take a proton beam, you shoot it at mercury or at a stainless-steel target, the energy is going to be such the material is not going to be able to stand it. What we need is the mercury to spallate the neutrons, but we need some kind of circulation to keep it cool.

There's an additional problem here of trying to circulate a material that's denser than the container you're trying to put it in. And it's quite difficult. It doesn't seem all that hard at first. We've been playing with mercury, for those of us that are older, playing with mercury and then handing that to the lunch ladies. Remember when they make your food. And here's the same kind of thing but putting it in a circulation pump like this is quite interesting and it has a lot of different problems.

So hitting this, the end of this target, with this one gigaelectronvolt proton beam, 60 Hertz, produces about 6,000 psi when this thing goes off. And it's standing a little bit, but you can see on the right side what this does to the inside of the nose of this container. This is like a stick of dynamite going off 5,000 times per day. Very high fatigue surface. They are expendable. I hate to tell you what the cost of these is, because we'll be throwing them away on a fairly regular basis.

How we get this is quite interesting, too. I got to spend a lot of time working on some of these projects with the crown modules, but it's the niobium cavities at the bottom. You can see bare niobium cavities. It's a vacuum inside of that niobium cavity. This is what the proton beam goes down and is accelerated, you continue to put a charge on that niobium cavity to project that beam down towards the target.

This is quite expensive unless you can get this to be superconducting. And it's one of the reasons why SNS is now a premier facility that we couldn't get the kind of power generated that we can now get with this linear facility. This is now bathed in a liquid helium bath at 2.1 Kelvin, so minus 456 Fahrenheit. Again, there are all kinds of unique problems of trying to get materials and circulate materials at this kind of temperature. Niobium has a transition critical temperature of 9.2. You get below that, it becomes superconducting. Very little electrical input now creates a significant return on that.

SNS is at 1.4 and hit the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most powerful pulsed neutron source. And it's interesting every time they figure out how to make this better, they don't say, oh, we can go longer. It's the old adage from Home Improvement — we need more power. They just continue to ramp up. One of the more recent discoveries as well is now injecting argon, bubbling argon into the mercury, so the argon bubbles now have a little bit of a cushioning effect for the cavitation process, and it is not so hard on the container.

Where I typically spend most of my time is the transportation center, Transportation and Grid Research. I'm going to go ahead and play this. There's no sound. It just kind of shows a little bit of what we're doing.

On the upper left-hand corner is an engine and neutron beam. This is somewhat significant. We can look at flows, we can look at pressures, we can look at those kinds of things inside of this chamber. Very interesting to me is to see some of the auto mechanics that can go in and change pistons out on a regular basis, pull engines out and put them in, the engine isn't actually running in a neutron beam, but it's going through the process so they can see how the injectors work, what the flow pads are, so they can change the shape of the piston head, use the neutron beams then to be able to see what's going on inside of that cylinder.

We have a number of dynos, kind of smaller NASCAR type dynos up to larger dynos that we can put large and over-the-road trucks, marine engines, cargo ship type engines and, of course, if you're going to do some wireless charging experiments, why not use an electric Porsche. It's an electric Porsche sitting down in the bottom hand corner. Porsche is working with us quite a bit to try to figure a lot of that technology out. But a lot of effort has gone into an integrated approach back and forth between vehicles, the grid, energy batteries, solar panels. And how do you get all of this to work together so that you can have something maybe off grid or something remote that can work efficiently and effectively back and forth.

I'm going to let this play a little bit for the additive manufacturing. This is kind of a little bit of what we've got going on. They look at a Sky BAM that you hook on a large crane and it can build you a house, do a number of very large-scale type applications, but very interestingly enough, they've gone through a number of processes, and I'll show you those here.

We're working towards a number of different processes from small parts to larger parts. The bigger application, what they looked at to start with, is a lot of the tooling. And we're going to talk about this in just a minute, but some of that has now morphed because we're getting to a point in the supply chain where castings and forgings and those kinds of things are not available. Things are changing rapidly in this area and an interesting place to see what's going to happen next.

I'll let that play through. They're injecting, they're putting a lot of bamboo and those kinds of things, carbon fiber, inside of the material to strengthen that material.

So, a number of interesting applications here and a bunch of examples. On the upper left, this is the Energy Secretary with one of our researchers. They scanned her, they printed it, and that's in the Smithsonian for women in science. That was a pretty cool experience for her.

Bottom left is the integration I was just talking about. We've also teamed up with some other manufacturers. This is the Energy Secretary Perry sitting in a little excavator. There were a number of parts like the cab that were printed that may be a little bit quicker to print than having to redo all of the tooling as we talked about. But one of the interesting features is you'll notice the arm is two different colors. The bottom, the white, that's kind of a light gray, was printed, 3D printed, and all of the hydraulic hoses were printed in that arm. Once it's finished, all you have to do is connect up. You don't have to run additional lines, and it is ready to go. And it held very well, held that hydraulic pressure. We printed a number of different vehicles. There are people scattered everywhere. We printed an Army Jeep just to show we can.

An interesting concept is you can gather a bunch of materials and pieces and parts. You can send them into a battle zone, for instance, and they can figure out what piece of equipment they want at any certain time, print that vehicle and they're ready to go in very short order.

And the 777 wing tooling, as I just noted in the last video, this was one of the largest at the time, Guinness World Records for a printed piece. You can imagine how long a 777 is. This essentially took up the entire highway that we had at the time. We've since built another building and they're on to bigger and better things now.

I'm not going to go through all that, but obviously there are a number of different applications for additive manufacturing, a number of different places we're going with this. I want to show you a couple specifically. This is an older technology, but this is something that I still enjoy. This is something that everybody still asks about when they come, because the Shelby is sitting in our lobby, so everybody always wants to ask when they come.

This is a video that was produced for the Detroit Auto Show a number of years ago, but it's quite cool.

I knew I was going to run out of time here, but I did want to show you that.

I also want to mention one of the latest and greatest things that they've been working on is this hydraulic hand. And it's brought in a number of different applications here, but this is quite entertaining. And I've got a number of small little things that I can fit in my suitcase, but this hand that they've now created, of course they have the entire hand put up, but everything is integrated. All of the hydraulic lines, all of the motors and pumps can be put inside so nothing is outside the skin. It's much lighter and it's very strong. This kind of application now has a very real application to today's everyday life in looking at how we improve the lives of a number of different people. This is about five times lighter than just having a full hand or a solid hand. And you would still have to have all of the stuff on the outside. And this is a way to integrate everything into one unit and they certainly tested this. This is very reliable and can have a significant impact on those applications like this.

I'm going to quit there mainly because I'm out of time and your break is coming up. I did want to maybe throw out that this continues on. In looking forward, DOE has a number of objectives looking at what our future looks like. And hydrogen right now seems to be really one of the big applications. What does the hydrogen piping look like? And we’re still looking at a number of different materials. Materials research is a huge application at ORNL, because we do have a number of different things, such as neutrons scattering, that we can help look at a bunch of these material structures and what that may bring.

Thank you for your time. I can answer questions now or you can take a break or I've got several samples if you want to come up and take a look.

Thank you.