Features - October 2011
NETL Teams Earn High Achievement Awards from Secretary of Energy
|The Secretary's Achievement Award is one of three types of DOE Secretary's Honor Awards given each year to DOE employees and contractors for outstanding service to the Department and the Nation.
In an October 27 ceremony at the U.S. Department of Energy, Secretary Steven Chu honored the National Energy Technology Laboratory and several partner agencies with two Secretary of Energy Achievement Awards, the highest internal, nonmonetary award a team can receive from DOE.
Secretary Chu recognized NETL for its contributions to two significant environmental efforts in 2010: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and DOE’s remediation activities at the Hanford nuclear materials production site in Washington State. In both efforts, NETL contributed its time, effort, and expertise to solve critical problems facing the United States.
In congratulating all of the 2011 Honor Award winners, Secretary Chu stated, “The employees recognized today have gone above and beyond the call of duty, demonstrating an exceptional commitment to public service. Their dedication, knowledge, and skills have served to strengthen our nation’s economic and energy security and the work of the Energy Department.”
Deepwater Horizon Flow Estimation Group/Nodal Analysis Team
It is considered by many to be the worst environmental disaster to have occurred in the United States. On April 20, 2010, a blowout at BP’s Deepwater Horizon well platform claimed the lives of 11 men, destroyed the drilling rig, and allowed an estimated 4.8 million barrels of oil to flow into the Gulf of Mexico before the well was successfully capped 87 days later.
In response to the disaster, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen formed the Flow Rate Technical Group. Group lead Marcia McNutt, director of the
Members of the Hanford Site V&V Evaluation team with Secretary Chu.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in turn commissioned a series of teams to aid in estimating and validating the flow rate of the Macondo well spill: Plume Modeling, Mass Balance, Reservoir Analysis, and Nodal Analysis.
NETL’s Dr. George Guthrie led the Nodal Analysis Team, coordinating the efforts of 46 scientists and staff members from 6 DOE national labs—NETL, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory—and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Ingenuity, Creativity, and a Dedicated Response
The Nodal Analysis team fully appreciated the urgency of its task. More than 50,000 barrels of oil per day were flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, and determining the flow rate was the first step in identifying options for capping the well. Data were sparse, conditions were hostile, and the need for a fully defendable estimate was critical and immediate.
DOE’s researchers operated with the utmost efficiency, employing state-of-the-art technologies and methods to develop unique approaches for solving a problem for which there was no precedence. Dr. Guthrie’s staff worked tirelessly to assemble, reduce, and analyze data and vet results with other professionals. They conducted their activities with a minimum of support staff and produced analytical products quickly, helping to speed the ultimate solution and reduce the environmental cost of the disaster.
The Nodal Analysis Team helped the FRTG quickly and effectively achieve its primary objective: accurately estimate the rate of oil flowing into the Gulf. Responders used this information to develop options to cap the well Many of the processes developed for this task will now be refined and documented to guide the work of response analysts in the future.
As a testament to the Nodal Analysis Team’s outstanding achievements, Dr. McNutt lauded the agencies’ ability to work as a true team and said, “The Nation was privileged to have a cadre of dedicated and capable Government, academic, and independent scientists to call upon during this disaster.”
The NETL federal and contractor staff members that worked on the FRTG Nodal Analysis Team were George Guthrie, Grant Bromhal, Brian Anderson, Robert Enick, Roy Long, Shahab Mohaghegh, Bryan Morreale, Neal Sams, and Doug Wyatt.
HANFORD SITE V&V EVALUATION
The Hanford Site lies at the core of DOE’s mission to dispose of the radioactive waste that is a byproduct of World War II and Cold War Era nuclear weapons production, as well as the production of commercial nuclear energy. Bechtel National, Inc. (BNI) is designing the Hanford Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant to “vitrify” 53 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste into a stable glass form for safe, permanent storage.
Members of the Flow Rate Technical Group/Nodal Analysis Team pose with Secretary Chu after receiving their awards.
BNI’s plant design incorporates a pulse-jet system to maintain an even distribution of liquids and solids within the waste to minimize the threat of nuclear reaction. Before proceeding to the build phase, BNI is conducting verification and validation (V&V) of the system using computers to predict behaviors in the liquid-solid mix, an approach referred to as computational fluid dynamics.
When it comes to predicting the dynamics of complex liquid-solid interactions, however, computational fluid dynamics presents a double-edged sword: the promise of accurate predictions that will optimize a system’s design and the risk of mischaracterization and introduction of error, or even danger, into a system.
NETL was asked by DOE’s Office of River Protection to independently review and provide technical recommendations for BNI’s V&V plan. Tom O’Brien and John VanOsdol, career fluid dynamics scientists at NETL, were asked to evaluate BNI’s computer models, review the completed V&V effort, and provide feedback on whether BNI’s computational fluid dynamics analyses would sufficiently confirm the validity of the pulse-jet mixer vessel design.
NETL and its staff are recognized experts in computational fluid dynamics, and a number of models used in the BNI V&V effort originated from NETL programs. NETL’s researchers also have extensive familiarity with V&V concepts and formal approaches.
Dr. O’Brien and Dr. VanOsdol drew on the expertise of fellow NETL scientists Sofiane Benyahia, Syam Syamlal, Tingwen Li, and Mehrdad Shahnam. They also involved two of the nation’s top fluid dynamics scientists, Prof. Ismail Celik of West Virginia University and Dr. Urmila Ghia of the University of Cincinnati. Team members met throughout the project with the Office of River Protection, BNI, and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
A Pioneer Effort
NETL provided services in two distinct areas: evaluating the BNI V&V process and helping BNI formulate a new standard for the V&V process via computational fluid dynamics. V&V using computational modeling is a new frontier, and using computational fluid dynamics for V&V in a large, complex, multiphase flow system is on the cutting edge of that frontier.
Because of the complexities associated with the Hanford project, BNI is breaking new ground in using computational fluid dynamics for design confirmation. In turn, the V&V activity—and the review process conducted by NETL and other laboratories—represents the first time that members of the fluid dynamics research community have attempted to formulate a process that defines the proper methodology for applying computational fluid dynamics in support of V&V.
What NETL Found
Considering dozens of potential computational fluid dynamics approaches, NETL found that BNI had taken the most appropriate course for addressing the complex challenges at Hanford. NETL made recommendations for improving the V&V and underscoring it with experimental data.
Based on its knowledge of power-production systems in which fluid dynamics play a significant role, NETL also made recommendations on the pulse-jet mixer design, particularly in relation to erosion and segregation and concentration of particles. Although this analysis was outside the original scope of the work, NETL felt that the level of certainty necessary to mitigate risk at the treatment plant demanded that all findings be presented.
Current and Future Benefits
For more than 40 years, reactors located at Hanford produced plutonium for America’s defense program. The environmental cleanup being conducted by thousands of Hanford employees today is of vital importance to the United States, and the proper construction of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant is key in that effort.
Of course, the problem of managing nuclear waste is not confined to the United States. Finding the means to safely dispose of nuclear waste is a global challenge. The work conducted by NETL in cooperation with BNI, the Office of River Protection, and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board takes a significant step in solving that challenge. In addition to addressing the immediate challenges at Hanford, it can lay the groundwork for future applications in the nuclear industry and in industries across the energy sector.