• DecontaminationCleaning concrete contaminated with chemicals

    In March 1995, members of a Japanese cult released the deadly nerve agent sarin into the Tokyo subway system, killing a dozen people and injuring a thousand more. This leads to the question: What if a U.S. transportation hub was contaminated with a chemical agent? The hub might be shut down for weeks, which could have a substantial economic impact. Craig Tenney, a chemical engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, is looking for better ways to clean contaminated concrete to reduce that impact.

  • 9/11: 15 years onHow building design changed after 9/11

    By Shih-Ho Chao

    When buildings collapse killing hundreds – or thousands – of people, it’s a tragedy. It’s also an important engineering problem. For structural engineers like me, that meant figuring out what happened, and doing extensive research on how to improve buildings’ ability to withstand a terrorist attack. Research has found ways to keep columns and beams strong even when they are stressed and bent. This property is called ductility, and higher ductility could reduce the chance of progressive collapse. Mixing millions of high-strength needle-like steel microfibers into concrete – to prevent the spreading of any cracks that occur because of an explosion or other extreme force – creates material which is superstrong and very ductile. This material, called ultra-high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete, is extremely resistant to blast damage. As a result, we can expect future designers and builders to use this material to further harden their buildings against attack. It’s just one way we are contributing to the efforts to prevent these sorts of tragedies from happening in the future.

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  • Rare earth materialsRecovering rare-earth magnets from used hard drives

    The world’s most powerful magnets are manufactured using rare earth elements such as neodymium. These magnets are essential to the operation of everything from computer hard drives to electric and hybrid vehicles, electric bicycles, wind turbines, cell phones, air conditioners, and other appliances and industrial equipment. Need for the element is rising as demand for consumer products and clean energy technologies grows – but more than 95 percent of worldwide production of neodymium occurs outside the United States, mostly in China. A process developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for large-scale recovery of rare earth magnets from used computer hard drives will soon undergo industrial testing.

  • HeliumHuge helium discovery in Tanzania is “a life-saving find”

    Helium does not just make your voice squeaky — it is critical to many things we take for granted, including MRI scanners in medicine, welding, industrial leak detection, and nuclear energy. However, known reserves are quickly running out. Until now helium has never been found intentionally — being accidentally discovered in small quantities during oil and gas drilling. Researchers have developed a new exploration approach, and the first use of this method has resulted in the discovery of a world-class helium gas field in Tanzania.

  • Rare earth elementsNew alloy to boost rare-earth elements production

    Rare earths are a group of elements critical to electronics, alternative energy, and other modern technologies. Modern windmills and hybrid autos, for example, rely on strong permanent magnets made with the rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium. Yet there is no production occurring in North America at this time. Researchers have developed aluminum alloys that are both easier to work with and more heat tolerant than existing products. The alloys — which contain cerium — have the potential to jump-start the U.S. production of rare earth elements.

  • Rare earth elementsAppalachian coal ash rich in rare earth elements

    In the wake of a 2014 coal ash spill into North Carolina’s Dan River from a ruptured Duke Energy drainage pipe, the question of what to do with the nation’s aging retention ponds and future coal ash waste has been a highly contested topic. A study of the content of rare earth elements in U.S. coal ashes shows that coal mined from the Appalachian Mountains could be the proverbial golden goose for hard-to-find materials critical to clean energy and other emerging technologies.

  • Personal protection equipmentTougher steel could be used for body armor, shields for satellites

    A team of engineers has developed and tested a type of steel with a record-breaking ability to withstand an impact without deforming permanently. The new steel alloy could be used in a wide range of applications, from drill bits, to body armor for soldiers, to meteor-resistant casings for satellites.

  • Rare earth mineralsRare earth minerals are in short supply, so researchers seek to extract them from coal

    With supplies growing scarce of essential materials needed to make products ranging from smart phones to windmills, researchers are working with academic and industry partners in a $1 million pilot project to recover rare earth elements from coal. The pilot effort is important because rare earth materials, used to create powerful permanent magnets in products as common as computer hard drives to electric motors, are in increasingly short supply, particularly heavy rare earth elements.

  • Rare earth elementsExtracting rare-earth elements from coal could soon be economical in U.S.

    The United States could soon decrease its dependence on importing valuable rare-earth elements (REEs) which are widely used in many industries, according to a team of researchers. who found a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to extract these metals from coal byproducts.

  • InfrastructureDeveloping materials for more resilient concrete pavements

    Aging roadways pose a growing threat to transportation infrastructure which is critical to the health of economies throughout the world. Beyond the daunting task of funding extensive restoration efforts, there is an equally pressing challenge to find ways to rebuild major roads which are more sustainable. Researchers have been experimenting with what are called phase-change materials to produce more resilient concrete surfaces for roads and bridges. Phase-change materials are substances which respond to temperature variations by changing their state from solid to liquid or vice versa, and can be sourced from petroleum (such as paraffin wax) or be plant-based. A new project is exploring the use of a phase-change material solution for reducing or preventing temperature-related cracks in concrete pavement.

  • InfrastructureSelf-compacting concrete is now fire resistant as well

    Self-compacting high-performance concrete (SCHPC) has till now suffered from one weakness — when exposed to fire it flakes and splits, which reduces the loadbearing capacity of ceilings, walls, and supporting pillars, thus increasing the risk of collapse in a burning building. Scientists have now developed a method of manufacturing fire resistant self-compacting high-performance concrete which maintains its mechanical integrity under these conditions.

  • MineralsU.S. reliance on nonfuel mineral imports increasing

    Key nonfuel mineral commodities that support the U.S. economy and national security are increasingly being sourced from outside the U.S., according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report. Over the past sixty years, there has been an increase in the number and diversity of nonfuel commodities that the United States imports as well as the extent to which the United States is import reliant.

  • Rare earth materialsRecovering rare earth elements from coal mining waste

    West Virginia could become one of the country’s significant sources for rare earth elements (REE), the “vitamins of modern industry,” without the expense or environmental cost of opening new mines. A new project brings together academia, state regulators, and industry to collaborate on finding a successful recovery technology for total REEs from acid mine drainage, or AMD. In Pennsylvania and West Virginia alone, it is estimated that AMD generates more than 45,000 tons of total REEs per year or about three times the current U.S. demand for total REEs.

  • Personal protection equipmentFibers from natural fats make bulletproof vests stronger and greener

    Bulletproof vests and other super-strong materials could soon become even tougher and more environmentally friendly at the same time with the help of extra firm, or “al dente,” fibers. These materials, which are powerful enough to stop speeding bullets, can also be used for many other tasks that require strength.

  • Coastal infrastructureU Maine launches center for studying, developing coastal and offshore structures

    During a laboratory dedication on Monday at the University of Maine, the Harold Alfond Foundation announced a $3.9 million grant to the University of Maine to match $9.98 million already raised, formally establishing the Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center on campus. The UMaine Composites Center is the largest STEM research and development program located in a Maine university, and is at the heart of one of UMaine’s seven Signature Areas of Excellence — Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy.