Argonne wins four ’Oscars of Innovation’ from R&D Magazine

WEBWIRE – Thursday, June 23, 2011

ARGONNE, Ill. —Four technologies developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have won R&D 100 awards.

The awards, organized by R&D Magazine, have been given out annually since 1962 for the top high-technology products of the year and are considered to be the “Oscars of Innovation.”

“I want to congratulate this year’s R&D 100 award winners,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The Department of Energy’s national laboratories and sites are at the forefront of innovation, and it is gratifying to see their work recognized once again. The cutting-edge research and development done in our national labs and facilities is helping to meet our energy challenges, strengthen our national security and enhance our economic competitiveness.”

This year’s winners from Argonne are:

* The Integrated Radio Frequency (RF) Microelectromechanical System (MEMs) Switch/Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor Device
* Advanced Ceramic Film Capacitors for Power Electronics in Electric Drive Vehicles
* Enhanced Renewable Methane Production System
* The Photoacoustic Spectroscopy (PAS) System for Remote Detection of Explosives and Chemicals

“These R&D 100 winners demonstrate the outstanding multidisciplinary work that we do at Argonne National Laboratory,” said Eric Isaacs, the laboratory’s director. “Once again, Argonne’s world-class scientists and engineers have shown that American ingenuity is alive and well and working in the nation’s heartland. With these innovative technologies, our researchers have once again shown an extraordinary return on America’s investment in science.”

The RF MEMS Switch CMOS Device

Argonne and Industry Inventors:

* Orlando Auciello, Argonne, lead developer
* Anirudha Sumant, Argonne
* Srinath Balachandran, Innovative Micro Technology, Santa Barbara, Calif.

* Charles Goldsmith, MEMtronic Corp., Plano, Texas
* Chris Gudeman, Innovative Micro Technology, Santa Barbara, Calif.
* Suresh Sampath, Innovative Micro Technology
* James Swonger, Peregrine Semiconductor, Cocoa, Fla.
* Hongjun Zeng, Advanced Diamond Technologies, Romeoville, Ill.
* John Carlisle, Advanced Diamond Technologies

Argonne and industry researchers developed an RF MEMS switch that can extend by two to three times the power of battery-operated electronic devices like cell phones.

Reliability has inhibited deployment of RF MEMS switches into military or commercial radar and mobile communication systems, mainly due to failure related to electrical charging of the oxide or nitride dielectric layers currently used on top of the bottom electrode, which result in the mechanically moving switch membrane getting stuck to that layer when closed. The oxide or nitride layers exhibit fast electrical charging (10s of µsec) and slow discharging (100s of sec), the latter resulting in the switch failure.

Under a four-year Argonne-led R&D program funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), novel dielectric-layer was developed based on the lab’s patented ultrananocrystalline diamond (UNCD) film technology. The unique nanostructure of the UNCD layer with extensive grain boundary network results in fast charging (~100 µsec) and fast discharging (~100 µsec), the latter being 100,000 to a million times faster than the discharging of oxide and nitride dielectric layers, thus eliminating the RF MEMS switch failure. The DARPA program also demonstrated for the first time the monolithic integration of RF UNCD-MEMS switches with CMOS devices, with the latter driving the switch via CMOS voltage activation of the switch.

The monolithically integrated RF-UNCD MEMS switch/CMOS devices will enable the next generation of communications devices to more seamlessly handle data, voice, audio and video simultaneously while supporting multiple radio frequency systems operating in several different frequency bands ranging from megahertz to gigahertz.

Lead developer and Argonne Distinguished Fellow Orlando Auciello is a six-time winner of the R&D 100 Award.

Advanced Ceramic Film Capacitors
Argonne Inventors:

* Beihai Ma
* Manoj Narayanan
* Uthamalingam (Balu) Balachandran, lead developer

Argonne’s ceramic-film capacitor bridges a technology gap that addresses a critical need of the next generation of electric-drive vehicles. It substantially reduces the weight, volume and cost of capacitor materials of the inverters that will be used to power the motors of electric vehicles.

The ceramic film—a lanthanum-modified lead zirconate titanate—is deposited on an inexpensive metal foil that can be stacked on or embedded into printed wire boards. The arrangement frees surface space, increases reliability and minimizes electromagnetic interference and inductance loss in the inverter. And because the capacitor is made of ceramic and metal, degradation due to high-temperature when the engine is running is eliminated.

Lead developer Balu Balachandran is a four-time R&D 100 Award winner.

Enhanced Renewable Methane Production System
Argonne Inventors:

* Seth Snyder, lead developer
* Richard Doctor
* Michael Henry
* Rathin Datta
* Meltem Urgun Demirtas
* George Crandell, Eurisko Scientific, LLC, McClellan, Calif.
* Taras Lysenko, Eurisko Scientific
* Richard Leber, Eurisko Scientific

The Enhanced Renewable Methane Production System is a low-cost process that accelerates biological methane production rates at least fivefold. The system could enhance biological methane production at waste-water treatment plants, farms and landfills.

This system addresses one of the largest barriers to the expansion of renewable methane—the naturally slow rate of production. To overcome this hurdle, Argonne researchers examined the natural biology of methane production, the natural processes for carbon dioxide sequestration and the environmental quality of the water found in coal bed methane wells. This led to the novel, low-cost treatment to accelerate biological methane production while sequestering CO2.

The treatment enhances the heating value of biogas, delivering a gas that is close to pipeline quality. In addition, the renewable methane process leaves coal’s environmental pollutants such as sulfur and mercury in the ground, avoiding their emissions.

Lead developer Seth Snyder is a three-time R&D 100 Award winner.

The PAS System for Remote Detection
Argonne Inventors:

* Hual-Te Chien, lead developer
* Shuh-Haw Sheen
* Apostolos Raptis
* Ke (Kevin) Wang

Argonne’s portable PAS remote and extended-range detection system can be used for homeland security and defense applications to identify and locate toxic chemicals, roadside bombs, or special nuclear materials with high sensitivity and great selectivity for chemicals and explosives in an open-field environment. The Argonne PAS System can also be used for environmental monitoring, crime scene forensics and cargo and food inspections.

The PAS System uses a special acoustic resonator that is designed to detect an acoustic signal generated by the photoacoustic effect in an open-field. When the detector’s laser is aimed at a gas plume or solid materials from a distance, it excites the selected molecules, which transfers their internal energy to translational energy through collisions with ambient gas/air molecules. The collisions cause thermal expansion, which generate an acoustic wave at the frequency of the laser modulation. The photoacoustic spectrometer module then processes the acoustic wave to identify the exact chemical or explosive.

Argonne’s PAS System is an outgrowth of the traditional laboratory PAS system, which requires a sample collection to measures gas concentrations at parts-per-billion or parts-per-trillion levels.

Lead developer Hual-Te Chien is a second time R&D 100 Award Winner.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
By Angela Hardin

For more information, please contact Angela Hardin (630/252-5501 or at Argonne.

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