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Peeking into technology´s future at Argonne National Lab

March 9, 2010

Visit and tour of key US energy research facility by the Austrian Trade Commission provided insight into the technology of the future.  Photo (left to right):  Argonne hosts Thomas Wallner, Glenn Keller and Hermann Obermair.

On March 5 the staff of the Austrian Trade Commission was pleased to visit the Argonne National Lab, which is run by the University of Chicago and supported by a grant from the US Department of Energy. The visit and tours of various facilities were graciously arranged and facilitated by fellow Austrians Dr. Thomas Wallner, Research Engineer, and Hermann Obermair, Pre-doctoral Appointee, of the Engines and Emissions Research Group of the Energy Systems Division, which focuses on alternative energy for cars.

Highlights of the tour included input from Dr. Wallner’s colleagues regarding US energy policy and developments, a hands-on tour of testing promising alternative automotive technologies, and a full tour of Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source, a huge world-class facility which allows scientists to peer into materials and processes which have been either too small, dense or rapid to capture with traditional technology.

Rather than attempting to explain anything as complex as the ongoing research at Argonne, we will simply share a few interesting factoids from our visit.

-Lithium air batteries are about 10 years from commercialization?
-Current alternative fuels and technologies being tested for cars include hydrogen in fuel cells and internal combustion engines, higher efficiency diesel and gasoline engines featuring advanced fuel injection systems, and a new generation of electric batteries that might be efficient and affordable enough to complete with oil?
-Nanotechnology (developing new materials at the level of atoms) is already being used in media storage / computers, medical devices and building materials and is yet a field still in its infancy?
-The US auto industry could improve the emissions of its cars by 20% with existing technology simply by adapting European standards?
-It appears possible in theory to produce methane as an alternative energy source from minerals which are widely distributed on the Earth’s surface?
-The chilled-water cooling systems for Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source are sufficient to keep 3,500 homes cool in the Midwestern heat of July?
-Solar cells may become cheaper by using nanotechnology to apply lower quality “dirty” silicon to substrates resulting in similar efficiency as the current expensive highly purified silicon now being used?

Perhaps even more impressive than the technology at Argonne is the inclusiveness of Argonne’s mission. A wide range of industries, global citizens and applications are all at home on Argonne’s park-like campus. There is even room for more Austrians!