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Story tips from the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, August 2008

BIOENERGY -- Natural selection . . .

By examining natural variation among cottonwood trees in nature, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory hope to develop a strategy to maximize production of ethanol from cellulosic biomass. Through a process known as association mapping, scientists will attempt to identify differences in cell wall chemistry among trees growing in natural populations with the goal being to determine which trees are the best candidates for biofuel. To do this, researchers will measure many traits related to ethanol production, including cellulose and lignin content, lumen diameter, cell wall thickness and cell diameter for hundreds of trees. This information is necessary to establish the best strategy to efficiently convert biomass to ethanol. Partners in this effort involving ORNL's Plant Systems Biology Group are West Virginia University, University of British Columbia, Greenwood Resources, Oregon State University, Michigan Technological University and the Forest Service. Funding is provided by the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

ELECTRICITY -- Grid watchdog . . .

Utilities have a new tool that provides them with a clearer picture of the wide-area electricity transmission system and enables decision-makers to respond swiftly to major power disruptions. The technology, dubbed VERDE (Visualizing Energy Resources Dynamically on Earth), combines the display capabilities of Google Earth with analysis and modeling components developed by a team led by Mallikarjun Shankar of ORNL's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. The wider area view provided by VERDE, a first of its kind for the grid, significantly enhances situational awareness and speeds recovery times from power outages. "With this tool we are able to monitor individual transmission lines and place the system as a whole in the context of potential impact on population, transportation and critical infrastructures," Shankar said. The project was funded by DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

ENVIRONMENT -- A better assessment . . .

Ecological risk assessments are vital for ensuring product safety, managing contaminated sites, protecting natural resources and other applications. A recent study by the Ecological Processes and Effects Committee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board could make risk assessments even more useful. Committee member and lead author Virginia Dale, ORNL Environmental Sciences Division, said the study found risk assessment worked best when clear management goals were defined early, translated into information needs and developed in collaboration with decision makers, assessors, scientists, and stakeholders. Study recommendations include thorough peer review; increased integration of risk assessment and monitoring program data; more consideration of ecological effects of chemical and nonchemical stressors; and development of standards of practice for interpreting and weighing lines of evidence. "EPA has established a framework and guidelines that have improved the practice of ecological risk assessment," Dale said. "This study presents a number of specific opportunities for making the risk assessment process even more effective." The study was published in the July issue of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, a quarterly publication of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. [Contact: Mike Bradley, (865) 576-9553;]

ENERGY-- Solar City USA . . .

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is providing technical expertise and assistance in the installation of solar energy systems and related educational materials in nearby Knoxville, Tenn., which has been selected as one of 12 Solar America Cities designated by DOE. ORNL's Energy and Transportation Sciences Division is providing technical guidance and oversight on the design of solar equipment that will be installed at a new public transit center and a zero-energy home to be constructed in a new waterfront development planned along the Tennessee River. ORNL is also assisting in the development of solar information kiosks to be used in the transportation center and at the city's nature center which already has a solar array. DOE's $200,000 effort will be focused on providing Knoxvillians a better understanding of solar power and to encourage greater implementation of the technology as an energy alternative. The funding source is the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. [Contact: Fred Strohl, (865) 574-4165;]


Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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