April 29, 1999

DOE NEWS MEDIA CONTACT: Jeff Sherwood, 202/586-5806


Four Energy Department Technologies are
Discover Magazine's Award Finalists

An asbestos digesting foam, the world's smallest lock and an "on-board" oil refinery that reduces a car's smog-producing pollutants are among the Department of Energy-funded research announced today by Discover magazine as finalists for its 1999 Awards for Technological Innovation. The magazine will announce the winners on Saturday, June 5, in a ceremony at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.

"It is gratifying to have independent recognition of the value of Department of Energy-funded research to the nation," Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson said. "These four finalists bring to 27 the number of DOE-funded finalists over the years. Whether done at one of the department's national laboratories or at a university, this research is already making and will continue to make real contributions to our country's environment, health and economic competitiveness."

Discover's special July awards issue will feature finalists and winning technologies in nine categories. The magazine's editorial panel chose this year's 27 finalists from among more than 4,000 nominees. A panel of judges will choose the winning technologies.

Information on the finalists follows:


Asbestos Eater
Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y.
W.R. Grace & Co., Boca Raton, FL
Innovators: David Myers and Leon Petrakis

This new product is capable of destroying asbestos in installed fireproofing without diminishing its fire-resistive performance. The new technique uses a foamy solution that chemically digests asbestos fibers, dissolving them into harmless minerals. When the treatment is done, so few fibers remain that the product no longer falls under regulations for asbestos-containing material.

For more information, see http://www.gcp-grace.com/products/fireprotect/dma_info.html


A Vault for Valuable Data -- the Microscopic Recodable Lock
Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, N.M.
Innovators: Larry Dalton, Frank Peter and David Plummer

Personal information and business transactions on the Internet are not as secure as they should be. Even the best software protection can fall prey to an enterprising hacker. Unfortunately, you can't put a lock on cyberspace, so Sandia's researchers did the next best thing: they found a way to put a lock inside the computer. Their microscopic combination lock creates a physical, and almost uncrackable, barrier to electronic snoopers. It could provide the ultimate in computer privacy. For more information, see http://www.sandia.gov/media/hacker.htm


Hydrogen Hygiene for the Car -- the Microplasmatron
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA
Innovator: Daniel Cohn

Engineers have known for years that adding hydrogen to the fuel mix can make an automobile engine run much cleaner. The problem has been figuring out a way to create the hydrogen onboard as it is needed. The Microplasmatron does the trick using blasts of electricity that convert ordinary gasoline and air into a hydrogen-rich gas. The prototype version is just the size of a soup can but it produces enough hydrogen to cut emissions of smog-causing nitrogen oxides by 90 percent. For more information, see http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/1997/plasmatron.html



Unstoppable Flying Robot -- the Aerosonde Robotic Aircraft
The Insitu Group and the Australian Bureau of Meterology
Innovators: Tad McGeer and Greg Holland

Weather stations in the middle of the ocean could allow for substantially improved forecasts. Unfortunately, instrumented ships are too expensive and satellites in orbit can't provide nearly enough detail. McGeer and Holland envisioned a small robotic aircraft that could do the job without the need for constant monitoring. They built the plane -- called Aerosonde -- and recently sent it on a historic flight across the Atlantic. Fleets of Aerosondes will help provide better storm warnings for pilots, captains and civilians alike. An Aerosonde is currently gathering climate data at the department's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement site in Northern Alaska.
For more information, see http://www.bom.gov.au/bmrc/meso/New/Aerosonde/aero_intro.htm