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That Lawrence Livermore excels in materials science is not news. The Laboratory has applied materials science expertise to national security (actinides, high explosives), clean energy (materials for hydrogen generation, carbon capture, and batteries), and additive manufacturing. Our capabilities in semiconductors and active optics for laser systems may be considered nascent compared to more established research at Livermore, but such expertise is critical in positioning ourselves to be responsive and meet future needs in our broader deterrence mission.
The feature article in this issue of Science & Technology Review delves into a three-year Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project to optimize ultrawide bandgap (UWBG) materials—semiconductor materials tolerating higher power levels than silicon—and apply them to photoconductive devices for the National Ignition Facility’s (NIF’s) powerful laser system. These photoconductive devices are used as selectable, spatial light blockers capable of masking specific regions of the beam that may otherwise initiate optical damage or growth on downstream optics.
Along with spatially modifying NIF laser beams to control optical damage, the ability to shape the spatial distribution of laser energy—a goal of laser material processing—has been fundamentally constrained by limitations in the laser damage threshold of beam shaping optics for high-power applications. Evolving from the LDRD research team’s work are potential improvements in laser welding, drilling, cutting, and shock peening as well as laser powder bed fusion and directed energy deposition through tailored laser beam shaping. Process science to enhance production of UWBG materials has also been addressed. While traditional approaches amount to trial-and-error experimentation, the UWBG LDRD team has harnessed the power of the Laboratory’s competencies in computation and computational material science to predict viable materials for optimal performance.
Mission applications are always underpinned by science and technology innovation. The underlying UWBG materials innovation and research findings enable many applications: high-power radio frequency electronics supporting radar, communications, and national defense; inertial confinement fusion, high-power laser systems,and space optics for scientific discovery; and further improvements to speed and refine advanced manufacturing.
Research and technology advancing the Laboratory’s diverse mission areas are further reflected in this issue’s research highlights. The first highlight introduces MiRadar, a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) developed to identify buried threats in real time, protecting military personnel. MiRadar’s drone-mounted technology builds on earlier, larger, and heavier GPR technologies and adds an array of antennas that both send penetrating pulses and receive data to be transmitted into high-resolution, 3D images. This technology demonstrates innovation to support the Laboratory’s Multi-Domain Deterrence mission area, strengthening defensive capabilities.
The second research highlight, detailing the design and testing of a carbon capture system at a Napa Valley, California, winery, reflects Livermore’s commitment to the Climate and Energy Security mission area. As the article describes, researchers identified ideal packing material for an absorber built to capture carbon dioxide at its source—in this case, fermenting wine in tanks. Expertise in industrial chemistry yielded a mineralization technique to sequester captured carbon dioxide gas into a mineral powder. With further development and refinement, a similar carbon capture system could remove hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions in California alone for pennies per bottle in wine production costs.
The third highlight returns to the Climate and Energy Security mission area with a focus on a potential source of reliable, secure, low-carbon energy: hydrogen. The multilaboratory Subsurface Hydrogen Assessment, Storage, and Technology Acceleration (SHASTA) Project considers the potential for hydrogen storage in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, saline aquifers, and salt caverns throughout the nation. Key to assessing the behavior of hydrogen stored underground are diagnostic instruments in development at Lawrence Livermore as well as an open-source reservoir simulator designed specifically to model hydrogen flow. SHASTA also addresses the monitoring, technoeconomic factors, and safety communication elements underlying real-life application of underground hydrogen storage. As each of these articles demonstrate, the Laboratory’s capabilities are put to work every day to enable national security, global stability, and resilience—in defense, in the environment, in energy security, in industry, and in accelerating the innovations that make the mission possible.