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Impacts

Read about the impacts of NREL's innovations in computational science.

Accelerating Materials Development for Improved Thermal Control

August 21, 2019

Opportunity

Fiberglass has been an effective insulant used in buildings for decades, but there is room to improve as buildings seek greater thermal control and energy efficiency.

Achievement

Through computational work performed in concert with experimental efforts in buildings and materials science research, NREL is exploring alternative low-thermal-conductivity materials with the goal of using modern materials-science approaches to develop an even better insulation material than fiberglass.

Impact

Packed-bed materials, which not only keep air from flowing, but also force heat to take longer routes through pinch points by traveling along very small spheres, keep buildings at desired temperatures with much greater efficiency by better preventing heat transfer. NREL’s work to calculate and accurately predict the thermal conductivity of these materials and understand the mechanisms by which energy is transferred form one particle to another could ultimately create a better insulation material for thermal control.

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Optimizing Wind Plant Design Through High-Fidelity Physics Simulations

August 21, 2019

Challenge

The wind field surrounding and flowing through a wind power plant is extremely complex. The winds within a wind power plant directly affect each wind turbine and their wakes. Locally, the winds are turbulent and are influenced by the terrain and the turbines themselves; at the same time, these turbulent winds are influenced by the surrounding regional-scale weather patterns that extend hundreds of kilometers away from the wind power plant. Understanding and managing these variables to maintain maximum efficiency is important, but complex.

Achievement

NREL scientists are using high-performance computing to study the effects of variables on wind farms. Examining the fluid dynamics of wind turbine wakes helps us gain a better understanding of how wind turbine wakes evolve and flow through a wind plant and interact with other turbines, surrounding winds, and complex terrain.

Impact

Through these simulations, not only do we gain knowledge, but we can also use them to guide very specific field measurement campaigns, design wind plant controllers of the future, and innovate new turbine designs.

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Improving Wind Farm Controls

August 21, 2019

Challenge

When turbines are arranged in succession on a wind farm, downstream turbines can be negatively impacted by the wake of turbines upwind of them, reducing efficiency.

Achievement

Using high-performance computing, NREL scientists have been able to explore the specifics of turbine wakes and engineer solutions through controls that shift the upstream turbines’ wake laterally away from those downstream.

Impact

Deflecting the wake of upstream turbines can improve the power generation of downstream turbines and pave the way to more efficient wind farms. This would ultimately reduce the cost of wind energy because wind farms would produce more energy from the same capital investment—only the turbine controls software would change.

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Engineering Low-Cost Magnesium for Lightweight Vehicles

August 21, 2019

Challenge

Energy efficiency is key to increasing the range of electric vehicles. Making vehicles lighter can boost efficiency and help them travel further on a single charge.

Achievement

One way to make vehicles lighter is to make parts out of lighter materials. Magnesium is lighter than many other metals used in vehicles, but it previously could not be produced in rollable sheets that the auto industry can use. NREL used high-performance computing to examine magnesium at the atomic level and determine a way to form the element into rollable sheets. The work involves quantum-mechanics-based simulations to understand how magnesium deforms and how it changes in different chemistries. NREL researchers are leveraging the power of high-performance computing to examine plastic deformation and inform changes in composition.

Impact

Because the lightweight magnesium can be made in rollable sheets, the auto industry can begin forming it into auto parts and creating overall lighter vehicles capable of reaching extended ranges and stretching the distance an electric vehicle can drive on one charge. The data is not only being used to inform the broader project but can also be used for future modeling. Industry can use NREL data in fine-element modeling to investigate how this sheet metal will perform.

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Transforming Combustion Science and Technology with Exascale Simulations

August 21, 2019

Challenge

Computer hardware is fundamentally changing, with performance now coming from parallelism, rather than increasing clock frequency. Current combustion codes will not perform well on evolving hardware without a major re-working of algorithms and implementation.

Achievement

NREL is playing a key role in developing an exascale computing simulation framework for modeling multiphysics reacting flows for combustion applications. This simulation capability will enable unique first-principles and near-first principles simulations of mixing, spray vaporization, auto-ignition, flame propagation, and soot/radiation in conditions relevant to practical combustion devices.

Impact

The exascale combustion simulation framework offers a tremendous opportunity for advancing design technology for energy generation and propulsion.

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