Friday, June 04, 2010

Release the Kraken: Energy Hubs and Simulation

a06_p09_kraken_med The transition at the U.S. Department of Energy from a business oriented secretary – Samuel Bodman, who also had been Director of M.I.T.'s School of Engineering Practice – to a research oriented secretary – Steven Chu, previously the director of the Berkeley National Laboratory – has, naturally enough, led to an increased stress on research. While DOE always engages in research, Chu’s touting of energy hubs as engines of new ideas, as mini-Manhattan Projects, has been consistent.

He has, however, had some trouble with Congress over them, with the House approving only one of eight proposed and the Senate going for three. It may be that Chu hasn’t sold them aggressively enough, it may be general budget concerns in Congress, but three is the number for now. Two relate to renewable energy sources, the third to nuclear energy. So we were interested to run into this:

The University of Michigan has been named part of a national hub for boosting U.S. nuclear energy research and development.
The Ann Arbor university said nine engineering faculty members will lead its part of the Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub. The hub which includes other academic, industrial and government institutions [sic]. It's led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Well, congratulation to the University but it’s not much. Let’s see if someone has more on this:

Core members of CASL are Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Idaho and Sandia national laboratories; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and North Carolina State University; and the Electric Power Research Institute, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Westinghouse Electric Co. A dozen other universities, companies and organizations in this country and in Europe also are contributing to the program.

Better. CASL is The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors. And here’s a description of what this group is aiming to do:

The consortium’s goal is to create a virtual reactor that can be used to improve the performance and safety of existing reactors and to help design the next generation.

And why it’s important:

“Before you go testing a new reactor design, you need to have that design validated against existing reactors,” said Douglas Kothe, director of science at Oak Ridge’s National Center for Computational Sciences and director of the consortium. “What we are building is a modern, high-fidelity simulation tool, rigorously validated, to push the state of the art.”

Here’s DOE’s page about this project and a look at its future:

After five years, the Hub is intended to produce a multi-physics computational environment that can be used by a wide range of practitioners to conduct predictive calculations of the performance of reactors in the future for both normal and off-normal conditions.

In other words, something of value to a wider cohort than only simulation specialists:

The mission focus of the NE [nuclear energy] Hub is to apply existing modeling and simulation capabilities to create a user environment that allows engineers to create a simulation of a currently operating reactor that will act as a "virtual model" of that reactor.

This is a tremendously exciting and (surprisingly) practical project. We’ll have to see if the consortium really makes this user-friendly (well, to those users to whom it applies, anyway); if so, its application would be a boon for the industry.


This is an area where supercomputers have a place and the project will be using three computing behemoths – two Crays and one IBM – to provide the horsepower. We were amused to see that one of Oak Ridge’s Crays is named Kraken, given the number of times we heard Liam Neeson bellow, “Release the kraken” in previews for Clash of the Titans this spring. Release the kraken indeed.

Kraken itself.

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