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7 Thermophysical Properties Division SUMMARY The Thermophysical Properties Division (TPD) is an outstanding service center. Its services are supported by research and by methodology development, and the equipment being developed is state of the art. Each group is running “mean and lean,” and despite the small numbers of scientists in each group, the division is highly productive. The division seems to be a model of cost-effectiveness. The precision of the critical measurements, their incorporation into mathematical models and equations of state, and their availability through online databases have been and will continue to be highly valuable to industry, academia, and other government laboratories. RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE PREVIOUS REPORT The Thermophysical Properties Division has made good progress in holding interdivisional seminars and promoting the cross-fertilization of ideas within the division. It has also increased efforts to coordinate the programming aspects of databases with other divisions, but more effort is merited in this area. There has been a laboratory-wide effort to address the merits of patenting and licensing. In addition, the copywriting and licensing of access to databases should be considered, both as a means of increasing the dissemination of data and as a fund-raising activity. An effort has been made to increase the ratio of technicians to professionals, but the correct balance requires continued evaluation. Adequate laboratory space also remains an issue. Renewed efforts should be made to form an awards committee to seek out awards for researchers. Efforts are being made to help staff develop a good idea of the overall TPD mission as well as their own personal objectives. Other divisions besides the TPD are also developing databases, and the coordination of the information technology aspects of these efforts should be expanded. TECHNICAL MERIT The Thermophysical Properties Division is composed of 3 groups (Thermodynamics Research Center Group, Experimental Properties of Fluids Group, and Theory and Modeling of Fluids Group) and 2 projects (Cryogenic Technologies project and Properties for Process Separations project). The FY 2008 TPD budget was approximately $7.8 million, of which approximately 71 percent was direct appropriation, 23 percent was other-government-agency funding, and 6 percent was measurement services funding. The staffing level is approximately 30 NIST FTEs, 7 visiting scientists, and 42 students, postdocs, and contractors. The division’s stated mission is to provide the best available measurements, theory, computations, and data evaluation for the thermophysical property information required to enable the development of standards, enhance productivity, facilitate trade, ensure scientific and technological progress, and improve the quality of life. To accomplish this, the division pursues a program of experimental measurement, data collection and evaluation, development of 38
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theoretically based models, and simulation of model systems, and its outputs include computerized standard reference databases that synthesize thermophysical property information in forms that are convenient for its stakeholders. Program areas within the division include the following: energy (thermophysical properties, data, cryogenic flow, alternative fuels, aviation fuels, advanced power cycles); environment and climate (cryocoolers for Earth monitoring, properties for aerosol formers, carbon dioxide separations in power cycles, carbon dioxide emissions); bioscience and health (information infrastructure for biothermodynamic data, terahertz imaging with biological applications, standards for biocalorimetry); public safety and security (data for the identification and detection of explosives and taggants, cryocoolers for special applications); and standards (dynamic data evaluation, wide-ranging properties, information exchange, international equation of state for fuel gases, SRMs [density and viscosity]). The Experimental Properties of Fluids Group of the Thermophysical Properties Division has developed a one-of-a-kind densitometer that provides valuable data that can help in determining the phase behavior of a range of fluids. This group has a strong interaction with the Theory and Modeling of Fluids Group, and there is excellent synergy between these two groups. The techniques developed by the Properties for Process Separations project are state of the art. In particular, the group has developed a novel distillation apparatus that allows it to analyze carefully the composition of a range of complex fluids. The level of information that the group can thus obtain on industrially important liquids and gases is very impressive. The work on the volatile gases has importance for homeland security, and in this capacity the group is also providing a useful service that is highly timely and can ultimately be extended to a range of industrial applications (e.g., detecting the spoilage of food). The group is highly productive, with just a small number of researchers. There is good synergy with the theory group. The work of the Thermodynamics Research Center is impressive—in particular, its development of a global information system for thermodynamic data is an important achievement and represents significant advances in computer science and data management. The code is not only an invaluable tool for researchers, but it also provides an excellent teaching tool. The group is working on the complicated issue of making this code available to the public in such a way that it could be used extensively but at the same time would help the group recover some of the development costs. One of the strengths of the Theory and Modeling of Fluids Group is its strong interactions with all of the experimental groups in the division. The collaborative atmosphere is very apparent, and it is clear that both the theory and experimental groups benefit from these interactions. In particular, certain theoretical calculations are suggested to the Theory and Modeling of Fluids Group by the experimentalists, and the experimental studies are facilitated by input from the theory group undertaken on the basis of that input. The collaborations seem highly fruitful, and the people seem genuinely enthusiastic about the exchange between theory and experiment. The Theory and Modeling of Fluids Group is also involved with hosting the important Symposium on Thermophysical Properties, which is the oldest and largest conference in this area and further extends the outreach activities of this group. Also with respect to outreach, the group maintains and updates a database (Reference Fluid Thermodynamic and Transport Properties Database, REFPROP) that is a valuable tool for obtaining data about the properties of fluids; this is also a useful teaching tool. The group does a commendable job of providing service to the scientific community. 39
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The activities of the Cryogenic Technologies project group also reflect the role of NIST in designing state-of-the-art equipment that is playing a vital role. The cryogenic-flow calibration facility is unique, as is the expertise provided by the small but highly productive group. Its knowledge base will be invaluable for expanding the hydrogen economy and the nation’s further use of liquid natural gas. In FY 2007, division researchers produced 47 publications and gave 65 talks (including 8 posters). In FY 2008, division researchers produced 50 publications and gave 103 talks (including 5 posters). Seventeen division staff members are credited with currently and/or recently holding professional committee assignments and 10 with holding editorship positions. INRASTRUCTURE The Thermophysical Properties Division is currently cramped for space. This problem is expected to be eased by the addition of the new building under construction. EXTERNAL INTERACTIONS Most groups within the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory have substantial interactions with others working in the field, including visiting scientists from other government laboratories, industry, and universities. In addition, they have collaborative interactions with industry groups, university consortia, and joint efforts with other government laboratories. Such associations aid them in determining valid long-term goals and allow them to benefit from new technology being developed outside the CSTL. These are powerful incentives to seek the right blend of such associations. Too much direct service work, while bringing in additional funds, could dilute longer-term strategic work on new technology to support the TPD’s mission. Associations and collaborations with industry are particularly valuable, since they help focus the division’s (and CSTL’s) activities in new technological directions that are being driven by the marketplace. Since one of NIST’s overall goals is to support and nurture the economy, cooperation with industry will help support such a goal. It is important, of course, to try to strike a balance between current industrial needs and new technology emerging from academia and other government laboratories. One way in which the division might seek out more industrial input would be to join existing academic-industrial consortia in areas of interest. This would put them in contact with more industrial scientists and academics that have common interests. A number of such consortia have been successful in the catalysis and control/optimization areas. Of course, some of these consortia require paying for membership, but it might be money well spent. Many companies have efforts similar to those of the division, addressing specific materials that are critical to them. Interactions with such companies to share information could be beneficial to both the division and industry. INFORMATION DISSEMINATION The TPD is making a good effort to disseminate its information through publications, professional meetings, seminars, and industrial associations. It also recognizes the growing 40
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importance of establishing databases that are accessible through the Internet. While there is already a substantial effort in this area, it is such a critical activity for the division that this effort should be further strengthened. Commercial databases are also under consideration, and pilot activities to determine their value should continue. Industrial companies and trade associations also maintain databases in their areas of interest, and these should be evaluated. For example, ExxonMobil is developing a database for properties of thousands of hydrocarbons and petrochemicals, using a technique called structure-oriented lumping. It is possible that ExxonMobil might be willing to work with the division in this area. OBJECTIVES AND IMPACT The stated goals of the Thermophysical Properties Division are to determine the thermophysical properties of gases, liquids, and solids―both pure materials and mixtures, and fluid-based physical processes and systems, including separations, low-temperature refrigeration, and low-temperature heat transfer and flow. In the area of thermophysics, the division develops, maintains, and uses state-of-the- art apparatuses to perform experimental measurements on industrially and scientifically important systems; compiles, evaluates, and correlates experimental data; develops and evaluates state-of-the-art theories, models, estimation methods, and computational approaches; and disseminates results by a wide variety of mechanisms. In the area of cryogenic technologies, the division provides engineering data, models, and research to support the development of advanced cryocoolers; and measurement methods, tests, and calibration services for flow under cryogenic conditions. The potential impacts of the success in the division’s research areas are the precise characterization of complex fluids that are important for industrial applications; detailed thermodynamic information that is vital for fundamental studies on various fluids; a useful computational tool on thermodynamic data that can also be used as a teaching tool; and the expansion of the knowledge base invaluable for expanding the hydrogen economy and the nation’s further use of liquid natural gas. CONCLUSIONS The panel’s overall impression of the cost-effectiveness of the Thermophysical Properties Division was favorable. The division may wish to increase its efforts to measure its cost-effectiveness or research-to-return ratio by identifying the value of its work to its customers. The more customers can testify to the benefits derived from the division’s products, the greater the creditability of the TPD’s research-to-return ratio. The higher the creditability, the more likely it is that the division could justify more resources. 41
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