PNNL earns research transfer awards

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has won Excellence in Technology Transfer Awards for work to speed up protein analysis for medical research and to reduce manufacturing costs of metal tubes.

The two awards by the Federal Laboratory Consortium recognize the success of the Department of Energy's Richland lab in partnering with companies to transfer technology developed at the lab to the marketplace. One of the technologies is being used at Sandvik Special Metals in Kennewick.

PNNL now has 71 Federal Laboratory Consortium awards, the most of any lab since the recognition program began in 1984.

In work that led to one of the awards, it teamed with Pressure BioSciences Inc., of South Easton, Mass., to develop a pressurized system to speed up protein analysis.

The company, which is publicly traded, approached PNNL after Richland scientists at a conference presented their discovery that putting proteins under high pressure could dramatically speed up their analysis.

Proteins are analyzed to help researchers learn how tissues and organisms work in efforts to develop better disease diagnostic methods and drug treatments. But breaking proteins into smaller parts by digesting them with enzymes can take several hours or even overnight.

Putting the proteins under high pressure can reduce the processto a few minutes, allowing scientistto do many more protein studiesand at a lower cost.

PNNL has licensed the process to Pressure BioSciences, which is selling the PCT MicroTube Adapter System to customers doing life sciences research. PNNL and Pressure BioSciences also are working on a system that allows proteins to be digested and analyzed in one step, instead of transferring proteins to analytical equipment after they're digested. The system would completely automate protein analysis by mass spectrometry.

For the technology transfer that won the second award, PNNL teamed with Sandvik and LSP Technologies of Dublin, Ohio, to improve a metal treatment process and reduce manufacturing costs for industry.

Tools called pilger dies are used in industrial manufacturing to reduce the circumference and thickness of the metal in metal tubes. However, pilger dies frequently crack and fail, requiring replacement that slows the manufacturing process.

PNNL worked with LSP Technologies to use intense laser pulses to extend the life of the pilger die by creating deep stresses in the die's surface. The process, called laser shock peening, was invented in the 1970s by Battelle researchers in Columbus, Ohio. Battelle operates PNNL for DOE.

The process is being used by Sandvik Special Metals to produce dies that last six times longer, and PNNL, Sandvik and LSP Technologies are continuing to refine the method.

PNNL also is working with auto manufacturers to see if laser shock peening can be used for dies for tubes made of high-strength steels, which car makers are considering to reduce vehicle weight and increase fuel efficiency. PNNL and LSP also are studying how the aerospace and internal combustion engine industries could benefit.

w Annette Cary: 582-1533;