SRNL Makes Critical Improvements to Chemical Analysis Software 

By Catelyn Folkert
June 27, 2024

Technological innovation is a cornerstone of the Environmental Management (EM) mission at Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL). SRNL researchers dedicated to enhancing and advancing EM’s scientific processes are critical to progressing this mission.

Members of the SRNL OLI Mixed-solvent electrolyte team turned a technological challenge into a collaboration opportunity benefiting not only SRNL, but an entire industry. 

Historically, OLI software – a leader in complex thermodynamic modeling software – used a simplified aqueous thermodynamic (AQ) framework, but when it advanced to a more sophisticated, mixed-solvent electrolyte (MSE) framework, it created a critical gap, which was first discovered and reported by SRNL in 2020.

SRNL found past mercury-related data were absent, insufficient, or rejected in development of the MSE framework. “The mercury is a missing link in those waste streams,” said Project Lead Drew Fairchild. “It’s necessary to better understand the full chemistry in both sludge and salt waste streams within the liquid waste system vice contract, for both a production support function and industrial hygiene benefit.”

To fill this data gap, thermodynamic properties were supplemented from the AQ framework, but this patch was not a long-term solution.

SRNL contacted Department of Energy (DOE) headquarters to pitch a collaboration with OLI to update the database with appropriate data and retrofit the MSE framework database to project mercury species in the liquid waste streams across the DOE-EM complex. This led to a multi-year collaboration.  Dan McCabe, recently retired from SRNL, obtained the project scope from DOE Technology Development Office.

Sludge Receipt and Adjustment Tank/Slurry Mix Evaporator Simulant System at Aiken County Technology Laboratory. Photo by Drew Fairchild (SRNL).

The OLI and SRNL collaboration resulted in an updated database with a projected delivery date of September, 2024. Upon receipt of the updated software, SRNL will resume the liquid waste testing process against the new database. When testing is completed, SRNL will conduct a review of the updated data results for quality control.

Both SRNL and Hanford Site have utilized the OLI software to provide analysis and forecasting of chemical composition, radiological activities, and stream properties of liquid waste. SRNL began using the OLI Stream Analyzer in 1996.  

Fairchild leads the technically diverse SRNL OLI MSE team that includes Alex Choi, OLI systems software design authority; Chris Fewox, SRNL technical subject matter expert/interface; and Gregg Morgan, environmental and legacy management separations sciences and engineering manager. The relationship between SRNL and OLI will continue as SRNL uses and licenses software from OLI and provides feedback regarding the database system.

SRNL’s collaboration with OLI not only met scientific needs, it also helped SRNL meet a business goal. By collaborating with OLI, SRNL is supporting small business. Ryan Salazar, small business program manager for SRNL said, “SRNL has teamed with small businesses consistently. We awarded a record $112 million in subcontracts to small, diverse businesses in FY23, up $30.2 million from the previous year. Our FY23 goal was 52% of subcontracts to small businesses, and we achieved 57.4%.”

The updated MSE database will improve the analysis and forecasting of liquid waste streams generated across the DOE complex by increasing the ability to process and analyze the influence of mercury-related species. The updated OLI database will be available for other industries outside of the DOE-EM complex, improving safety and industrial hygiene across the country and beyond our nation’s borders.