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National Tech Transfer Awards Recognize Sandia's Work with Cray, Stirling Energy

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radial SunCatcher design

Sandia National Labs worked with Stirling Energy Systems on this radial design for the SunCatcher solar power system. The design is being produced today.

Credit: Randy Montoya / Sandia National Laboratories

Sandia National Laboratories has won two U.S. Federal Laboratory Consortium awards for its efforts to transfer technology to supercomputer manufacturer Cray Inc., and solar energy supplier Stirling Energy Systems Inc.

The Federal Laboratory Consortium plans to present the Excellence in Technology Transfer Awards in Albuquerque, NM, at its national meeting this week. The consortium is a nationwide network of technology transfer professionals at more than 250 federal laboratories and centers and their parent departments and agencies.

"Sandia has always done well in those recognition awards and it's an indication of our ability to transfer technology to industry," says Hal Morgan, senior manager for Industrial Partnerships and Strategy at Sandia.

Sandia and Cray joined forces in 2001 to build the Red Storm supercomputer, the predecessor of the Seattle, WA-based company's line of Cray XT supercomputers. In 2009, Jaguar, a Cray XT5 supercomputer housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, won the Gordon Bell Prize for high-performance computing. And, the Franklin supercomputer, a 350-teraflop Cray XT4 system installed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was ranked the 11th fastest in the world the same year.

When the partnership started, there were no commercial supercomputers that targeted complex simulations, says Sudip Dosanjh, senior manager of Computer & Software Systems at Sandia.

Nevertheless, Red Storm's development took about two and a half years, about a year less than the typical vendor schedule.

Peter Ungaro, Cray's chief executive and president, credits Sandia for the speed of the development. "We would have gotten there, but we definitely wouldn't have done it in the time frame that we got there with Sandia, and we wouldn’t have built as good of a product, if we had done it ourselves," he says.

Since introducing the Cray XT line of supercomputers, the company says it has sold more than 1,200 Cray XT cabinets to more than 80 customers worldwide.

The Cray XT line of supercomputers, which uses tens of thousands of processors working in parallel for several weeks on a single problem, has proven effective at solving a wide range of science and engineering problems related to climate change, fusion, material science, nanomaterials, biology and astrophysics.

Sandia's award-winning partnership with the Scottsdale, AZ-based Stirling Energy Systems (SES) began in 2003 at Sandia's National Solar Thermal Test Facility.

Since then, SES has signed contracts to provide 1.6 gigawatts of solar power from its concentrating solar power system, the SunCatcher. SES, together with its sister company, Tessera Solar, also is planning to build one of the world's largest solar energy generating projects on about 6,500 acres in southern California. The 750-megawatt Imperial Valley Solar plant is expected to power 562,500 homes in the San Diego area by 2014.

Sandia's technical expertise helped SES drop 4,000-6,000 pounds of steel from a 16,000-pound structure and halved the number of mirrors from 80 to 40, which reduced construction and maintenance costs, says Chuck Andraka, Sandia's lead project engineer. Sandia's improvements in the dish engine control system and in evaluating the interaction between the dish and its mirrors greatly aided this effort.

Sandia also worked with SES to move from a rectilinear to a radial design for the SunCatcher, which is the design being produced today, Andraka says. The collaboration is ongoing.

Steve Cowman, SES chief executive officer, says: "The product has been significantly enhanced and improved by virtue of the collaboration and partnership that we have with Sandia."


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