Printed on: July 24, 2013

INL researchers win 'Oscar of Innovation'

By ALEX STUCKEY
astuckey@postregister.com

If Aaron Wilson, Fred Stewart and Mark Stone were actors, their performance developing a process to make industrial water reusable would have garnered them an Oscar.

They're not actors, but the award they received -- an R&D 100 Award -- is so prestigious, it's called the "Oscar of Innovation."

The R&D 100 Awards, which recognize the top 100 technology products of the year, are determined by R&D Magazine.

"(This award) is a serious honor, especially after being (at Idaho National Laboratory) for only three years," said Wilson, an INL researcher.

The process -- Switchable Polarity Solvent Forward Osmosis -- could reduce the need to draw more water from aquifers or other sources. It is a great option for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which uses 3 million to 5 million gallons of water in each well.

Fracking is a process in which companies drill a well -- sometimes as deep as 10,000 feet below the surface -- and pump millions of gallons of water,

sand and chemicals underground to break apart the rock and release natural gas.

Work on this project began about three years ago.

"I can't think of anything more important than our ability to clean up wastewater and save water," said Steve Aumeier, associate laboratory director.

This project wouldn't have been possible, though, without a little help -- and belief in the process -- from the lab.

A year and a half ago, the trio received about $100,000 worth of funding from two different avenues at the lab, Aumeier said.

The Laboratory Directed Research and Development funds are congressionally authorized for innovative science and technology that aligns with INL's strategic plan and benefits the Department of Energy. The Innovation Development Fund is given to researchers if a pathway to a patent or licensing seems likely.

Currently, the process has a patent pending.

Funding such projects is about making a difference in the real world, Aumeier said.

"The question isn't how much money the lab can bring in, the question is how much impact can we have," he said.