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SwRI to lead separation technology joint industry project

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has announced a multi-million-dollar joint industry project to better understand oil and gas separation technology. The objective of the Separation Technology Research Program (STAR Program) is to combine industry knowledge and resources to advance research that could lead to better equipment and test protocols.

SwRI is leading the three-year program, which is open to operating companies, contractors and equipment manufacturers. International participation is welcomed and encouraged. The three-year membership ranges from $450,000 to $75,000 depending on the type of company.

"Separating fluid mixtures into streams of oil, natural gas and water efficiently and cost-effectively using lighter-weight equipment that requires less space is very important to the industry. The STAR Program will involve this three-phase separation process as well as gas/liquid separation and liquid/liquid separation," said Chris Buckingham, a program director in SwRI's Fluids and Machinery Engineering Department and manager of the STAR program.

Members of the program will guide research initiatives by developing a project scope, identifying technologies to be tested, providing input on standard test approaches, witnessing testing and commenting on results.

Goals of the program are to develop standardized testing methods, collect data to improve equipment performance and develop analytical models for various types of separation equipment.

Contact Buckingham at (210) 522-3307 or


SwRI receives $1.8 million DOE contract award to demonstrate hydrogen compression

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) will begin work on a $1.8 million contract award by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop, fabricate and test a linear motor reciprocating compressor (LMRC) to meet DOE’s goals of increasing efficiency and reducing cost for hydrogen compression. The project paves the way toward economical hydrogen storage. At present, hydrogen storage is an expensive operation. Capital costs are high, and the equipment used is often inefficient and unreliable, leading to costly routine maintenance, repairs and downtime.

The LMRC is based on an SwRI-patented concept of driving a permanent magnet piston inside a hermetically sealed compressor cylinder through electromagnetic winding, thus minimizing mechanical part count, reducing leakage and ensuring better reliability.

SwRI’s researchers expect the LMRC system will be able to achieve the required compression ratio with efficiency greater than 95 percent, greatly exceeding current equipment capabilities with efficiencies that are typically only about 73 percent.

The SwRI design is more efficient than traditional compressors, and thus will require less energy, said Eugene Broerman, a senior research engineer in SwRI's Mechanical Engineering Division and manager of the DOE project. For more information about compression technology at SwRI, visit

Contact Broerman at (210)-522-2555 or


image of a tabletop-size analog model shows details of fault systems

An image of a tabletop-size analog model (left) shows details of fault systems created by extension that visually match an image by spacecraft Galileo of faulted terrain on Ganymede (right).

Laboratory models suggest that stretching forces shaped Jupiter Moon's surface

Processes that shaped the ridges and troughs on the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Ganymede are likely similar to tectonic processes seen on Earth, according to a team of researchers led by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). To arrive at this conclusion, the team subjected physical models made of clay to stretching forces that simulate tectonic action. The results were published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Physical analog models simulate geologic structures in laboratory settings so that the developmental sequence of various phenomena can be studied as they occur. The team – including researchers from SwRI, Wheaton College, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NuStar Energy LP – created complex patterns of faults in their models, similar to the ridge and trough features seen in some regions of Ganymede. The models consisted of a "wet clay cake" material possessing brittle characteristics to simulate how the icy moon's lithosphere, the outermost solid shell, responds to stresses by cracking

The laboratory models suggest that characteristic patterns of ridges and troughs, called grooved terrain on Ganymede, result from its surface being stretched. "The physical models showed a marked similarity to the surface features observed on Ganymede," said co-author Dr. Danielle Wyrick, a senior research scientist in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division

The paper, "Physical Models of Grooved Terrain Tectonics on Ganymede," by D.W. Sims, D.Y. Wyrick, D.A. Ferrill, A.P. Morris, G.C. Collins, R.T. Pappalardo and S.L. Colton, was published by Geophysical Research Letters, 16 June 2014, Volume 41, Issue 11, pages 3774–3778 , (doi 10.1002/2014GL060359).

Contact Wyrick at (210) 522-6837 or


photo of Dr. James D. Walker

SwRI-led team’s research shows giant asteroids battered early Earth

A new terrestrial bombardment model developed by an international group of scientists led by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) indicates that Earth's surface was heavily reprocessed – or melted, mixed and buried – as a result of giant asteroid impacts more than four billion years ago.

The model, calibrated using existing lunar and terrestrial data, sheds light on the role asteroid collisions played in the geological evolution of the uppermost layers of Earth during the geologic eon call the Hadean, or first geologic eon.

The team, which also included academic and government researchers, published its findings in a paper, "Widespread Mixing and Burial of Earth’s Hadean Crust by Asteroid Impacts," in the July 31, 2014, issue of the journal Nature.

"Prior to approximately four billion years ago, no large region of Earth's surface could have survived untouched by impacts and their effects," said Dr. Simone Marchi, lead author of the paper and a planetary scientist in SwRI's Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, Colo. "The new picture of the Hadean Earth emerging from this work has important implications for its habitability," Marchi said.

Large impacts had particularly severe effects on existing ecosystems. Researchers found that on average, Hadean Earth could have been hit by one to four impactors that were more than 600 miles wide and capable of global sterilization, and by three to seven impactors more than 300 miles wide and capable of global ocean vaporization.

The team was comprised of Marchi and Dr. William Bottke from SwRI; L. Elkins-Tanton from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington; M. Bierhaus and K. Wünnemann from the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany; A. Morbidelli from Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur in Nice, France; and D. Kring from the Universities Space Research Association and the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

The research was supported in part by NASA's Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. SSERVI is a virtual institute that, with international partnerships, brings science and exploration researchers together in a collaborative virtual setting. SSERVI is funded by the Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Contact Marchi at (720) 208-7220 or


NASA selects SwRI-led CubeSat mission studying solar particles and space weather

NASA has selected Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to develop CuSPP, a CubeSat mission to study solar particles over the Earth's poles. SwRI will also lead mission science operations and data analysis.

CuSPP will fly as early as 2017. During the five-year project, engineers and scientists will design, develop and integrate a CubeSat – a nano-satellite launched as a secondary payload on another satellite mission – carrying a novel miniaturized Suprathermal Ion Sensor (SIS) developed at SwRI. The SIS will measure the sources and acceleration mechanisms of solar energetic particles that are harmful to astronauts as well as Earth-based technologies.

CuSPP can also support space weather research by measuring particles that escape ahead of powerful shock waves in the solar wind. Upon striking the Earth, solar particles and shock waves can cause severe electromagnetic storms, damage satellites, disrupt radio communication and navigation signals, damage electric power grids and corrode pipelines.

In addition, CuSPP is designed to measure the properties of ion populations entering the ionosphere, the uppermost portion of the Earth's atmosphere.

"Upon successful completion, we expect CuSPP to have achieved several key goals, such as increasing the technological readiness level and reducing the risks and costs of flying a new class of SwRI science instruments for studying heliophysics – the Sun’s effects on the solar system," said Dr. Mihir Desai, CuSPP principal investigator and a staff scientist in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division.

A standard CubeSat is a 10-centimeter cube with a one-liter volume. CuSPP is 30 by 10 by 10 centimeters with a volume of three liters.

SwRI is collaborating with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., to produce the CubeSat, including the flight segment (integrated at SwRI), ground segment (provided by the NASA Wallops Flight Facility) and payload (developed at SwRI). CuSPP was selected as part of the 2013 Heliophysics-Technology and Instrument Development for Science (H-TIDeS) 2013 competition, with funding from the new NASA SMD-wide CubeSat initiative managed by NASA's Heliophysics Division.

Contact Desai at (210)522-6754 or

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