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What's in the OSTI Legacy Collection?

by Tim Byrne on Fri, March 20, 2009

The DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information legacy collection contains an estimated one million technical reports representing six decades of energy research that is, for the most part, unavailable in electronic format.  On average, OSTI receives close to two hundred requests each month to digitize specific reports, with the vast majority of the requests coming from DOE employees and contractors.  The legacy collection represents an enormous investment in research and development from the Atomic Energy Commission, Energy Research and Development Administration and Department of Energy.  With the growing tendency of many researchers to rely solely on research information available electronically, this incredibly valuable resource collection is often ignored.  By not having electronic access to previous research, scientific advancement may be diminished and funds wasted duplicating what has already been done. 


OSTI has recently implemented the Adopt-a-Doc program that allows the general public to pay for the digitization of a document of their choosing.  Documents in need of digitization can be identified by searching the Energy Citations Database and clicking on the Materials available for digitization box on the Fielded Search window.  This is proving to be a popular service.  Unfortunately, with the level of digitization that OSTI can currently handle, it will take a very long time to digitize the entire legacy collection.


The birth of the OSTI legacy collection really began with the declassification and distribution of reports from the Manhattan Project.  Following the end of World War II, our nation was inquisitive and interested in the government's hitherto top-secret program on atomic energy.  Also, it was imperative for the development of nuclear energy industry that the research that had been conducted as part of the Manhattan Project be made available to the public.  OSTI's original task was to declassify and disseminate this research. 


 The initial report series distributed was the Manhattan District Declassified Collection (MDDC).  The first report in the series was written by Enrico Fermi and titled, The Future of Atomic Energy (MDDC-1).  Other notable scientists with technical reports in the MDDC series include Glenn Seaborg, Hans Bethe, Emilio Segre, Felix Bloch, Luis Alvarez, Melvin Calvin, Owen Chamberlain, Richard Feynman, Val Fitch, Ernest O. Lawrence, Edwin McMillan, Isidor Isaac Rabi, Harold Urey, George Whipple, and Eugene Wigner.  Some might recognize each of the above names as Nobel Prize winners. 


Fermi, of course, is most noted for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor and is today regarded as one of the top scientists of the 20th century.  Glenn Seaborg was the discoverer of plutonium, and nine other transuranic elements.  He later chaired the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.  He was once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the person with the longest entry in Who's Who in America.  Hans Bethe was head of the Theoretical Division at the secret Los Alamos laboratory and played an important role developing the first atomic bombs and also in the development of the larger hydrogen bomb.  He has been called the "supreme problem solver of the 20th century."  Ernest Orlando Lawrence is known for his invention of the cyclotron and his later work in uranium-isotope separation in the Manhattan Project.  He has two national laboratories and an element (lawrencium) named after him.


The Manhattan Project helped to cement the bond between basic scientific research and national security.  The Atomic Energy Commission was created to lead the research and development of nuclear energy for military and peaceful uses.  As American industry began constructing nuclear reactors, it was important that research and development continue on the efficient and cost effective use of uranium, as well as the supply and demand outlook for all fuels used in generating electric energy.  The AEC's R&D strategy emphasized breeder reactors and advanced converters, as well as uranium enrichment.  Ultimately, the decisions on which research paths to follow were based on economic cost effectiveness.  As technology has changed and costs reduced, many of these early research paths need to be revisited.  Electronic access to these older technical reports contained in the OSTI legacy collection would be a windfall to the scientific community and American industry.


By the early 1970s, the nation began to see the need for research and development of alternative energy sources.  The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 established the Energy Research and Development Administration "to assume the coordinated and effective development of all energy sources."  The AEC was eliminated and most of its functions, including R&D activities, were moved to ERDA. 


The Federal Non-nuclear Energy Research and Development Act of 1974 recognized that "the nation was suffering from a shortage of environmentally acceptable forms of energy."  It was vital to make available to the American consumer the nations large domestic energy reserves, including fossil fuels, nuclear fuels, geothermal resources, solar energy and other forms of energy.  These unconventional energy technologies needed to be made economically competitive with the traditional energy technologies.


The newly formed Energy Research and Development Administration was charged with encouraging and supporting the research and development in the following non-traditional energy areas.  These areas are also representative of the reports in the OSTI legacy collection.  The number in parenthesis following each is a conservative estimate of the number of reports available for digitization through OSTI's Adopt-A-Doc program.

  • Energy conservation technologies (10,020)
  • Technologies for producing low-sulfur fuels (385)
  • Improved methods for the generation, storage and transmission of electrical energy (5,246)
  • Substitutes for natural gas, including coal gasification (5,694)
  • Synthetic crude oil and liquid petroleum products from coal (4,437)
  • Synthetic crude oil from oil shale (453)
  • Geothermal energy technologies (865)
  • New and improved methods for the extraction of petroleum resources (1,654)
  • Solar energy for residential and commercial energy supply applications (12,000+)
  • Tidal power for supplying electrical energy (732)
  • Production of synthetic fuels such as hydrogen and methanol (2,415)
  • Fuel cells (1720)
  • Prevention and cleanup of marine oil spills (178)


This laundry list laid the foundation for the research sponsored first by ERDA and later by the Department of Energy.  It is this research that makes up the legacy collection at OSTI.  Much of this research was the foundation for the development of our current energy industry.  Research in other areas was found to be not commercially efficient in its day.  More recent technological developments may have greatly changed the economic viability of many alternative energy technologies.  Research down avenues that were abandoned in the past may provide the break-through in the future.


In 1977, the Department of Energy was established, taking over the functions of ERDA.  The research and development strategy was carried over and continued to grow along with DOE.  A 1979 report from the Congressional Research Service, Fact Book on Non-Conventional Energy Technologies lists the following technologies, all of which were being studied by the Department of Energy.  Again, the number following each of these technologies is a conservative estimate of the number of reports in the OSTI legacy collection available for digitization through the OSTI Adopt-A-Doc program.

  • Ethanol (1,277)
  • Methanol (1,517)
  • Bioconversion -energy from solid waste (1,172)
  • Breeder reactors (liquid metal fast breeder reactors) (4,632)
  • Nuclear fusion (9,327)
  • Geothermal resources (865)
  • Hydrogen (23,370)
  • Hydroelectric power (1,375)
  • Magnetohydrodynamics (1,271)
  • Oil shales (3,437)
  • Ocean thermal energy conversion (689)
  • Satellite power stations (125)
  • Solar energy (12,114)
  • Photovoltaics (3,507)
  • Synthetic fuels from coal (766)
  • Wind energy (1,533)
  • Environmental pollution and control (7,493)


As DOE moved through the 1980s and 90s, other technologies began to rise in prominence, such as high performance computing, superconductivity research, superconducting super collider, and human gene mapping.  Environmental issues also received greater attention as the nation grew concerned with acid precipitation, clean coal, offshore leasing, the effect of the Clear Air Act on energy production, global climate change, radioactive waste disposal, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), transportation of hazardous materials, and the cleanup of federal facilities.  The occasional gasoline shortage also reemphasized the need for research in fuel efficiency, alternative fuels and alternative vehicles.  Again, the research performed by DOE employees and contractors in the new areas of interest are heavily represented in the OSTI legacy collection.


The OSTI legacy collection is very rich in research all types of energy technologies.  Although OSTI distributed much of the collection to libraries, laboratories, and contractors, access to this research by scientists and engineers is difficult at best.  It is important for DOE to make this historic research collection easily accessible by digitizing the legacy collection and making it available on every researcher's desktop.

Tim Byrne


Page last updated on 2016-04-25 07:03

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Tim Byrne
Senior Outreach Librarian

Senior Outreach Librarian with over thirty years of experience working in academic libraries with government information and technical reports..

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