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OPEN 2012

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

High-Voltage, Bi-Directional MOS-Gated SiC Power Switches for Smart Grid Utility Applications

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is working to develop and demonstrate a new bi-directional transistor switch that would significantly simplify the power conversion process for high-voltage, high-power electronics systems. A transistor switch helps control electricity, converting it from one voltage to another or from an Alternating Current (A/C) to a Direct Current (D/C). High-power systems, including solar and wind plants, usually require multiple switches to convert energy into electricity that can be transmitted through the grid. These multi-level switch configurations are costly and complex, which drives down their overall efficiency and reliability. RPI's new switch would require fewer components than conventional high-power switches. This simple design would in turn simplify the overall power conversion process and enable renewable energy sources to more easily connect to the grid.

Research Triangle Institute

Compact, Inexpensive Micro-Reformers for Distributed GTL

Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is leveraging existing engine technology to develop a compact reformer for natural gas conversion. Reformers produce synthesis gas--the first step in the commercial process of converting natural gas to liquid fuels. As a major component of any gas-to-liquid plant, the reformer represents a substantial cost. RTI's re-designed reformer would be compact, inexpensive, and easily integrated with small-scale chemical reactors. RTI's technology allows for significant cost savings by harnessing equipment that is already manufactured and readily available. Unlike other systems that are too large to be deployed remotely, RTI's reformer could be used for small, remote sources of gas.

Sharp Laboratories of America

Low-Cost Sodium-Ion Battery to Enable Grid Scale Energy Storage: Prussian Blue-Derived Cathode and Complete Battery Integration

Sharp Laboratories of America and their partners at the University of Texas and Oregon State University are developing a sodium-based battery that could dramatically increase battery cycle life at a low cost while maintaining a high energy capacity. Current storage approaches use either massive pumped reservoirs of water or underground compressed air storage, which carry serious infrastructure requirements and are not feasible beyond specific site limitations. Therefore, there is a critical need for a scalable, adaptable battery technology to enable widespread deployment of renewable power. Sodium ion batteries have the potential to perform as well as today's best lithium-based designs at a significantly lower cost. Sharp Labs' new battery would provide long cycle life, high energy density, and safe operation if deployed throughout the electric grid.

Silicon Power Corporation

Optically-Switched 15kV SiC Single-Bias High-Frequency Thyristor

Silicon Power is developing a semiconducting device that switches high-power and high-voltage electricity using optical signals as triggers for the switches, instead of conventional signals carried through wires. A switch helps control electricity, converting it from one voltage or current to another. High-power systems generally require multiple switches to convert energy into electricity that can be transmitted through the grid. These multi-level switch configurations use many switches which may be costly and inefficient. Additionally, most switching mechanisms use silicon, which cannot handle the high switching frequencies or voltages that high-power systems demand. Silicon Power is using light to trigger its switching mechanisms, which could greatly simplify the overall power conversion process. Additionally, Silicon Power's switching device is made of silicon carbide instead of straight silicon, which is more efficient and allows it to handle higher frequencies and voltages.

Stanford University

Photonic Structures for High-Efficiency Daytime Radiative Cooling

Stanford University is developing a device for the rooftops of buildings and cars that will reflect sunlight and emit heat, enabling passive cooling, even when the sun is shining. This device requires no electricity or fuel and would reduce the need for air conditioning, leading to energy and cost savings. Stanford's technology relies on recently developed state-of-the-art concepts and techniques to tailor the absorption and emission of light and heat in nanostructured materials. This project could enable buildings, cars, and electronics to cool without using electric power.

Tai-Yang Research Company

Novel, Low-Cost, High-Field Conductor for Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage

Tai-Yang Research Company (TYRC) is developing a superconducting cable, which is a key enabling component for a grid-scale magnetic energy storage device. Superconducting magnetic energy storage systems have not established a commercial foothold because of their relatively low energy density and the high cost of the superconducting material. TYRC is coating their cable in yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO) to increase its energy density. This unique, proprietary cable could be manufactured at low cost because it requires less superconducting material to produce the same level of energy storage as today's best cables.

Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, LLC

Potassium-Based Aqueous Flow Battery for Grid Application

Teledyne Scientific & Imaging is developing a water-based, potassium-ion flow battery for low-cost stationary energy storage. Flow batteries store chemical energy in external tanks instead of within the battery container. This allows for cost-effective scalability because adding storage capacity is as simple as expanding the tank. Teledyne is increasing the energy and power density of their battery by 2-5 times compared to today's state-of-the-art vanadium flow battery. Their safe, scalable, low-cost energy storage technology would facilitate more widespread adoption and deployment of renewable energy technology.

Texas Engineering Experiment Station

Generating Electricity from Waste Heat Using Metal Hydrides

Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) is developing a system to generate electricity from low-temperature waste heat streams. Conventional waste heat recovery technology is proficient at harnessing energy from waste heat streams that are at a much higher temperature than ambient air. However, existing technology has not been developed to address lower temperature differences. The proposed system cycles between heating and cooling a metal hydride to produce a flow of pressurized hydrogen. This hydrogen flow is then used to generate electricity via a turbine generator. TEES's system has the potential to be more efficient than conventional waste heat recovery technologies based on its ability to harness smaller temperature differences than are necessary for conventional waste heat recovery.

United Technologies Research Center

Additive Manufacturing of Optimized Ultra-High Efficiency Electric Machines

United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) is using additive manufacturing techniques to develop an ultra-high-efficiency electric motor for automobiles. The process and design does not rely on rare earth materials and sidesteps any associated supply concerns. Additive manufacturing uses a laser to deposit copper and insulation, layer-by-layer, instead of winding wires. EV motors rely heavily on permanent magnets, which are expensive given the high concentrations of rare earth material required to deliver the performance required in today's market. UTRC's efficient manufacturing method would produce motors that reduce electricity use and require less rare earth material. This project will also examine the application of additive manufacturing more widely for other energy systems, such as renewable power generators.

University of California, Berkeley

Micro-Synchrophasors for Distribution Systems

The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) is developing a device to monitor and measure electric power data from the grid's distribution system. The new instrument--known as a micro-phasor measurement unit (µPMU)--is designed to measure critical parameters such as voltage and phase angle at different locations, and correlate them in time via extremely precise GPS clocks. The amount of phase angle difference provides information about the stability and direction of power flow. Data collected from a network of these µPMUs would facilitate better monitoring and control of grid power flow--a critical element for integrating intermittent and renewable resources, such as rooftop solar and wind energy, and other technologies such as electric vehicles and distributed storage.

University of California, Berkeley

Rapid Building Energy Modeler - RAPMOD

The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and Indoor Reality are developing a portable scanning system and the associated software to rapidly generate indoor thermal and physical building maps. This will allow for cost-effective identification of building inefficiencies and recommendation of energy-saving measures. The scanning system is contained in a backpack which an operator would wear while walking through a building along with a handheld scanner. The backpack features sensors that collect building data such as room size and shape along with associated thermal characteristics. These data can then be automatically processed to detect building elements, such as windows and lighting, and then generate 2D floor plans and 3D maps of the building geometry and thermal features. The backpack technology enables rapid data collection and export to existing computer models to guide strategies that could reduce building energy usage. Because the skills required to operate this technology are less than required for a traditional energy audit and the process is significantly faster, the overall cost of the audit can be reduced and the accuracy of the collected data is improved. This reduced cost should incentivize more building managers to conduct energy audits and implement energy saving measures.

University of California, Santa Barbara

Highly Powerful Capacitors Boosted with Both Anolyte and Catholyte

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) is developing an energy storage device for HEVs that combines the properties of capacitors and batteries in one technology. Capacitors enjoy shorter charging times, better durability, and higher power than batteries, but offer less than 5% of their energy density. By integrating the two technologies, UCSB's design would offer a much reduced charge time with a product lifetime that matches or surpasses that of typical EV batteries. Additionally, the technology would deliver significantly higher power density than any current battery. This feature would extend EV driving range and provide a longer life expectancy than today's best EV batteries.

University of California, Santa Cruz

Adiabatic Waveguide Coupler for High-Power Solar Energy Collection and Transmission

The University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz) is developing an optical device that enables the use of concentrated solar energy at locations remote to the point of collection. Conventional solar concentration systems typically use line of sight optical components to concentrate solar energy onto a surface for direct conversion of light into electricity or heat. UC Santa Cruz's innovative approach leverages unique thin-film materials, processes, and structures to build a device that will efficiently guide sunlight into an optical fiber for use away from the point of collection. UC Santa Cruz's optical device improves the coupling of high-power, concentrated solar energy systems into fiber-optic cables for use in applications such as thermal storage, photovoltaic conversion, or solar lighting.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Low Cost Microtubular ALD-based Reactor System for Catalytic Reforming

The University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) is using nanotechnology to improve the structure of natural gas-to-liquids catalysts. The greatest difficulty in industrial-scale catalyst activity is temperature control, which can only be solved by improving reactor design. CU-Boulder's newly structured catalyst creates a small-scale reactor for converting natural gas to liquid fuels that can operate at moderate temperatures. Additionally, CU-Boulder's small-scale reactors could be located near remote, isolated sources of natural gas, further enabling their use as domestic fuel sources.

University of Delaware

High-Voltage and Low-Crossover Redox Flow Batteries for Economical and Efficient Renewable Electricity Storage

The University of Delaware (UD) is developing a low-cost flow battery that uses membrane technology to increase voltage and energy storage capacity. Flow batteries store chemical energy in external tanks instead of within the battery container, which allows for cost-effective scalability because adding storage capacity is as simple as expanding the tank, offering large-scale storage capacity for renewable energy sources. However, traditional flow batteries have limited cell voltages, which lead to low power and low energy density. UD is addressing this limitation by adding an additional exchange membrane within the electrolyte material of the battery, creating 3 separate compartments of electrolytes. Separating the electrolytes in this manner allows unprecedented freedom for the battery to exchange ions back and forth between the positive and negative end of the battery, which improves the voltage of the system.

University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

Cyber-Physical Modeling and Analysis for a Smart and Resilient Grid

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is developing scalable grid modeling, monitoring, and analysis tools that would improve its resiliency to system failures as well as cyber attacks, which can significantly improve the reliability of grid operations. Power system operators today lack the ability to assess the grid's reliability with respect to potential cyber failures and attacks. UIUC is using theoretical and practical techniques from both the cyber security and power engineering domains to develop new algorithms and software tools capable of analyzing real-world threats against power grid critical infrastructures including cyber components (e.g. communication networks), physical components (e.g. power lines), and interdependencies between the two in its models and simulations.Continuing the project work started by UIUC, Avista Utilities is now developing technology to automatically extract and map electrical switch information to generate cyber-physical models. These cyber-physical models can be used to identify network vulnerabilities as well as identify and prioritize critical assets which will allow utilities and others to conduct simulations, perform analysis, and fortify networks against cyber-attacks.

University of Minnesota

Flexible Molecular Sieve Membranes

The University of Minnesota (UMN) is developing an ultra-thin separation membrane to decrease the cost of producing biofuels, plastics, and other industrial materials. Nearly 6% of total U.S. energy consumption comes from the energy used in separation and purification processes. Today's separation methods used in biofuels production are not only energy intensive, but also very expensive. UMN is developing a revolutionary membrane technology based on a recently discovered class of ultra-thin, porous, materials that will enable energy efficient separations necessary to prepare biofuels that would also be useful in the chemical, petrochemical, water purification, and fossil fuel industries. These membranes, made from nanometer-thick layers of silicon dioxide, are highly selective in separating nearly-identical chemicals and can handle high flow rates of the chemicals. When fully developed, these membranes could substantially reduce the amount and cost of energy required in the production of biofuels and many other widely used industrial chemicals.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Lithium-Rich Anti-Perovskites as Superionic Solid Electrolytes

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) is developing a solid-state, non-flammable electrolyte to make today's Li-Ion vehicle batteries safer. Today's Li-Ion batteries use a flammable liquid electrolyte--the material responsible for shuttling Li-Ions back and forth across the battery--that can catch fire when overheated or overcharged. UNLV will replace this flammable electrolyte with a fire-resistant material called lithium-rich anti-perovskite. This new electrolyte material would help make vehicle batteries safer in an accident while also increasing battery performance by extending vehicle range and acceleration.

University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center

Novel Dry Cooling Technology for Power Plants

University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (UND-EERC) is developing an air-cooling alternative for power plants that helps maintain operating efficiency during electricity production with low environmental impact. The project addresses the shortcomings of conventional dry cooling, including high cost and degraded cooling performance during daytime temperature peaks. UND-EERC's device would use an air-cooled adsorbent liquid that results in more efficient power production with no water consumption. The technology could be applied to a broad range of plants including fossil, nuclear, solar thermal, and geothermal.

University of Pittsburgh

CO2 Thickeners to Improve the Performance of CO2 Enhanced Oil Recovery and CO2 Fracturing

The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) is developing a compound to increase the viscosity of--or thicken--liquid carbon dioxide (CO2). This higher-viscosity CO2 compound could be used to improve the performance of enhanced oil recovery techniques. Crude oil is found deep below the surface of the earth in layers of sandstone and limestone, and one of the ways to increase our ability to recover it is to inject a high-pressure CO2 solvent into these layers. Unfortunately, because the solvent is less viscous--or thinner--than oil, it is not robust enough to uniformly sweep the oil out of the rock and toward the oil well. Pitt's CO2-thickeners would improve the performance of the solvents involved in this process, allowing it to carry higher concentrations of oil to the surface. The thickeners would decrease the cost and increase the efficiency of enhanced oil recovery, and could also serve to enable liquid CO2 as a replacement for the water used during recovery, offering significant environmental benefits.

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