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Distributed Generation

Tibbar Technologies

Plasma-Based Electrical Transformers 

Tibbar Technologies will develop plasma-based AC to DC converters for a variety of applications, including DC power for commercial buildings and for High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) electrical transmission. A plasma is created when a gas absorbs enough energy to separate the electrons from the nuclei, making it susceptible to electric and magnetic fields. In this project the team will develop a converter based principally on a single plasma component, rather than a system of capacitors and semiconductor switches. The concept is based on a recently discovered plasma configuration that utilizes helical electrodes along the perimeter of the plasma chamber to induce a current along the axis of the plasma. The current induced along the axis produces an output voltage and current at the ends of the plasma chamber, which enables efficient conversion of AC to DC or DC to DC. The project team seeks to develop a robust, economical plasma device to convert 3-phase AC to high quality DC. These devices have the potential to be half the cost and yield power densities 10x higher than state-of-the-art converters, and have the potential to significantly improve electrical use efficiencies in power transmission, distribution, micro-grids, datacenters, and in large, electrified platforms for transportation such as ships and trains.

Tour Engine, Inc.

High Efficiency Split-Cycle Engine for Residential Generators

Tour Engine, in collaboration with Wisconsin Engine Research Consultants (WERC) will develop a miniature internal combustion engine (ICE) based on Tour's existing split-cycle engine technology. Traditional ICEs use the force generated by the combustion of a fuel (e.g. natural gas (NG)) to move a piston, transferring chemical energy to mechanical energy. This can then be used in conjunction with a generator to create electricity. Unlike a normal combustion engine, a split-cycle engine divides the process into a cold cylinder (intake and compression) and a hot cylinder (expansion and exhaust). This allows for independent optimization of the compression and expansion ratios, leading to increased thermal efficiency. A novel Spool Shuttle Crossover Valve (SSCV) is the key enabler for the Tour engine, as it transfers the fuel/air charge from the cold to hot cylinder.

Transphorm, Inc.

Four-Quadrant GaN Switch Enabled Three-Phase Grid-Tied Microinverters

Transphorm is developing power switches for new types of inverters that improve the efficiency and reliability of converting energy from solar panels into useable electricity for the grid. Transistors act as fast switches and control the electrical energy that flows in an electrical circuit. Turning a transistor off opens the circuit and stops the flow of electrical current; turning it on closes the circuit and allows electrical current to flow. In this way a transistor can be used to convert DC from a solar panel into AC for use in a home. Transphorm's transistors will enable a single semiconductor device to switch electrical currents at high-voltage in both directions--making the inverter more compact and reliable. Transphorm is using Gallium Nitride (GaN) as a semiconductor material in its transistors instead of silicon, which is used in most conventional transistors, because GaN transistors have lower losses at higher voltages and switching frequencies.

Tulane University

Hybrid Solar Converter with Integrated Thermal Storage

Tulane University and its partners are developing a hybrid solar energy system capable of capturing, storing, and dispatching solar energy. The system will collect sunlight using a dual-axis tracker with concentrator dish that focuses sunlight onto a hybrid solar energy receiver. Ultraviolet and visible light is collected in very high efficiency solar cells with approximately half of this part of the spectrum converted to electricity. The infrared part of the spectrum passes through the cells and is captured by a thermal receiver that converts this part of the spectrum into heat with nearly 95% efficiency. The heat is captured by a fluid that is heated to a temperature between 100 - 590°C. This heat energy can be immediately for a variety of commercial and industrial applications that require thermal energy or the heat may be stored in a small-scale thermal energy storage bank that stores energy for conversion to electricity by a heat engine when needed most. Tulane University's system will enable efficient use of the full solar spectrum while storing a large component of sunlight as heat for industrial processes or conversion into electricity at any time of day.

United Technologies Research Center

Development of an Intermediate Temperature Metal Supported Proton Conducting Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Stack

United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) is developing an intermediate-temperature fuel cell for residential applications that will combine a building's heating and power systems into one unit. Existing fuel cell technologies usually focus on operating low temperatures for vehicle technologies or at high temperatures for grid-scale applications. By creating a metal-supported proton conducting fuel cell with a natural gas fuel processor, UTRC could lower the operating system temperatures to under 500 °C. The use of metal offers faster start-up times and the possibility of lower manufacturing costs and additional automation options, while the proton conducting electrolyte offers the potential for higher ionic conductivity at lower temperatures than regular oxygen conducting solid oxide electrolyte materials. An intermediate temperature electrolyte will be used to achieve a lower operating temperature, while a redesigned cell architecture will increase the efficiency and lower the cost of UTRC's overall system.

University of Arizona

A High Efficiency Flat Plate PV with Integrated Micro-CPV Atop a 1-Sun Panel

University of Arizona will develop a micro-CPV system that combines a CPV cell with dual-sided FPV panels to capture direct, diffuse, and reflected sunlight. The team's system will feature lenses that focus sunlight onto a horizontal waveguide, which further concentrates the light onto high-performance micro-CPV solar cells. Dual-sided solar panels, attached beneath the CPV cells, enable diffuse light collection on one side and reflected light collection on the other side. The system will be mounted on a two-axis tracker that will allow for optimal collection of sunlight throughout the day.

University of Arizona

A CPV/CSP Hybrid Solar Energy Conversion System with Full Use of Solar Spectrum

University of Arizona is developing a hybrid solar converter that splits the light spectrum, sending a band of the solar spectrum to solar cells to generate electricity and the rest to a thermal fluid to be stored as heat. The team's converter builds off the CSP trough concentrator design, integrating a partially transmitting mirror near the focus to reflect visible wavelengths of light onto high-efficiency solar cells while passing ultraviolet and most infrared light to heat a thermal fluid. The visible light is concentrated further before reaching the solar cells to maximize their power output. A thermal management system built into the solar cells allows them to be maintained at an optimal operating temperature and could be used to recover useful waste heat. Hot thermal fluid generated by the converter can be stored and used when needed to drive a turbine to produce electricity. The converter leverages the advantages of both PV and CSP to use each portion of the solar spectrum most effectively. This could enable utilities to provide dispatchable, on-demand, solar electricity at low cost even when the sun does not shine.

University of California, Los Angeles

Fuel Cells with Dynamic Response Capability Based on Energy Storage Electrodes with Catalytic Function

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is developing a low-cost, intermediate-temperature fuel cell that will also function like a battery to increase load-following capability. The fuel cell will use new metal-oxide electrode materials--inspired by the proton channels found in biological systems--that offer superior energy storage capacity and cycling stability, making it ideal for distributed generation systems. UCLA's new materials also have high catalytic activity, which will lower the cost of the overall system. Success of this project will enable a rapid commercialization of multi-functional fuel cells for broad applications where reliable distributed generations are needed.

University of California, San Diego

Advanced Energy Storage Modeling, Performance Evaluation and Testing

The University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) will conduct testing of existing ARPA-E energy storage technologies in both laboratory and grid-connected conditions. Home to one of the country's largest microgrids, UC San Diego will apply its advanced understanding of microgrid operation in the California market to select and value applications for storage, in grid-connected and islanded conditions, and to develop duty cycles for energy storage in order to serve individual and stacked applications. UC San Diego plans to test cells and modules from ARPA-E-funded battery developers in its battery laboratories, and UC San Diego experts will assist ARPA-E battery developers in resolving issues and enhancing performance. Those batteries that perform well in laboratory testing using the selected duty cycles will then be deployed for extended testing on UC San Diego's microgrid. This approach will allow UC San Diego to achieve test results that represent a wide spectrum of applications, determine system performance under a variety of conditions, and eventually generate initial performance data that can be shared with electric utilities and other potential grid storage buyers to inform them of the promise of early-stage storage technologies.

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

Wafer-Level Sub-Module Integrated DC/DC Converter

The University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) is developing advanced power conversion components that can be integrated into individual solar panels to improve energy yields. The solar energy that is absorbed and collected by a solar panel is converted into useable energy for the grid through an electronic component called an inverter. Many large, conventional solar energy systems use one, central inverter to convert energy. CU-Boulder is integrating smaller, microconverters into individual solar panels to improve the efficiency of energy collection. The university's microconverters rely on electrical components that direct energy at high speeds and ensure that minimal energy is lost during the conversion process--improving the overall efficiency of the power conversion process. CU-Boulder is designing its power conversion devices for use on any type of solar panel.

University of Delaware

Quaternary Phosphonium Based Hydroxide Exchange Membranes

The University of Delaware (UD) is developing a new fuel cell membrane for vehicles that relies on cheaper and more abundant materials than those used in current fuel cells. Conventional fuel cells are very acidic, so they require acid-resistant metals like platinum to generate electricity. UD is developing an alkaline fuel cell membrane that can operate in a non-acidic environment where cheaper materials like nickel and silver, instead of platinum, can be used. In addition to enabling the use of cheaper metals, UD's membrane is 500 times less expensive than other polymer membranes used in conventional fuel cells.

University of Florida

Solar Thermochemical Fuel Production via a Novel Low Pressure, Magnetically Stabilized, Non-volatile Iron Oxide Looping Process

The University of Florida is developing a windowless high-temperature chemical reactor that converts concentrated solar thermal energy to syngas, which can be used to produce gasoline. The overarching project goal is lowering the cost of the solar thermochemical production of syngas for clean and synthetic hydrocarbon fuels like petroleum. The team will develop processes that rely on water and recycled CO2 as the sole feed-stock, and concentrated solar radiation as the sole energy source, to power the reactor to produce fuel efficiently. Successful large-scale deployment of this solar thermochemical fuel production could substantially improve our national and economic security by replacing imported oil with domestically produced solar fuels.

University of Michigan

Benchtop Growth of High Quality III-V Thin Film Photovoltaics through Electrochemical Liquid Phase Epitaxy (ec-LPE)

The University of Michigan is investigating a new, hybrid thin-film PV production technology that combines two different semiconductor production techniques: electrodeposition (the deposition of a substance on an electrode by the action of electricity) and epitaxial crystal growth (the growth of crystals of one substance on the crystal face of another substance). If successful, the University of Michigan's new hybrid approach would produce highly efficient (above 20%) gallium arsenide thin film solar cells using only simple process equipment, non-flammable precursor ingredients, and relatively low production temperatures (below 350 °C). This would radically decrease the production cost per watt of solar capacity, making it substantially less expensive and more competitive with other energy sources.

University of Rochester

Planar Light Guide Concentrated Photovoltaics

The University of Rochester along with partners Arzon Solar and RPC Photonics will develop a micro-CPV system based on Planar Light Guide (PLG) solar concentrators. The PLG uses a top lenslet layer to focus and concentrate sunlight towards injection facets. These facets guide and redirect light, like a mirror, towards a PV cell at the edge of the device. Combined, these methods lead to higher efficiency over conventional FPV systems. At fewer than 3 mm thick, the system will be thin and flat, similar to traditional FPV panels. The PLG system also reduces complexity and costs by only requiring PV cells at the edge of the device, instead of an array of thousands of micro-PV cells. The team will also develop a scalable fabrication technique that uses grayscale lithography to produce the micro-optics.

University of South Carolina

A Novel Intermediate-Temperature Bi-functional Ceramic Fuel Cell Energy System

The University of South Carolina is developing an intermediate-temperature, ceramic-based fuel cell that will both generate and store electrical power with high efficiencies. Reducing operating temperatures for fuel cells is critical to enabling distributed power generation. The device will incorporate a newly discovered ceramic electrolyte and nanostructured electrodes that enable it to operate at temperatures lower than 500ºC, far below the temperatures associated with fuel cells for grid-scale power generation. The fuel cell's unique design includes an iron-based layer that stores electrical charge like a battery, enabling a faster response to changes in power demand.

University of Tulsa

Double-Focus Hybrid Solar Energy System with Full Spectrum Utilization

The University of Tulsa is developing a hybrid solar converter with a specialized light-filtering mirror that splits sunlight by wavelength, allowing part of the sunlight spectrum to be converted directly to electricity with photovoltaics (PV), while the rest is captured and stored as heat. By integrating a light-filtering mirror that passes the visible part of the spectrum to a PV cell, the system captures and converts as much as possible of the photons into high-value electricity and concentrates the remaining light onto a thermal fluid, which can be stored and be used as needed. University of Tulsa's hybrid solar energy system also captures waste heat from the solar cells, providing an additional source of low-temperature heat. This hybrid converter could make more efficient use of the full solar spectrum and can provide inexpensive solar power on demand.

University of Tulsa

Plasmonic Nanoparticle Enhanced Liquid Filters for Optimal Solar Conversion

The University of Tulsa is developing a hybrid solar converter that captures ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths of light in a thermal fluid while directing visible wavelengths of light to a photovoltaic (PV) cell to produce electricity. The PV cells can be kept at moderate temperatures while high-quality heat is captured in the thermal fluid for storage and conversion into electricity when needed. The thermal fluid will flow behind the PV cell to capture waste heat and then flow in front of the PV cell, where it heats further and also act as a filter, passing only the portions of sunlight that the PV cell converts most efficiently while absorbing the rest. This light absorption control will be accomplished by including nanoparticles of different materials, shapes, and sizes in the fluid that are tailored to absorb different portions of sunlight. The heat captured in the fluid can be stored to provide dispatchable solar energy during non-daylight hours. Together, the PV cells and thermal energy provide instantaneous as well as storable power for dispatch when most needed.

University of Virginia

50 MW Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotors for Wind Energy

The team led by the University of Virginia (UVA) will design the world's largest wind turbine by employing a new downwind turbine concept called Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR). Increasing the size of wind turbine blades will enable a large increase in power from today's largest turbines - from an average of 5-10MW to a proposed 50MW system. The SUMR concept allows blades to deflect in the wind, much like a palm tree, to accommodate a wide range of wind speeds (up to hurricane-wind speeds) with reduced blade load, thus reducing rotor mass and fatigue. The novel blades also use segmentation to reduce production, transportation, and installation costs. This innovative design overcomes key challenges for extreme-scale turbines resulting in a cost-effective approach to advance the domestic wind energy market. The team includes world's experts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Labs (SNL) working with world-class faculty and students at the Colorado School of Mines, University of Colorado (Boulder), University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), and UVA.

University of Wisconsin

An Integrated High Pressure SOFC and Premixed Compression Ignition Engine System

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