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Distributed Generation

Michigan State University

Wave Disk Engine

Michigan State University (MSU) is developing a new engine for use in hybrid automobiles that could significantly reduce fuel waste and improve engine efficiency. In a traditional internal combustion engine, air and fuel are ignited, creating high-temperature and high-pressure gases that expand rapidly. This expansion of gases forces the engine's pistons to pump and powers the car. MSU's engine has no pistons. It uses the combustion of air and fuel to build up pressure within the engine, generating a shockwave that blasts hot gas exhaust into the blades of the engine's rotors causing them to turn, which generates electricity. MSU's redesigned engine would be the size of a cooking pot and contain fewer moving parts--reducing the weight of the engine by 30%. It would also enable a vehicle that could use 60% of its fuel for propulsion.

MicroLink Devices

Epitaxial Lift-Off III-V Solar Cell for High Temperature Operation

MicroLink Devices is developing a high-efficiency solar cell that can maintain efficient operation at high temperatures and leverage reusable cell templates to reduce overall cell cost. MicroLink's cell will be able to operate at temperatures above 400°C, unlike today's solar cells, which lose efficiency rapidly above 100°C and are likely to fail at high temperatures over time. MicroLink's specialized dual-junction design will allow the cell to extract significantly more energy from the sun at high temperature than today's cells, enabling the next generation of hybrid solar converters to deliver much higher quantities of electricity and useful dispatchable heat. When integrated into hybrid solar converters, heat rejected from the cells at high temperature can be stored and used to generate electricity when the sun is not shining.

MicroLink Devices

High-Efficiency, Lattice-Matched Solar Cells Using Epitaxial Lift-Off

MicroLink Devices is developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells to capture concentrated sunlight in an effort to increase the amount of electricity generated by concentrating solar power plants. The continued growth of the CPV market depends strongly on continuing to reduce the cost of CPV solar cell technologies. MicroLink will make an all-lattice-matched solar cell that can achieve greater power conversion efficiency than conventional CPV technologies, thereby reducing the cost of generating electricity. In addition, MicroLink will use manufacturing techniques that allow for the reuse of expensive solar cell manufacturing templates to minimize costs. MicroLink's innovative high-efficiency solar cell design has the potential to reduce PV electricity costs well below the cost of electricity from conventional non-concentrating PV modules.

Mohawk Innovative Technology, Inc.

High-Speed Microturbine with Air Foil Bearings for Residential CHP

Mohawk Innovative Technology, Inc. (MiTi) and its partners at the University of Texas at Austin and Mitis SA will develop a 1 kW microturbine generator for residential CHP based on MiTi's hyperlaminar flow engine (HFE) design. Key innovations of the design include highly miniaturized components operating at ultra-high speeds and a viscous shear mechanism to compress air that is mixed with natural gas and undergoes a flameless combustion process that minimizes emissions. The hot combustion gas drives the turbine and generator to produce electricity and heat water for household use. Besides using the viscous shear-driven compressor and turbine impellers and flameless combustion, the turbogenerator uses permanent magnet generator elements and air foil bearings with very low power loss, all of which are combined into a highly efficient, low emission, and oil-free turbomachine for residential combined heat and power that requires little or no maintenance.

NanoConversion Technologies, Inc.

High-Efficiency Thermoelectric CHP

NanoConversion Technologies, along with researchers from Gas Technologies Institute (GTI), will develop a high-efficiency thermoelectric CHP system. This is a solid-state device that uses heat to create electricity and contains no moving parts, thus creating no noise or vibrations. Instead, this thermoelectric CHP engine uses a novel concentration mode-thermoelectric converter (C-TEC) to harness the heat of the natural gas combustor to vaporize and ionize sodium, creating positive sodium ions and electrons that carry electric current. The C-TEC uses this sodium expansion cycle to produce electricity using an array of electrochemical cells. The superadiabatic combustor technology from GTI provides a low emission external combustion heat source with 95% fuel-to-heat efficiency and a stable temperature compatible with the C-TEC units.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Ultrahigh Efficiency Photovoltaics at Ultralow Costs

This project team, led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will employ hydride vapor phase epitaxy (HVPE), a fast growth technique used to produce semiconductors, to lower the manufacturing cost of multijunction solar cells. Additionally the team will develop new materials to be used in the HVPE process, enabling a chemical liftoff method that allows reuse of substrates. The chemical liftoff will mitigate costs of substrates, further reducing the overall system cost. NREL's approach will leverage this improved HVPE technology to produce thin, flexible, highly efficient multijunction cells, with very high power at low cost. III-V PV has several inherent advantages over other PV materials, including higher efficiency, low temperature coefficients, and low material usage. The novel combination of HVPE growth of multijunction solar cells and substrate reuse could result in more cost-effective, higher performing multijunction solar cells, which could ultimately lower the cost and increase the efficiency of PV systems. These innovations could spur greater adoption of PV systems and reduce reliance on fossil-fuel power generation.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

High-Temp, High-Efficiency Solar-Thermoelectric Generators

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is developing a solar thermoelectric generator to directly convert heat from concentrated sunlight to electricity. Thermoelectric devices can directly convert heat to electricity, yet due to cost and efficiency limitations they have not been viewed as a viable large-scale energy conversion technology. However, new thermoelectric materials have dramatically increased the efficiency of direct heat-to-electricity conversion. NREL is using these innovative materials to develop a new solar thermoelectric generator. This device will concentrate sunlight onto an absorbing surface on top of a thermoelectric stage, the resulting temperature difference between the top and bottom of the device will drive the generator to produce electricity at 3 times the efficiency of current systems. NREL's solar thermoelectric generator could reduce the cost associated with converting large amounts of solar energy into electricity through a much simpler and scalable process which does not rely upon moving parts and transfer fluids.

NexTech Materials, Ltd. dba Nexceris, LLC

Advanced Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Stack for Hybrid Power Systems

Nexceris, LLC will develop a compact, ultra-high efficiency solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) stack tailored for hybrid power systems. Hybridized power generation systems, combining energy efficient SOFCs with a microturbine or internal combustion (IC) engine, offer a path to high efficiency distributed generation from abundant natural gas. Proof-of-concept systems have shown the potential of this hybrid approach, but component optimization is necessary to increase system efficiencies and reduce costs. Existing SOFC stacks are relatively expensive and improving their efficiency and robustness would enhance the overall commercial viability of these systems. Nexceris' SOFC stack design includes a patented high performance planar cell design and a novel anode current collector that that provides structural support to each cell during pressurized operation, helps define the flow of fuel gas through the stack, and improves control over the reaction of natural gas in the cell, and a sealing approach that facilitates pressurized stack operation. If successful, this stack design will result in increased performance and durability at reduced cost. The 10-kW-scale cell stack building blocks will be housed within a hermetically sealed "hotbox" to reduce drastic changes in temperature and pressure during operation. These design features would allow for seamless integration with a turbine or combustion engine to maximize the overall efficiency of a hybrid system.

Northeastern University

A New Class of Soft-Switching Capacitive-Link Universal Converters for Photovoltaic Application

Northeastern University will develop a new class of universal power converters that can be used in a wide range of applications including renewable energy systems, automotive, and manufacturing technologies. Northeastern will focus the project on the design, simulation, prototyping, and experimental evaluation for PV systems. This project proposes a new class of converters that can both step up and step down the voltage. This converter uses a very small film capacitor for transferring the power from the input to the output. The proposed technology eliminates the need for electrolytic capacitors, and can double the lifetime and reliability of power converters. The power density of this class of power converters is also high since it can use an integrated, single-phase, high-frequency transformer instead of heavy and bulky low-frequency transformers. In this project, two 3kW prototypes will be fabricated and tested. The first will use silicon insulated-gate bipolar transistors and its switching frequency will be below 10kHz. The second prototype will employ silicon carbide (SiC) metal oxide semiconductor Field-Effect Transistors (MOSFETs) with the target switching frequency at 50kHz. Significant reduction (6X) in inverter weight and improvement in inverter efficiency (> 1.5%) is expected in the proposed solution that combines the novel circuit topology and the SiC transistors over traditional PV inverters.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems

FSPOT-X: Full Spectrum Power for Optical/Thermal Exergy

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems is developing a dish-shaped sunlight-concentrating hybrid solar converter that integrates high-efficiency solar cells and a thermo-acoustic engine that generates electricity directly from heat. Current solar cells lose significant amounts of energy as heat, because they do not have heat storage capability. By integrating a high-temperature solar cell and thermo-acoustic engine into a single system, thermal energy losses are minimized. The thermo-acoustic unit, which was originally designed for space missions, converts waste heat from the solar cell into sound waves to generate electricity using as few moving parts as possible. The engine and solar cell are connected to a molten salt thermal storage unit to store heat when the sun shines and to release the heat and make electricity when the sun is not shining. Northrop Grumman's system could efficiently generate electricity more cheaply than existing solar power plants and lead to inexpensive, on-demand electricity from solar energy.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Hydration-Free Proton Conductive Membranes Based on Two Dimensional Materials

The team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will design proton-selective membranes for use in storage technologies, such as flow batteries, fuel cells, or electrolyzers for liquid-fuel storage. Current proton-selective membranes (e.g. Nafion) require hydration, but the proposed materials would be the first low-temperature membranes that conduct protons without the need for hydration. The enabling technology relies on making single-layer membranes from graphene or similar materials and supporting them for mechanical stability. The team estimates that these membranes can be manufactured at costs around one order of magnitude lower than Nafion membranes. Due to the lower system complexity, the team's innovations would enable fuel cell production at lower system-level costs.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

A Natural-gas based High Efficiency Combined Thermo-chemical Affordable Reactor (NECTAR)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Nanocomposite Electrodes for a Solid Acid Fuel Cell Stack Operating on Reformate

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is redesigning a fuel cell electrode that operates at 250ºC. Today's solid acid fuel cells (SAFCs) contain relatively inefficient cathodes, which require expensive platinum catalysts for the chemical reactions to take place. ORNL's fuel cell will contain highly porous carbon nanostructures that increase the amount of surface area of the cell's electrolyte, and substantially reduce the amount of catalyst required by the cell. By using nanostructured electrodes, ORNL can increase the performance of SAFC cathodes at a fraction of the cost of existing technologies. The ORNL team will also modify existing fuel processors to operate efficiently at reduced temperatures; those processors will work in conjunction with the fuel cell to lower costs at the system level. ORNL's innovations will enable efficient distributed electricity generation from domestic fuel sources using less expensive catalysts.

Ocean Renewable Power Company

Innovative Deployment and Retrieval Scheme for Cross-flow Hydrokinetic Turbines

The Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) will develop an innovative, self-deploying MHK power system, which will reduce the operating costs and improve the efficiency of MHK systems by up to 50%. ORPC's system is based on pitch control of the blades of a cross-flow turbine, in which the tidal flow passes across the turbine blades rather than in a radial fashion. This system will allow the turbine to self-propel itself to the deployment location, and lower itself to the sea floor remotely. This innovative approach will allow for lower costs of deployment and retrieval, reduced requirements for sea-bed foundation construction, as well as increased turbine efficiency. The ORPC team will design, build, and test a model scale of the MHK system to demonstrate the benefits of using a self-deploying turbine, before completing the design and cost analysis of the full-scale commercial system. Successful deployment of this system would significantly reduce the LCOE associated with MHK systems, making the technology a viable renewable resource to generate electrical power.

Oregon State University

Home Generator Benchmarking Program

Oregon State University (OSU) will precisely measure the performance of three commercially-available home generators. The team will collect data on engine efficiency, endurance, emissions, and calculate a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for each generator. Published data on the performance of small generators is scarce, which has hampered efforts to identify where new technologies can be applied to improve the efficiency of small generators. The rigorous and repeatable measurements collected through this project will be an important step forward in developing future high-performance distributed power generation systems.

Otherlab, Inc.

Adaptive Fluidic Solar Collectors

Otherlab is developing an inexpensive small mirror system with an innovative drive system to reflect sunlight onto concentrating solar power towers at greatly reduced cost. This system is an alternative to expensive and bulky 20-30 foot tall mirrors and expensive sun-tracking drives used in today's concentrating solar power plants. In order for solar power tower plants to compete with conventional electricity generation, these plants need dramatic component cost reductions and lower maintenance and operational expenses. Otherlab's approach uses a smaller modular mirror design that reduces handling difficulty, suffers less from high winds, and allows the use of mass manufacturing processes for low-cost component production. These mirrors can be driven by mechanisms that utilize simpler, more readily serviceable parts which decreases system downtime and efficiency. The incorporation of low-cost and highly-scalable manufacturing approaches could significantly reduce the cost of solar electricity generation below conventional solar tower plant technologies.

Palo Alto Research Center

Micro-Chiplet Printer for MOSAIC

Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), along with Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) will develop a prototype printer with the potential to enable economical, high-volume manufacturing of micro-PV cell arrays. This project will focus on creating a printing technology that can affordably manufacture micro-CPV system components. The envisioned printer would drastically lower assembly costs and increase manufacturing efficiency of micro-CPV systems. Leveraging their expertise in digital copier assembly, PARC intends to create a printer demonstration that uses micro-CPV cells or "chiplets" as the "ink" and arranges the chiplets in a precise, predefined location and orientation, similar to how a document printer places ink on a page. SNL will provide micro-scaled photovoltaic components to be used as the "ink," and the PARC system will "print" panel-sized micro-CPV substrates with digitally placed and interconnected PV cells. This micro-chiplet printer technology may reduce the assembly cost of micro-CPV systems by orders of magnitude, making them cost competitive with conventional FPV. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the printer, the project team will investigate two types of backplanes (electronically connected PV arrays arranged on a surface): one with a single type of micro-PV cell, and one with at least two types of micro-PV cells.

Palo Alto Research Center

Reformer-less Oxygen Conducting Natural Gas Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Cell (RONIN)

Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is developing an intermediate-temperature fuel cell that is capable of utilizing a wide variety of carbon-based input fuels such as methane, butane, propane, or coal without reformation. Current fuel cell technologies require the use of a reformer - which turns hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen and can generate heat and produce gases. PARC's design will include a novel electrolyte membrane system that doesn't have a methane-to-hydrogen reformer, and transports oxygen in a form that allows it to react directly with almost any fuel. This new membrane system eliminates the need for a separate fuel processing system all while reducing overall costs. PARC's fuel cell will also operate at relatively low temperatures of 200-300ºC which allows it to use less expensive materials and maintain durability. With the use of these materials, the fuel cell system avoids the long-term durability problems associated with existing higher-temperature fuel cells, all while reducing overall costs.

Panasonic R&D Company of America

Low Profile CPV Panel with Sun Tracking for Rooftop Installation

Panasonic Boston Laboratory will develop a micro-CPV system that features a micro-tracking subsystem. This micro-tracking subsystem will eliminate the need for bulky trackers, allowing fixed mounting of the panel. The micro-tracking allows individual lenses containing PV cells to move within the panel. As the sun moves throughout the day, the lenses align themselves to the best position to receive sunlight, realizing the efficiency advantages of CPV without the cumbersome tilting of the entire panel. The Panasonic Boston Laboratory team will examine a number of methods to allow the individual lenses to track the sunlight. Each panel will be comparable in thickness and cost to a traditional FPV panel.

Pennsylvania State University

Wide-Angle Planar Microtracking Microcell Concentrating Photovoltaics

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), along with their partner organizations, will develop a high efficiency micro-CPV system that features the same flat design of traditional solar panels, but with nearly twice the efficiency. The system is divided into three layers. The top and bottom layers use a refractive/reflective pair of tiny spherical lens arrays to focus sunlight onto a micro-CPV cell array in the center layer. The micro-CPV arrays will be printed on a transparent sheet that slides laterally between the top and bottom layer to ensure that the maximum amount of sunlight is delivered to the micro-PV cell throughout the day. Advanced manufacturing using high-throughput printing techniques will help reduce the cost of the micro-CPV cell arrays and allow the team to create five-junction micro-PV cells that can absorb a broader range of light and promote greater efficiency. By concentrating and focusing sunlight on a specific advanced micro-PV cell, the system can achieve much higher efficiency than standard FPV panels, while maintaining a similar flat panel architecture.


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