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Distributed Generation

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

Continuous Detonation Engine Combustor for Natural Gas Turbines

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) is developing a new combustor for gas turbine engines that uses shockwaves for more efficient combustion through a process known as continuous detonation. These combustors would enable more electricity to be generated from a given amount of natural gas, increasing the efficiency of gas turbine engines while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. PWR will design and build continuous detonation combustors and test them in a simulated gas turbine environment to demonstrate the feasibility of incorporating the technology into natural gas-fueled turbine electric power generators.

Proton Energy Systems

Dual Mode Energy Conversion and Storage Flow Battery

Proton Energy Systems will develop a hydrogen-iron flow battery that can generate hydrogen for use and energy storage on the electric grid. This dual-purpose device can be recharged using renewable grid electricity and either store the hydrogen or run in reverse, as a flow cell battery, when electricity is needed. The team will develop low-cost catalysts to use on both electrodes and leverage their expertise in system engineering to keep the costs low. By using two highly reversible single electron reactions, the round trip efficiency could exceed 80%. By operating at much higher efficiencies than traditional electrolyzers, this technology could offer multiple value streams thereby enabling widespread adoption of distributed storage and hydrogen fueling.

Redox Power Systems, LLC

Low-Temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cells for Transformational Energy Conversion

Redox Power Systems is developing a fuel cell with a mid-temperature operating target of 400°C while maintaining high power density and enabling faster cycling. Current fuel cell systems are expensive and bulky, which limits their commercialization and widespread adoption for distributed generation and other applications. Such state-of-the-art systems consist of fuel cells that either use a mixture of ceramic oxide materials that require high temperatures (~800°C) for grid-scale applications or are polymer-based technology with prohibitive low temperature operation for vehicle technologies. By combining advanced materials that have traditionally been unstable alone, Redox will create a new two-layer electrolyte configuration incorporating nano-enabled electrodes and stable ceramic anodes. The use of these materials will increase system power density and will have a startup time of less than 10 minutes, making them more responsive to demand. Redox is also developing a new fuel processor system optimized to work with their low-temperature solid oxide fuel cells. This new material configuration also allows the operating temperature to be reduced when incorporated into commercially fabricated fuel cells. These advances will enable Redox to produce a lower cost distributed generation product, as well as to enter new markets such as embedded power for datacenters.

RedWave Energy, Inc.

High Speed Diode and Rectenna for Waste Heat to Electricity Harvesting

The team led by RedWave Energy will develop a waste heat harvesting system, called a rectenna, that converts low-temperature waste heat into electricity. Rectennas are nanoantennas that convert radiant energy to direct current (DC) electricity. The rectennas are fabricated onto sheets of flexible material in tightly packed arrays and placed near key heat sources such as the turbine's condenser, heat exchanger, and flue gas cooling stack. Heat radiates onto the nanoantennas and energizes electrons on the antennas' surface. These electrons are rectified by the system, resulting in DC power. This technology will target the waste heat in industrial processes and thermoelectric power generation.

SAFCell, Inc.

Solid Acid Fuel Cell Stack for Distributed Generation Applications

SAFCell is developing solid acid fuel cells (SAFCs) that operate at 250 °C and will be nearly free of precious metal catalysts. Current fuel cells either rely on ultra-pure hydrogen as a fuel and operate at low temperatures for vehicles technologies, or run on natural gas, but operate only at high temperatures for grid-scale applications. SAFCell's fuel cell is utilizing a new solid acid electrolyte material to operate efficiently at intermediate temperatures and on multiple fuels. Additionally, the team will dramatically lower system costs by reducing precious metals, such as platinum, from the electrodes and developing new catalysts based on carbon nanotubes and metal organic frameworks. The proposed SAFC stack design will lead to the creation of low cost fuel cells that can withstand common fuel impurities, making them ideal for distributed generation applications.

Saint-Gobain Ceramics and Plastics, Inc.

Oxidation Resistant High Temperature Ceramics for Solar Thermal Reactors and Other High Temperature Energy Systems

Saint-Gobain Ceramics & Plastics is conducting early-stage research to extend operating temperatures of industrial ceramics in steam-containing atmospheres up to 1,500 °C. Materials that are able to adequately withstand these punishing conditions are needed to create durable solar fuel reactors. The most attractive material based on high-temperature strength and thermal shock resistance is sintered (the process of compacting solid material without melting it) silicon carbide (SiC). However, the highly reactive H2O/H2/CO/CO2 atmosphere within a solar reactor causes most industrial ceramics, including SiC, to degrade at temperatures above 1,200 °C. At those temperatures volatile reaction products are formed, which continually eat away at the integrity of the reactor walls. The Saint-Gobain team is conducting research along three lines of inquiry: 1) Creating high-temperature coatings for the SiC material; 2) Creating "self-healing" SiC surfaces which are created via an oxidation reaction on an ongoing basis as the surface layer is damaged; and 3) Testing alternative ceramic materials which could be more robust. The results of the three lines of inquiry will be evaluated based on stability modeling and thermal cycling testing (i.e. repeatedly heating and cooling the materials) under simulated conditions. As an ARPA-E IDEAS project, this research is at a very early stage. If successful, the technology could potentially result in significant energy and cost savings to the U.S. economy by allowing liquid transportation fuel to be produced from water and carbon dioxide from the air via solar energy instead of conventional sources. In addition SiC materials with enhanced oxidation resistance could be applied to vessels and components across many industrial, thermal, chemical, and petrochemical processes.

Saint-Gobain Ceramics and Plastics, Inc.

Super High-efficiency Integrated Fuel-cell and Turbo-machinery - SHIFT

Saint-Gobain will combine a pressurized all-ceramic solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) stack with a custom-designed screw compressor and expander to yield a highly efficient SOFC and Brayton cycle hybrid system. In this configuration, the SOFC stack generates most of the system's electric power. The expander converts a portion of the stack's waste exergy to additional electric power. Saint-Gobain and its partners will integrate three enabling technologies: Saint-Gobain's robust all-ceramic SOFC stack, Brayton Energy LLC's rotary screw engine (compressor and expander), and Precision Combustion Inc.'s (PCI) SOFC-reformer integrated hotbox. Due to its monolithic nature, the all-ceramic stack enables high pressure, efficient operation, and long-term durability that may provide a 20-year life without stack replacement. Saint-Gobain will develop low-cost ceramic forming techniques to link to its multi-cell co-sintering process. The screw components developed in this program would eliminate the risk of pressure surges during operation. This is a common problem with conventional gas turbines, which can potentially damage SOFC stacks. Finally, PCI's unique hotbox will allow pressurized operation of the SOFC stack and maximize heat transfer and waste heat capture to minimize energy losses. This project will potentially introduce a new distributed, high durability, and enhanced lifetime electricity production system capable of 70% efficiency.

Sandia National Laboratory

Hybrid Switched Capacitor Circuit Development for Exploitation of GaN Diodes in High Gain Step-Up Converters (Hy-GaiN)

Sandia National Laboratories will develop a prototype DC-DC converter in a modular, scalable, mass-producible format that is capable of 10kW or greater and could fit onto a single circuit board. Inefficiency and construction costs associated with AC distribution/transmission and DC-AC conversion are motivating many to consider direct connection of PV to DC distribution (and even DC transmission) circuits. The prototype proposed in this project would enable PV panels to be connected to a medium-to-high voltage DC distribution circuit using a power converter about the size of an average textbook. The team will demonstrate a high-voltage, high-power density, hybrid switched-capacitor power conversion circuit that relies on the concurrent use of silicon carbide (SiC) active switches and leading-edge, 1200V rated, vertical gallium nitride (GaN) diodes. Both SiC and GaN have individually led to improvements in converter performance that permits higher switching frequencies, blocking voltages, and operating temperatures. The team plans to exploit the use of SiC switches coupled with GaN diodes, utilizing the benefits of both materials to achieve improved power density and better performance. These devices would enable improved efficiency and small size, which would reduce assembly, transportation, and installation costs. The proposed circuit topology would be scalable to 100s of kW and 10s of kV, enabling a whole string of modules in a PV plant to be connected to a DC distribution circuit through a converter of about the size of a midsize microwave oven. The converter can be applied to other renewable sources, but in particular, this technology could greatly accelerate the adoption of PV onto the grid by enabling cheaper and more efficient medium voltage and high voltage DC distribution networks.

Sencera Energy, Inc.

Kinematic Flexure-Based Stirling-Brayton Hybrid Engine Generator for Residential CHP

Sencera Energy and Ohio University will develop a novel kinematic Stirling-Brayton hybrid engine using flexure based volume displacement in lieu of a conventional piston-cylinder Stirling engine. A Stirling engine uses a working gas housed in a sealed environment, in this case the working gas is helium. When heated by the natural gas-fueled burner, the gas expands causing a piston to move and interact with an alternator to produce electricity. As the gas cools and contracts, the process resets before repeating again. Advanced Stirling engines endeavor to carefully manage heat inside the system to make the most efficient use of the natural gas energy. The flexure-based design achieves the same function as a piston-cylinder set by simply changing the volume of the working spaces, as opposed to sliding a piston along the interior of a cylinder. The removal of pistons from the design eliminates the need for sliding seals such as piston rings or air/gas bearings, resulting in lower engine friction, less fluid flow loss and fewer dead volumes. It also lowers the potential fabrication cost compared to other heat engines. The proposed kinematic engine design provides easy coupling to existing rotary alternator designs, which allows the use of robust, mature, and cost-effective off-the-shelf alternator technologies and controllers.

SiCLAB, Rutgers University, NJ

First In-Class Demonstration of a Completely New Type of SiC Bipolar Switch (15kV-20kV)

The Rutgers University SiCLAB is developing a new power switch for utility-scale PV inverters that would improve the performance and significantly reduce the size, weight, and energy loss of PV systems. A power switch controls the electrical energy flowing through an inverter, which takes the electrical current from a PV solar panel and converts it into the type and amount of electricity that is compatible with the electric grid. SiCLAB is using silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors in its new power switches, which are more efficient than the silicon semiconductors used to conduct electricity in most conventional power switches today. Switches with SiC semiconductors can operate at much higher temperatures, as well as higher voltage and power levels than silicon switches. SiC-based power switches are also smaller than those made with silicon alone, so they result in much smaller and lighter electrical devices. In addition to their use in utility-scale PV inverters, SiCLAB's new power switches can also be used in wind turbines, railways, and other smart grid applications.

SiEnergy Systems

Direct Hydrocarbon Fuel Cell - Battery Hybrid Electrochemical System

SiEnergy Systems is developing a hybrid electrochemical system that uses a multi-functional electrode to allow the cell to perform as both a fuel cell and a battery, a capability that does not exist today. A fuel cell can convert chemical energy stored in domestically abundant natural gas to electrical energy at high efficiency, but adoption of these technologies has been slow due to high cost and limited functionality. SiEnergy's design would expand the functional capability of a fuel cell to two modes: fuel cell mode and battery mode. In fuel cell mode, non-precious metal catalysts are integrated at the cell's anode to react directly with hydrocarbons such as the methane found in natural gas. In battery mode, the system will provide storage capability that offers faster response to changes in power demand compared to a standard fuel cell. SiEnergy's technology will operate at relatively low temperatures of 300-500ºC, which makes the system more durable than existing high-temperature fuel cells.

SolarBridge Technologies, Inc.

Scalable Submodule Power Conversion for Utility-Scale Photovoltaics

SolarBridge Technologies is developing a new power conversion technique to improve the energy output of PV power plants. This new technique is specifically aimed at large plants where many solar panels are connected together. SolarBridge is correcting for the inefficiencies that occur when two solar panels that encounter different amounts of sun are connected together. In most conventional PV system, the weakest panel limits the energy production of the entire system. That's because all of the energy collected by the PV system feeds into a single collection point where a central inverter then converts it into useable energy for the grid. SolarBridge has found a more efficient and cost-effective way to convert solar energy, correcting these power differences before they reach the grid.

Stanford University

High Efficiency Wafer-Scale Thermionic Energy Converters

By leveraging advanced microfabrication processes, the team led by Stanford University will develop a scalable heat-to-electricity conversion device with higher performance at a lower manufacturing cost than is presently available to industry. The team's solid-state conversion device is based on a 20th century thermionic converter design, where an electric current is produced by heating up an electrode to eject electrons across a vacuum gap for collection by a cooler electrode. Historically, thermionic energy converters are limited by heat losses and are costly to manufacture due to the high precision used in their construction. However, by utilizing wafer-based fabrication processes to create a much smaller vacuum gap and enhanced thermal isolation structures, Stanford's thermionic converter will result in improved device performance, lower manufacturing cost, and a scalability for systems producing Watts to Megawatts of power. The team's initial focus is on the residential Combined Heat and Power (CHP) applications, but their innovative microfabricated thermionic device could also be used to improve efficiency in high-temperature solar thermal systems as well as convert waste heat from factory equipment, power plants, and vehicles to useful power.

Sunpower, Inc.

Free Piston Stirling Engine Based 1kW Generator

Sunpower, in partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne and Precision Combustion Inc. (PCI), proposes a high-frequency, high efficiency 1 kW free-piston Stirling engine (FPSE). A Stirling engine uses a working gas such as helium, which is housed in a sealed environment. When heated by the natural gas-fueled burner, the gas expands causing a piston to move and interact with a linear alternator to produce electricity. As the gas cools and contracts, the process resets before repeating again. Advanced Stirling engines endeavor to carefully manage heat inside the system to make the most efficient use of the natural gas energy. New innovations from this team include the highly efficient and high frequency design which reduces size and cost and can be wall mounted. The heater-head assembly acts as the heat exchanger between the burner and the enclosed working gas, and the higher temperature allows for greater efficiency. Aerojet Rocketdyne will assist this effort by developing high temperature materials to use in this process, while PCI will add a novel catalytically-assisted, two-stage, burner to maximize heat transfer to the heater-head.

SUNY University at Stony Brook

Hybrid Electrochemistry and Advanced Combustion for High-Efficiency Distributed Power (HE-ACED)

Tandem PV, Inc.

Advanced Processing Tool to Unlock Perovskite Photovoltaics

Tandem PV will develop and test an advanced processing tool that integrates high-throughput solution deposition and precise drying to deposit large-area perovskite thin films of exceptional optical and electronic quality. Production of these films on large areas is a critical step towards perovskite-Si tandem PV cells that can achieve significantly higher efficiency than traditional Si PV cells. Small-scale perovskite PV device fabrication typically occurs using a spin-coating process, but the process is not easily scalable. The ability to deposit perovskite PV devices with a large-scale production technique while achieving the same quality and stability achieved by record-setting spin-coated laboratory cells would be a significant step forward. If the project is successful, it will remove a major obstacle to the successful commercialization of perovskite PVs. 

Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, LLC

Optofluidic Solar Concentrators

Teledyne is developing a liquid prism panel that tracks the position of the sun to help efficiently concentrate its light onto a solar cell to produce power. Typically, solar tracking devices have bulky and expensive mechanical moving parts that require a lot of power and are often unreliable. Teledyne's liquid prism panel has no bulky and heavy supporting parts--instead it relies on electrowetting. Electrowetting is a process where an electric field is applied to the liquid to control the angle at which it meets the sunlight above and to control the angle of the sunlight to the focusing lens--the more direct the angle to the focusing lens, the more efficiently the light can be concentrated to solar panels and converted into electricity. This allows the prism to be tuned like a radio to track the sun across the sky and steer sunlight into the solar cell without any moving mechanical parts. This process uses very little power and requires no expensive supporting hardware or moving parts, enabling efficient and quiet rooftop operation for integration into buildings.

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.

Texas Engineering Experiment Station

Waveguiding Solar Concentrator

Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and their partners will build a micro-CPV system that incorporates waveguide technology. A waveguide concentrates and directs light to a specific point. TEES's system uses a grid of waveguides to concentrate sunlight onto a set of coupling elements which employ a 45 degree turning mirror to further concentrate the light and increase the efficiency of the system. Each coupling element is oriented to direct its specific beam of light towards high-efficiency, multi-junction solar cells. Further system efficiency is gained by capturing diffuse light in a secondary layer. The system also includes a secondary layer that captures diffuse sunlight, increasing its overall efficiency.

Texas Tech University

Novel Solid-State Neutron Detectors for Geothermal and Well Logging

Texas Tech University will develop a new type of neutron detector for geothermal and well logging systems. The technology aims to efficiently expand exploration for oil, gas, and geothermal resources into areas with more extreme conditions. Texas Tech seeks to produce solid-state thermal neutron detectors based on 100% boron-10 enriched boron nitride wide bandgap semiconductors. The new product would replace the pressurized and cumbersome He-3 gas tube detectors. Texas Tech's project is enabled by their previous work developing epitaxial growth technology to produce low-cost, free-standing, single-crystal boron nitride semiconductor wafers 4 inches in diameter. When integrated into thermal neutron detectors, boron nitride promises high neutron detection efficiency and improved sensitivity while withstanding extreme temperatures. Boron nitride neutron detectors are more flexible while requiring much lower voltages and no pressurization compared with He-3 detectors, resulting in significantly reduced size and weight, more versatile form factors, faster response speed, improved sensitivity, higher reliability, and lower costs. This detector technology has the potential to improve efficiency and reduce costs for new energy materials exploration and extraction.

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