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Saint-Gobain Ceramics and Plastics, Inc.


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.

Sandia National Laboratory

20 kV Gallium Nitride pn Diode Electro-Magnetic Pulse Arrestor for Grid Reliability

Sandia National Laboratories will develop a new device to prevent EMP damage to the power grid. The EMP arrestor will be comprised of diodes fabricated from the semiconductor gallium nitride (GaN), capable of responding on the ns timescale required to protect the grid against EMP threats. The diodes will be capable of blocking 20 kilovolts (kV), enabling a single device to protect distribution-level equipment on the grid. The team will focus on the epitaxial crystal growth of GaN layers and device design needed to achieve the 20 kV performance target. Extensive failure analysis and reliability testing will be conducted to ensure device robustness. At the end of the project, a prototype arrestor will be demonstrated to illustrate the feasibility of the technology to protect against catastrophic damage to grid equipment due to EMPs. In addition, the team will create a pilot production line to serve as a model for eventual commercial production.

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.

Sandia National Laboratory

High Voltage Re-grown GaN P-N Diodes Enabled by Defect and Doping Control

Vertical transistors based on bulk gallium nitride (GaN) have emerged as promising candidates for future high efficiency, high power applications. However, they have been plagued by poor electrical performance attributed to the existing selective doping processes. Sandia National Laboratories will develop patterned epitaxial regrowth of GaN as a selective area doping processes to fabricate diodes with electronic performance equivalent to as-grown state-of-the-art GaN diodes. The team's research will provide a better understanding of which particular defects resulting from impurities and etch damage during the epitaxial regrowth process limit device performance, how those defects specifically impact the junction electronic properties, and ultimately how to control and mitigate the defects. The improved mechanistic understanding developed under the project will help the team design specific approaches to controlling impurity contamination and defect incorporation at regrowth interfaces and include development of in-chamber cleans and regrowth initiation processes to recover a high-quality epitaxial surfaces immediately prior to crystal regrowth.

Sandia National Laboratory

Multi-Modal Monitoring of Plant Roots for Drought & Heat Tolerance in the US Southwest

Sandia National Laboratories will develop novel, field-deployable sensor technologies for monitoring soil, root, and plant systems. First, the team will develop microneedles similar and shape and function to hypodermic needles used in transdermal drug delivery and wearable sensors. The minimally invasive needles will be used to report on sugar concentrations and water stress in leaves, stems, and large roots in real-time. Continuously monitoring the sugar concentrations at multiple locations will be transformative in understanding whole plant carbon dynamics and the function of the vascular tissues that conduct sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves. The second key technology are gas chromatographs deployed in the soil and near plants in order to monitor volatile organic compounds (VOC). Plants synthesize and release volatile organic compounds both aboveground and belowground that act as chemical signals or in response to biotic stress (damage from insects, bacteria, etc.) or abiotic stress (such as drought, flooding, and extreme temperatures). VOCs modulate biomass uptake and the team hopes to better understand soil composition by measuring VOC transport. The team's integrated microsensor technologies will be deployed in arid environments in both natural and agricultural lands to characterize whole plant function in both environments. Applying these sensors to plants in arid environments could assist in re-greening arid ecosystems with new specially bred plants developed and selected to improve soil function with less water and nutrient requirements while depositing more soil carbon.


Floor Sensors for Occupancy Counting in Commercial Buildings

Scanalytics will develop pressure-sensitive flooring underlayers capable of sensing large areas of commercial buildings with a high-resolution and fast response time. This technology will enable the precise counting of people in commercial environments like stores, offices, and convention centers. The floor sensors will consist of a material which changes electrical resistance when compressed. Conductive elements above and below the material will measure the resistance at a grid of points within the floor mat, and electronics will control the switching between sensors, cache the results for transmission, and transmit the readings to a local gateway for analysis. The team's system and data processing algorithms will be developed to resolve multiple people in close proximity, as well as account for non-typical travel methods such as wheelchairs and crutches. This occupancy information may be passed directly to HVAC control, or combined with occupancy information from other sensors to manage the heating, cooling and air flow in order to maximize building energy efficiency and provide optimal human comfort. Energy costs of heating and cooling can be reduced by up to 30% by training the building management system to deliver the right temperature air when and where it is needed.

Sheetak, Inc.

Non-Equilibrium Asymmetric Thermoelectric (NEAT) Devices

Sheetak is developing a thermoelectric-based solid state cooling system that is more efficient, more reliable, and more affordable than today's best systems. Many air conditioners are based on vapor compression, in which a liquid refrigerant circulates within the air conditioner, absorbs heat, and then pumps it out into the external environment. Sheetak's system, by contrast, relies on an electrical current passing through the junction of two different conducting materials to change temperature. Sheetak's design uses proprietary thermoelectric materials to achieve significant energy efficiency and, unlike vapor compression systems, contains no noisy moving parts or polluting refrigerants. Additionally, Sheetak's air conditioner would be made with some of the same manufacturing processes used to produce semiconductor chips, which could lead to less material use and facilitate more affordable production.

SiCLAB, Rutgers University, NJ

First in Class Demonstration of a Completely New Type of SiC Bipolar Switch (15kV-20kV) for Utility Scale Inverters

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.

Signetron Inc.

Using a smart-phone for fast, automated energy audit of buildings

Signetron is developing a technology that will enable fast, cost effective, and accurate energy audits without the need for expensive, skilled labor to collect data manually. Signetron's innovation integrates low-cost visible and infrared optical cameras into a handheld scanner with depth sensing. This enables the operator to capture indoor 3D maps of building geometry and energy-relevant features as they traverse a building. Captured data is uploaded to the cloud where it is analyzed by Signetron software to generate an energy model and provide actionable energy audit information. If successful, this technology will reduce the time and cost associated with today's energy audits by a factor of 5 and 10 respectively, while offering actionable energy-saving recommendations. This technology could lower the cost barrier for building energy audits, thereby enabling property owners and facility managers to better understand the sources of energy loss in their buildings and where to optimally target retrofits to improve energy savings.

SixPoint Materials, Inc.

GaN homoepitaxial wafers for vertical high-power devices grown by vapor phase epitaxy on low-cost, high-quality ammonothermal GaN substrates

SixPoint Materials will create low-cost, high-quality vertical gallium nitride (GaN) substrates for use in high-power electronic devices. In its two-phase project, SixPoint Materials will first focus on developing a high-quality GaN substrate and then on expanding the substrate's size. Substrates are thin wafers of semiconducting material used to power devices like transistors and integrated circuits. SixPoint Materials will use a two-phase production approach that employs both hydride vapor phase epitaxy technology and ammonothermal growth techniques to create its high-quality, low-cost GaN substrates.

SolarBridge Technologies, Inc.

Scalable Submodule Power Conversion Methods for Power Density, Efficiency, Performance, and Protection Leaps in 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.

Sonrisa Research, Inc.

A New Class of SiC Power MOSFETs with Record-Low Resistance

Sonrisa Research will develop a new class of SiC power transistors using a simple three-dimensional architectural modification to reduce the channel resistance by up to a factor of nine. To accomplish this, Sonrisa will etch trenches into the basic planar MOSFET, increasing its effective channel width without increasing its overall area. This is similar to the fin-type field-effect transistor (FinFET) geometry popular in advanced Si integrated circuits, but in a configuration that meets high-power application needs. A different structural modification will be used to reduce the substrate resistance. The combination of lower channel and substrate resistance will enable SiC MOSFETs to displace silicon MOSFETs and insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) in the blocking voltage regime below 1200V broadening the useful application space and furthering their adoption.

Soraa, Inc.

Ammonothermal Bulk GaN Crystal Growth for Energy Efficient Lighting

Soraa's new GaN crystal growth method is adapted from that used to grow quartz crystals, which are very inexpensive and represent the second-largest market for single crystals for electronic applications (after silicon). More extreme conditions are required to grow GaN crystals and therefore a new type of chemical growth chamber was invented that is suitable for large-scale manufacturing. A new process was developed that grows GaN crystals at a rate that is more than double that of current processes. The new technology will enable GaN substrates with best-in-world quality at lowest-in-world prices, which in turn will enable new generations of white LEDs, lasers for full-color displays, and high-performance power electronics.

Soraa, Inc.

Large Area, Low Cost Bulk GaN Substrates for Power Electronics

Soraa will develop a cost-effective technique to manufacture high-quality, high-performance gallium nitride (GaN) crystal substrates that have fewer defects by several orders of magnitude than conventional GaN substrates and cost about 10 times less. Substrates are thin wafers of semiconducting material needed to power devices like transistors and integrated circuits. Most GaN-based electronics today suffer from very high defect levels and, in turn, reduced performance. In addition to reducing defects, Soraa will also develop methods capable of producing large-area GaN substrates--3 to 4 times larger in diameter than conventional GaN substrates--that can handle high-power switching applications.

SRI International

Direct Low-Cost Production of Titanium Alloys

SRI International is developing a reactor that is able to either convert titanium tetrachloride to titanium powder or convert multiple metal chlorides to titanium alloy powder in a single step. Conventional titanium extraction and conversion processes involve expensive and energy intensive melting steps. SRI is examining the reaction between hydrogen and metal chlorides, which could produce titanium alloys without multiple complicated steps. Using titanium powder for transportation applications has not been practical until now because of the high cost of producing powder from titanium ingots. SRI's reactor requires less material because it produces powder directly rather than converting it from intermediate materials such as sponge or ingot. Transforming titanium production into a direct process could reduce costs and energy consumption by eliminating energy intensive steps and decreasing material inputs.

SRI International

Window Retrofit Applique using Phonon engineering (WRAP)

SRI International, in collaboration with its partners will develop a transparent, adhesive film that can be easily applied to single-pane windows to reduce heat loss from warm rooms during cold weather. The team proposes an entirely new approach to thermal barriers and will develop a new class of non-porous materials that use nanoparticles to reflect heat and provide superior thermal insulation. Moreover, the transparent film does not block visible light, meaning that the coating allows light to transmit through the window and brighten the interior. The film could also improve the soundproofing of the window.

SRI International

STATIC Radiative Cooling for Cold Storage

SRI International and PPG Industries are integrating SRI's proprietary Spectrally Tuned All-Polymer Technology for Inducing Cooling (STATIC) technology into a novel structure for use as a radiative cooling system that can provide supplemental cooling for power plant water during the daytime or nighttime. The two-layer polymer structure covers a pool holding power plant condenser discharge water. The cover prevents sunlight from penetrating it and warming the water, while allowing thermal energy to radiate to the sky, even during the day. The STATIC structure provides an insulating air gap to prevent conductive and convective heating, and both layers work in concert to reject solar energy. Specifically, the bottom layer acts as an emitter at the water temperature and radiates heat to the sky, while the top layer and key component, produced using STATIC technology, enables transmittance of the thermal radiation. The cooling power can achieve greater than 100 W/m2 without evaporation. All materials are inexpensive and amenable to scalable manufacturing techniques, which could lower the cost of the system.

SRI International

Wearable Active Textile for Physiology-based Thermal Management

SRI International will develop a highly efficient, wearable thermal regulation system that leverages the human body's natural thermal regulation areas such as the palms of the hands, soles of feet, and upper facial area. This innovative "active textile" technology is enabled by a novel combination of low-cost electroactive and passive polymer materials and structures to efficiently manage heat transfer while being quiet and comfortable. SRI's electronically controllable active textile technology is versatile - allowing the wearer to continue to use their existing wardrobe. We believe that these features will allow for products that augment wearable technologies and thus achieve the widespread adoption needed to save energy on a large scale.

Stanford University

Large-Scale Energy Reductions through Sensors, Feedback, & Information Technology

A team of researchers from more than 10 departments at Stanford University is collaborating to transform the way Americans interact with our energy-use data. The team built a web-based platform that collects historical electricity data, which it uses to perform a variety of experiments to learn what triggers people to respond. Experiments include new financial incentives, a calculator to understand the potential savings of efficient appliances, new Facebook interface designs, communication studies using Twitter, and educational programs with the Girl Scouts. Economic modeling is underway to better understand how results from the San Francisco Bay Area can be broadened to other parts of the country.

Stanford University


Stanford University will develop a new process to produce furan-2,5-dicarboxylic acid (FDCA), a potential replacement for purified terephthalic acid (PTA). PTA is produced from petroleum on the scale of 60 million tons per year and used to make synthetic polymers like polyester. The production of PTA is associated with 90 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. FDCA, on the other hand, can be made from biomass and its polymers boast superior physical properties for high-volume applications such as beverage bottles. Current technologies produce FDCA from food sources (fructose) and have not demonstrated economic competitiveness with PTA. The Stanford technology produces FDCA from CO2 and furfural, a feedstock chemical produced industrially from waste biomass. The use of CO2 avoids challenging oxidation reactions required for fructose-based syntheses, which provides a potential advantage for commercial production. Packed-bed reactors utilizing the technology have achieved high FDCA yields but require reaction times that are too long for industrial application. This project will transition the process to a fluidized bed reactor, where reactants are suspended in flowing CO2, to achieve industrially viable synthesis rates. If optimized, the process could enable the production of FDCA with negative greenhouse gas emissions.


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