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University of California, San Diego

LEED: A Lightwave Energy-Efficient Datacenter

The University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) will develop a new datacenter network based on photonic technology that can double the energy efficiency of a datacenter. Their LEED project mirrors the development of CPU processors in PCs. Previous limitations in the clock rate of computer processors forced designers to adopt parallel methods of processing information and to incorporate multiple cores within a single chip. The team envisions a similar development within datacenters, where the advent of parallel lightwave networks can act as a bridge to more efficient datacenters. This architecture leverages advanced photonic switching and interconnects in a scalable way. Additionally, the team will add a low-loss optical switch technology that routes the data traffic carried as light waves. They will also add the development of packaged, scalable transmitters and receivers that can be used in the system without the need for energy-consuming optical amplification, while still maintaining the appropriate signal-to-noise ratio. The combination of these technologies can create an easily controllable, energy-efficient architecture to help manage rapidly transitioning data infrastructure to cloud-based services and cloud-based computing hosted in datacenters.

University of California, San Diego

"Thinner Than Air": Polymer-Based Coatings of Single-Pane Windows

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) will develop a polymer-based thermal insulating film that can be applied onto windowpanes to reduce heat loss and condensation. The team's approach uses polymer-based coatings with specifically designed structures. Heat management is gained by the thermal conductivity of polymer and the internal thermal barriers. The coating is inherently low-emissivity, and also resists condensation and abrasion. The technology is initially designed for single-pane windows, but can be expanded in the future for use in double-pane windows, doors, and roofs, as well as potential applications in the automobile, aerospace, and military industries.

University of California, San Diego

Production of Large-Sized LOCH Parts

The University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) will develop a scalable process for the production of large (up to 500 lb.) pre-cast blocks using lean-organic compacted hybrid (LOCH), a new type of infrastructural material which may compete with traditional portland cement. Portland cement is the most common cement type and one of the most versatile construction materials in the world. Its widespread use over the last century is due to its low cost, abundance of its ingredients including limestone and shales, and standard performance characteristics. However, the production of portland cement involves heating the raw materials to high temperatures, which is an energy intensive process. It also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions by producing nearly one ton of CO2 for every ton of cement. The UC San Diego team proposes LOCH as a cheaper, more durable, energy efficient alternative to portland cement. LOCH is not formed through hydration like traditional cement, but rather uses a polymer binder to bond raw sand or soil grains together. This method uses only the minimal amount of binder content, leading to low material costs. If implemented widely, LOCH could provide a drastic reduction in energy use and CO2 emissions as compared to portland cement, at a significant cost reduction. The 1-2 hour fast setting time of LOCH can simplify project management and further lower costs of construction logistics and labor. The construction procedure of LOCH does not require rebar, the steel mesh and bars used to reinforce traditional cement, eliminating their time consuming installation and repair operations. LOCH also promises increased strength, durability, and longer service life. Nearly 15% of portland cement is used for precast parts, standard cement parts pre-assembled offsite. The team will first target this precast market, as it provides the best opportunity to easily integrate and scale the new technology.

University of California, Santa Barbara

High Efficiency Quantum-Dot Photonic Integrated Circuit Technology Epitaxially Grown on Silicon

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will develop a new technology for optical communication links. Optical interconnects transfer data by carrying light through optical fibers, and offer higher bandwidths than copper with higher efficiency and, consequently, reduced heat losses. However, short-reach optical interconnects are not widely used because of their higher costs and larger device footprints. Production costs of these interconnects could be reduced by using silicon-based fabrication technologies, but silicon is not suited for fabricating lasers, a key ingredient. In contrast III-V semiconductors, are well-suited for fabricating highly efficient lasers, but at a high cost. The team plans to combine these components to create III-V lasers, grown on a silicon substrate, harnessing both the low cost of silicon and the superior laser of the III-V semiconductor. However, growing the III-V laser material directly on silicon is difficult due to incompatibilities in their crystal structures. The team aims to overcome this challenge by implementing nanostructures called "quantum dots" as the light producing material and by growing the structure on patterned silicon substrates to help contain potential defects.

University of California, Santa Barbara

Laser-Based Solid State Lighting 

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will develop a gallium nitride (GaN) laser-based white light emitter with no efficiency droop at high current densities. The team's solution will address the efficiency and cost limitations of LEDs. Laser diodes do not suffer efficiency droop at high current densities, and this allows for the design of lamps using a single, small, light-emitting chip operating at high current densities. Using a single chip reduces system costs compared with LEDs because the system uses less material per chip, requires fewer chips, and employs simplified optics and a simplified heat-sink. The chip area required for LED technologies will be significantly reduced using laser-based solid state lighting. This technology will also enable highly controllable beams of light that cannot be achieved with LEDs. The goal of the project is to develop a 1,000 lumen laser-based white light emitter with the efficiency of at least 200 lm/W and a cost of $0.25/klm.

University of California, Santa Barbara

Intelligent Reduction of Energy through Photonic Integration for Datacenters (INTREPID)

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will develop and demonstrate a technology platform that integrates efficient photonic interfaces directly into chip "packages." The simultaneous design and packaging of photonics with electronics will enable higher bandwidth network switches that are much more energy efficient. Traditional electronic switches toggle connections between wires, each wire providing a different communication channel. Having a limited number of communication channels means that electronic switches can lead to "fat" hierarchical networks, consuming energy each time data has to travel through one switch to another. By developing a platform that directly integrates efficient photonics into first-level chip packages, layers of traditional network hierarchy can be eliminated, reducing the power, latency, and cost of datacenters. Photonic interconnects integrated directly into chip packages can enable switches with a much larger port count than traditional electronic switches. These new, larger switches will connect more servers using fewer levels of required switching. The team estimates that an improvement in the network metrics (either cost or power) will enable a more than linear improvement in the overall transactional efficiency because faster networks and faster endpoint data-rates can be deployed, reducing the total number of computational and storage systems necessary to satisfy user transactions.

University of California, Santa Barbara

Current Aperture Vertical Electron Transistor Device Architectures for Efficient Power Switching

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will develop new vertical gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor technologies that will significantly enhance the performance and reduce the cost of high-power electronics. UCSB will markedly reduce the size of its vertical GaN semiconductor devices compared to today's commercially available, lateral GaN-on-silicon-based devices. Despite their reduced size, UCSB's vertical GaN devices will exhibit improved performance and significantly lower power losses when switching and converting power than lateral GaN devices. UCSB will also simplify fabrication processes to keep costs down.

University of Cincinnati

Enhanced Air-Cooling System with Optimized Asynchronously-Cooled Thermal Energy Storage

University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers will develop a dry-cooling system, featuring an enhanced air-cooled condenser and a novel daytime peak-load shifting system (PLSS) that will enable dry cooling for power plants even during hot days. The team will transform a conventional air-cooled condenser by incorporating flow-modulating surfaces and modifying the tubular geometry of the system, both of which will reduce heat transfer resistance and increase the thermal surface area. Whenever the air temperature becomes too high for the air-cooled heat exchanger to be effective, the PLSS will cool the air inlet temperature back down to acceptable temperatures. This inlet air-cooler technology removes heat from the incoming air and stores it in a thermal energy storage (TES) system that incorporates phase-change materials, which can store and release heat over a range of temperatures. During periods when the ambient air is cooler, the TES will release the stored heat to the atmosphere. Together, the combined innovations could quadruple the condenser's coefficient of performance, while the system's compact design will result in a smaller footprint than other air-cooled designs.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Advancing Insulation Retrofits from Flexible Inexpensive Lucid Materials (AIR FILMs) for Single-Pane Windiows

The University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) with its partners will develop a flexible window film made of nanostructured cellulose. The film can be applied onto single-pane windows to improve their energy efficiency without compromising transparency. The team will be able to economically harvest cellulose needed for the films from food waste using a bacteria-driven process. The cellulose will self-assemble into liquid crystal type structures that selectively reflect infrared light (or heat) while transmitting visible light. The technology is related to liquid crystals that are used in display screens ranging from smart phones to flat-panel HDTVs. The optical properties of these crystals arise from fine-tuning the arrangement of the individual molecules and nanostructures that compose the crystals. Engineering the liquid crystals to be transparent to visible light but able to reflect infrared light will allow heat retention in building spaces, similar to low-emissivity glass.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Frequency Comb-Based Remote Methane Observation Network

The University of Colorado-Boulder (CU-Boulder) will team up with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (a partnership between CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to develop a reduced-cost, dual frequency comb spectrometer. The frequency comb would consist of 105 evenly spaced, sharp, single frequency laser lines covering a broad wavelength range that includes the unique absorption signatures of natural gas constituents like methane. The team has shown that frequency comb spectrometers can measure methane and other gases at parts-per-billion concentration levels over kilometer-long path lengths. Current, long-range sensing systems cannot detect methane with high sensitivity, accuracy, or stability. The team's frequency combs, however, are planned to be able to detect and distinguish methane, ethane, propane, and other gases without frequent calibration. When integrated into a complete methane detection system, the combs could lower the costs of methane sensing due to their ability to survey large areas or multiple gas fields simultaneously. When employed as part of a complete methane detection system, the team's innovation aims to improve the accuracy of methane detection while decreasing the costs of systems, which could encourage widespread adoption of methane emission mitigation at natural gas sites.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Achieving a 10,000 GPU Permeance for Post-Combustion Carbon Capture with Gelled Ionic Liquid-Based Membranes

Alongside Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute, the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) is developing a membrane made of a gelled ionic liquid to capture CO2 from the exhaust of coal-fired power plants. The membranes are created by spraying the gelled ionic liquids in thin layers onto porous support structures using a specialized coating technique. The new membrane is highly efficient at pulling CO2 out of coal-derived flue gas exhaust while restricting the flow of other materials through it. The design involves few chemicals or moving parts and is more mechanically stable than current technologies. The team is now working to further optimize the gelled materials for CO2 separation and create a membrane layer that is less than 1 micrometer thick.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Radiative Cooled-Cold Storage Modules and Systems (RadiCold)

Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) will develop Radicold, a radiative cooling and cold water storage system to enable supplemental cooling for thermoelectric power plants. In the Radicold system, condenser water circulates through a series of pipes and passes under a number of cooling modules before it is sent to the central water storage unit. Each cooling module consists of a novel radiative-cooling surface integrated on top of a thermosiphon, thereby simultaneously cooling the water and eliminating the need for a pump to circulate it. The microstructured polymer film discharges heat from the water by radiating in the infrared through the Earth's atmosphere into the heat sink of cold, deep space. Below the film, a metal film reflects all incoming sunlight. This results in cooling with a heat flux of more than 100 W/m2 during both day and nighttime operation. CU-Boulder will use roll-to-roll manufacturing, a low-cost manufacturing technique that is capable of high-volume production, to fabricate the microstructured RadiCold film.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Battery-Free RFID Sensor Network with spatiotemporal Pattern Network Based Data Fusion System for Human Presence Sensing

The University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) will develop an integrated occupancy detection system based on a radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensor network combined with privacy-preserving microphones and low-resolution cameras to detect human presence. The system may also analyze electrical noise on power lines throughout a residential home to infer occupancy in different areas. The system will draw its accuracy from the combination of data sources, uncovering human presence not only from physical image and audio sensor data, but also considering what electrical activity reveals about human activity. All of these data streams (image, audio, and electrical activity) will be combined in computationally efficient ways to enable high accuracy human presence detection. The low powered devices in this system will be wirelessly powered, allowing the system to be deployed in a home without costly and invasive rewiring.

University of Colorado, Boulder

A High-Voltage, High-Reliability Scalable Architechture for Electric Vehicle Power Electronics 

The University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Bolder) and its project team will develop new composite SiC power converter technology that achieves high power and voltage conversion (250 VDC to 1200 VDC) in a smaller package than ever achieved due largely to improved switching dynamics and reduced need for large passive energy storage components. Also, utilizing higher system voltage in vehicular power systems has been proven to enable vehicle manufacturers to use thinner and lighter wires and improve vehicle powertrain system efficiency. The team seeks to demonstrate the power converter as an on-board, high-power, multifunctional system for both charging electric vehicles and providing power to the motor. The project will lead to experimental demonstration of a 100 kW multifunction electric vehicle power conversion system that includes integrated wired charging and wireless charging functions. If successful, the CU-Boulder team will make important progress towards reducing the size, cost, and complexity of power systems associated with electric vehicles.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Carbothermal Reduction Process for Producing Magnesium Metal using a Hybrid Solar/Electric Reactor

University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder) is developing a new solar-powered magnesium production reactor with dramatically improved energy efficiency compared to conventional technologies. Today's magnesium production processes are expensive and require large amounts of electricity. CU-Boulder's reactor can be heated using either concentrated solar power during the day or by electricity at night. CU-Boulder's reactor would dramatically reduce CO2 emissions compared to existing technologies at lower cost because it requires less electricity and can be powered using solar energy. In addition, the reactor can produce syngas, a synthetic gasoline precursor, which could be used to power cars and trucks.

University of Florida

A New Generation Solar and Waste Heat Power Absorption Chiller

The University of Florida is improving a refrigeration system that uses low-quality heat to provide the energy needed to drive cooling. This system, known as absorption refrigeration system (ARS), typically consists of large coils that transfer heat. Unfortunately, these large heat exchanger coils are responsible for bulkiness and high cost of ARS. The University of Florida is using new materials as well as system design innovations to develop nanoengineered membranes to allow for enhanced heat exchange that reduces bulkiness. This design allows for compact, cheaper, and more reliable use of ARS that use solar or waste heat.

University of Houston

High-Performance, Low-Cost Superconducting Wires and Coils for High Power Wind Generators

The University of Houston is developing a low-cost, high-current superconducting wire that could be used in high-power wind generators. Superconducting wire currently transports 600 times more electric current than a similarly sized copper wire, but is significantly more expensive. The University of Houston's innovation is based on engineering nanoscale defects in the superconducting film. This could quadruple the current relative to today's superconducting wires, supporting the same amount of current using 25% of the material. This would make wind generators lighter, more powerful and more efficient. The design could result in a several-fold reduction in wire costs and enable their commercial viability of high-power wind generators for use in offshore applications.

University of Illinois, Chicago

Universal Battery Supercharger

The University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) will develop a new high-power converter circuit architecture for fast charging of electric vehicles (EV). Their wide-bandgap universal battery supercharger (UBS) is designed using a unique AC/DC converter system. Fast-switching silicon carbide (SiC) field-effect transistors (FETs) with integrated gate-drivers are used to achieve the targeted compactness. A novel hybrid-modulation method is used to switch the SiC-FETs to reduce the semiconductor power losses and improve the efficiency. The UBS uses integrated filters, which reduce the electromagnetic noise and system weight. The UBS circuit is reliable because it uses film capacitors instead of electrolytic capacitors that have reduced durability. The reduced weight and size of the UBS can enable both off-board stationary fast charging systems and as a portable add-on system for EV customers who require range enhancement and quick charging in 15 minutes. If successful, project developments will not only help accelerate the development of EV charging infrastructure, but the system will have bidirectional power flow capability enabling vehicle-to-grid dispatching.

University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

Harvesting Low Quality Heat Using Economically Printed Flexible Nanostructured Stacked Thermoelectric Junctions

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is experimenting with silicon-based materials to develop flexible thermoelectric devices--which convert heat into energy--that can be mass-produced at low cost. A thermoelectric device, which resembles a computer chip, creates electricity when a different temperature is applied to each of its sides. Existing commercial thermoelectric devices contain the element tellurium, which limits production levels because tellurium has become increasingly rare. UIUC is replacing this material with microscopic silicon wires that are considerably cheaper and could be equally effective. Improvements in thermoelectric device production could return enough wasted heat to add up to 23% to our current annual electricity production.

University of Kentucky

A Solvent/Membrane Hybrid Post-combustion CO2 Capture Process for Existing Coal-Fired Power Plants

The University of Kentucky is developing a hybrid approach to capturing CO2 from the exhaust gas of coal-fired power plants. In the first, CO2 is removed as flue gas is passed through an aqueous ammonium-based solvent. In the second, carbon-rich solution from the CO2 absorber is passed through a membrane that is designed to selectively transport the bound carbon, enhancing its concentration on the permeate side. The team's approach would combine the best of both membrane- and solvent-based carbon capture technologies. Under the ARPA-E award, the team is enabling the membrane operation to be a drop-in solution.


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