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General Electric

Microstructured Fiber for Infrared Absorption Measurements of Methane Concentration

General Electric (GE) Global Research will partner with Virginia Tech to design, fabricate, and test a novel, hollow core, microstructured optical fiber for long path-length transmission of infrared radiation at methane absorption wavelengths. GE will drill micrometer-sized side-holes to allow gases to penetrate into the hollow core. The team will use a combination of techniques to quantify and localize the methane in the hollow core. GE's plans to develop fibers that can be designed to fit any natural gas system, providing flexibility to adapt to the needs of a monitoring program in a wide variety of places along the natural gas value chain, including transmission and gathering pipelines. GE anticipates that the fiber detector will be cost competitive with other highly selective methane detectors, and therefore offer innovative capabilities for more cost effective methane monitoring.

General Electric

Nanostructured Scalable Thick-Film Magnetics

Magnetic components are typically the largest components in a power converter. To date, however, researchers haven't found an effective way to reduce their size without negatively impacting their performance. And, reducing the size of the converter's other components isn't usually an option because shrinking them can also diminish the effectiveness of the magnetic components. General Electric (GE) Global Research is developing smaller magnetic components for power converters that maintain high performance levels. The company is building smaller components with magnetic films. These films are created using the condensation of a vaporized form of the magnetic material. It's a purely physical process that involves no chemical reactions, so the film composition is uniform. This process makes it possible to create a millimeter-thick film deposition over a wide surface area fairly quickly, which would save on manufacturing costs. In fact, GE can produce 1-10 millimeter-thick films in hours. The magnetic components that GE is developing for this project could be used in a variety of applications, including solar inverters, electric vehicles, and lighting.

General Electric

Charge-Balanced SiC FETs for Breakthrough Power Conversion

The team led by General Electric (GE) Global Research will develop a new high-voltage, solid-state Silicon Carbide (SiC) Field-Effect Transistor (FET) charge-balanced device, also known as a "Superjunction." These devices have become the industry norm in high-voltage Silicon switching devices, because they allow for more efficient switching at higher voltages and frequencies. The team proposes to demonstrate charge balanced SiC devices for the first time. Their approach will offer scaling up to 15kV while reducing losses for power conversion applications by 10x when compared with existing silicon bipolar devices and competing SiC approaches. This will enable highly efficient, medium-voltage, multi-megawatt power conversion for conventional and renewable energy applications. The technology could dramatically reduce energy consumption and emissions for applications such as solar, wind, mining, oil and gas development, and medical devices. If these efficient devices were widely adopted the technology could save enough energy to power 5.9 million homes annually. It can also have a significant impact on medium voltage drives for high-speed motors and transportation applications, including hybrid and electric vehicles. In rail applications, the higher voltage and higher frequencies afforded by SiC devices could reduce the total energy consumption by as much as 30%.

General Motors

Lightweight Thermal Energy Recovery (LIGHTER) System

General Motors (GM) is using shape memory alloys that require as little as a 10°C temperature difference to convert low-grade waste heat into mechanical energy. When a stretched wire made of shape memory alloy is heated, it shrinks back to its pre-stretched length. When the wire cools back down, it becomes more pliable and can revert to its original stretched shape. This expansion and contraction can be used directly as mechanical energy output or used to drive an electric generator. Shape memory alloy heat engines have been around for decades, but the few devices that engineers have built were too complex, required fluid baths, and had insufficient cycle life for practical use. GM is working to create a prototype that is practical for commercial applications and capable of operating with either air- or fluid-based heat sources. GM's shape memory alloy based heat engine is also designed for use in a variety of non-vehicle applications. For example, it can be used to harvest non-vehicle heat sources, such as domestic and industrial waste heat and natural geothermal heat, and in HVAC systems and generators.

GeneSiC Semiconductor

Silicon Carbide Anode Switched Thyristor for Medium-Voltage Power Conversion

GeneSiC Semiconductor is developing an advanced silicon-carbide (SiC)-based semiconductor called an anode-switched thyristor. This low-cost, compact SiC semiconductor conducts higher levels of electrical energy with better precision than traditional silicon semiconductors. This efficiency will enable a dramatic reduction in the size, weight, and volume of the power converters and the electronic devices they are used in. GeneSiC is developing its SiC-based semiconductor for utility-scale power converters. Traditional silicon semiconductors can't process the high voltages that utility-scale power distribution requires, and they must be stacked in complicated circuits that require bulky insulation and cooling hardware. GeneSiC's semiconductors are well suited for high-power applications like large-scale renewable wind and solar energy installations.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Highly Laminated, High-Saturation-Flux-Density Magnetic Cores for On-Chip Inductors in Power Converter Applications

Georgia Tech Research Corporation is creating compact, low-profile power adapters and power bricks using materials and tools adapted from other industries and from grid-scale power applications. Adapters and bricks convert electrical energy into usable power for many types of electronic devices, including laptop computers and mobile phones. These converters are often called wall warts because they are big, bulky, and sometimes cover up an adjacent wall socket that could be used to power another electronic device. The magnetic components traditionally used to make adapters and bricks have reached their limits; they can't be made any smaller without sacrificing performance. Georgia Tech is taking a cue from grid-scale power converters that use iron alloys as magnetic cores. These low-cost alloys can handle more power than other materials, but the iron must be stacked in insulated plates to maximize energy efficiency. In order to create compact, low-profile power adapters and bricks, these stacked iron plates must be extremely thin--only hundreds of nanometers in thickness, in fact. To make plates this thin, Georgia Tech is using manufacturing tools used in microelectromechanics and other small-scale industries.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

High Performance Metal Organic Frameworks/Polymer Composite Membranes for Carbon Dioxide Capture

A team of six faculty members at Georgia Tech Research Corporation is developing an enhanced membrane by fitting metal organic frameworks, compounds that show great promise for improved carbon capture, into hollow fiber membranes. This new material would be highly efficient at removing CO2 from the flue gas produced at coal-fired power plants. The team is analyzing thousands of metal organic frameworks to identify those that are most suitable for carbon capture based both on their ability to allow coal exhaust to pass easily through them and their ability to select CO2 from that exhaust for capture and storage. The most suitable frameworks would be inserted into the walls of the hollow fiber membranes, making the technology readily scalable due to their high surface area. This composite membrane would be highly stable, withstanding the harsh gas environment found in coal exhaust.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Scalable and Robust Zeolitic Imidazolate Framework (ZIF) Membranes Supported on Hollow Fibers for Olefin Separations

Georgia Tech Research Corporation will develop hollow fiber membranes containing metal-organic framework (MOF) thin films to separate propylene from propane. The nanoporous MOF film is supported on the inside surfaces of the tubular polymeric hollow fibers. Chemicals introduced into the center of the tube are separated through the MOF membrane by a molecular sieving process. Traditional olefin production processes are performed at pressures up to 20 bar, requiring large energy and capital costs. A key feature of the team's technology is the ability to synthesize membranes at near-ambient liquid-phase conditions and perform olefin separation at lower pressures as low as 6 bar. As the team evaluates using its MOF membranes to separate propylene from propane, the team will also develop detailed correlations between processing conditions, membrane morphology, and membrane performance. Another important task is to perform a detailed economic evaluation of the technology and establish its economic advantages compared to existing and other proposed technologies. The general separations concept also has potential to be used for a larger range of petrochemical and gas separations.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Modular Thermal Hub for Building Heating, Cooling, and Water Heating

Georgia Tech Research Corporation is using innovative components and system design to develop a new type of absorption heat pump. Georgia Tech's new heat pumps are energy efficient, use refrigerants that do not emit greenhouse gases, and can run on energy from combustion, waste heat, or solar energy. Georgia Tech is leveraging enhancements to heat and mass transfer technology possible in micro-scale passages and removing hurdles to the use of heat-activated heat pumps that have existed for more than a century. Use of micro-scale passages allows for miniaturization of systems that can be packed as monolithic full-system packages or discrete, distributed components enabling integration into a variety of residential and commercial buildings. Compared to conventional heat pumps, Georgia Tech's design innovations will create an absorption heat pump that is much smaller, has higher energy efficiency, and can also be mass produced at a lower cost and assembly time. Georgia Tech received a separate award of up to $2,315,845 from the Department of the Navy to help decrease military fuel use.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Grid-Connected Modular Soft-Switching Solid State Transformers (M-S4T)

Georgia Tech Research Corporation and its project team will develop a solid-state transformer for medium-voltage grid applications using silicon carbide with a focus on compact size and high-performance. Traditional grid connected transformers have been used for over 100 years to 'step down' higher voltage to lower voltage. Higher voltages allows for delivery of power over longer distances and lower voltages keeps consumers safe. But traditional distribution transformers lack integrated sensing, communications, and controls. They also lack the ability to control the voltage, current, frequency, power factor or anything else to improve local or global performance. Solid-state transformers can provide improvements and Georgia Tech's design seeks to address major roadblocks to their implementation, namely insulation, cooling, voltage change, and magnetic field issues, as well as downstream protection against abnormal current faults. If successful, the team will greatly increase transformer functionality while reducing its size over current technologies, affecting application areas like grid energy storage, solar photovoltaics and electric vehicle fast chargers, while also enabling better grid monitoring and easy retrofits.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Dynamic Control of Grid Assets Using Direct AC Converter Cells

Georgia Tech Research Corporation is developing a cost-effective, utility-scale power router that uses an enhanced transformer to more efficiently direct power on the grid. Existing power routing technologies are too expensive for widespread use, but the ability to route grid power to match real-time demand and power outages would significantly reduce energy costs for utilities, municipalities, and consumers. Georgia Tech is adding a power converter to an existing grid transformer to better control power flows at about 1/10th the cost of existing power routing solutions. Transformers convert the high-voltage electricity that is transmitted through the grid into the low-voltage electricity that is used by homes and businesses. The added converter uses fewer steps to convert some types of power and eliminates unnecessary power storage, among other improvements. The enhanced transformer is more efficient, and it would still work even if the converter fails, ensuring grid reliability.

Grid Logic, Inc.

Development of a New Generation High-Temperature Superconducting Composite Conductor Delivered at $20/(kA m) with Low AC Loss

Grid Logic is developing a new type of electrical superconductor that could significantly improve the performance (in $/kA-m) and lower the cost of high-power energy generation, transmission, and distribution. Grid Logic is using a new manufacturing technique to coat very fine particles of superconducting material with an extremely thin layer--less than 1/1,000 the width of a human hair--of a low-cost metal composite. This new manufacturing process is not only much simpler and more cost effective than the process used to make today's state-of-the-art high-power superconductors, but also it makes superconductive cables easier to handle and improves their electrical properties in certain applications.

Grid Logic, Inc.

Production of Nanostructured Core/Shell Powders for Exchange Spring Magnet Applications

The Grid Logic team is adapting a form of vapor deposition technology to demonstrate a new approach to creating powerful hybrid magnets. This "physical vapor deposition particle encapsulation technology" utilizes an inert atmosphere chamber, which allows for precisely controlled and reproducible pressure, gas flow, and fluidization conditions for a powder vessel. The team will use this specialized chamber to fabricate nanostructured exchange-spring magnets, which require careful control of material dimension and composition. Nanostructured exchange-spring magnets are composite magnetic materials that use an exchange between soft magnetic materials, which have high saturation magnetization but are easily demagnetized, and hard magnetic materials that are difficult to demagnetize but have lower saturation magnetization and high coercivity. In this case, the team will create magnets consisting of Manganese Bismuth (MnBi) hard magnetic core particles with nanometer-scale Cobalt (Co) soft magnet shells. If successful, the team will demonstrate a process for producing: 1) A hard magnet core particle capable of withstanding a strong external magnetic field without becoming demagnetized; and 2) A soft magnet shell providing high magnetic saturation (i.e. maximum magnetization due to an external magnetic field). By combining precise control of nano-scale layering, material ratios, and material interfaces the project could develop a magnet that rivals permanent magnets made from rare earth elements. As an ARPA-E IDEAS project, this early stage research will provide proof of concept showing that the particle encapsulation system developed in this project can enable large-scale, cost-efficient production of composite magnets that do not require rare earth elements.

Harvard University

Transistor-less Power Supply Technology Based on UWBG Nonlinear Transmission Line

Harvard University in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories will develop a transistor-less 16kW DC to DC converter boosting a 0.5kV DC input to 8kV that is scalable to 100kW. If successful, the transistor-less DC to DC converter could improve the performance of power electronics for electric vehicles, commercial power supplies, renewable energy systems, grid operations, and other applications. Converting DC to DC is a two-step process that traditionally uses fast-switching transistors to convert a DC input to an AC signal before the signal is rectified to a DC output. The Harvard and Sandia team will improve the process by replacing the active, fast-switching transistors with a slow switch followed by a passive, nonlinear transmission line (NLTL). The NLTL is a ladder network of passive components (inductors and diodes) that provide a nonlinear output with voltage. The combination of the nonlinear behavior with dispersion converts a quasi-DC input into a series of sharper and taller (amplified) voltage pulses called solitons, thus executing the DC to AC conversion without the use of active, fast-switching transistors. The NLTL will be followed by a high breakdown voltage silicon carbide and/or gallium nitride diode-based accumulator that converts the series of solitons to a DC output. Replacing the fast-switching transistors with a slow switch and a NLTL addresses the cost, size, efficiency, and reliability issues associated with fast switching based converters. Diodes also cost less and last longer because they are simpler structures than transistors and use no dielectrics. Efficiency, cost, and reliability improvements provided by a NLTL-based power converter will drastically benefit commercial power supplies, industrial motors, electric vehicles, data centers, the electric grid, and renewable electric power generation such as solar and wind.

HRL Laboratories, LLC

Gallium-Nitride Switch Technology for Bi-Directional Battery-to-Grid Charger Applications

HRL Laboratories is using gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors to create battery chargers for electric vehicles (EVs) that are more compact and efficient than traditional EV chargers. Reducing the size and weight of the battery charger is important because it would help improve the overall performance of the EV. GaN semiconductors process electricity faster than the silicon semiconductors used in most conventional EV battery chargers. These high-speed semiconductors can be paired with lighter-weight electrical circuit components, which helps decrease the overall weight of the EV battery charger. HRL Laboratories is combining the performance advantages of GaN semiconductors with an innovative, interactive battery-to-grid energy distribution design. This design would support 2-way power flow, enabling EV battery chargers to not only draw energy from the power grid, but also store and feed energy back into it.

HRL Laboratories, LLC

Low-Cost Gallium Nitride Vertical Transistor

HRL Laboratories will develop a high-performance, low-cost, vertical gallium nitride (GaN) transistor that could displace the silicon transistor technologies used in most high-power switching applications today. GaN transistors can operate at higher temperatures, voltages, and currents than their silicon counterparts, but they are expensive to manufacture. HRL will combine innovations in semiconductor material growth, device fabrication, and circuit design to create its high-performance GaN vertical transistor at a competitive manufacturing cost.

iBeam Materials, Inc.

GaN LEDs on Flexible Metal Foils

iBeam Materials is developing a scalable manufacturing method to produce low-cost gallium nitride (GaN) LED devices for use in solid-state lighting. iBeam Materials uses an ion-beam crystal-aligning process to create single-crystal-like templates on arbitrary substrates thereby eliminating the need for small rigid single-crystal substrates. This process is inexpensive, high-output, and allows for large-area deposition in particular on flexible metal foils. In using flexible substrates, in contrast to rigid single-crystal wafers, the ion-aligning process also enables roll-to-roll (R2R) processing of crystalline films. R2R processing in turn simplifies manufacturing scale-up by reducing equipment footprint and associated labor costs By fabricating the LED directly on a metal substrate, one "pre-packages" the LED with the reflector and the heat sink built-in. This significantly reduces cost, simplifies packaging and allows a pick-and-place (P&P) technology to be replaced with printing of LEDs.

IBM T. J. Watson Research Center

An Intelligent Multi-modal CH4 Measurement System (AIMS)

IBM's T.J Watson Research Center is working in conjunction with Harvard University and Princeton University to develop an energy-efficient, self-organizing mesh network to gather data over a distributed methane measurement system. Data will be passed to a cloud-based analytics system using custom models to quantify the amount and rate of methane leakage. Additionally, IBM is developing new, low-cost optical sensors that will use tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy (TDLAS) for methane detection. While today's optical sensors offer excellent sensitivity and selectivity, their high cost and power requirements prevent widespread adoption. To overcome these hurdles, IBM and its partners plan to produce a miniaturized, integrated, on-chip version that is less expensive and consumes less power. At a planned cost of about $300 per sensor, IBM's sensors will be 10 to 100 times cheaper than TDLAS sensors on the market today. By advancing an affordable methane detection system that can be customized, IBM's technology could enable producers to more efficiently locate and repair methane leaks, and therefore reduce overall methane emissions.

IBM T. J. Watson Research Center

Multi-Wavelength Optical Transceivers Integrated on Node 

IBM T.J. Watson Research Center will develop a two-pronged approach to improve future datacenter efficiency.. New optical interconnect solutions can provide a path to energy-efficient datacenters at higher bandwidth levels, but they must also meet key metrics including power density, cost, latency, reliability, and signal integrity. IBM's team will use their expertise with vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) to develop VCSEL-based optical interconnect technology capable of meeting the necessary future demands. VCSEL-based interconnects offer an appealing combination of low power consumption, small size, high performance, low cost, and manufacturability. The team will work to increase the operating speed of VCSELs, detectors, and the associated circuits, while also developing packaging solutions to install optical interconnects on the integrated circuit. This integration will allow the system to eliminate the traditional driver and receiver electronics of most board-mounted optical modules, greatly reducing the cost and energy use of data transfer. The team will eventually use single-ended signaling to drive and receive signals from the modules directly, increasing the bandwidth of the system chips by at least two times and improving power efficiencies across the datacenter.

IBM T. J. Watson Research Center

Optical Network using Rapid Amplified Multi-wavelength Photonic Switches (ONRAMPS)

The IBM T.J. Watson Research Center will develop datacenter networking technology incorporating extremely fast switching devices that operate on the nanosecond scale. At the heart of the process is the development of a new type of photonic switch. The dominant switching technology today are electronic switches that toggle connections between two wires, each wire providing a different communication channel. A photonic switch toggles connections between two optical fibers, where each individual fiber themselves can carry many communication channels allowing immense numbers of data transfers. Previously, photonic (or optical) switches exhibited slow switching speeds and were difficult to manufacture in high volumes, which limited their usage. IBM's photonic switches can switch quickly, similar to electronic switches, and can be fabricated using the same tools and procedures used to manufacture today's most complex microprocessors. Because each optical port carries significantly more data than their electronic counterparts, fewer ports are needed to route the same amount of data. The technology also saves time and energy because employing direct optical switching can reduce the number of times the signal needs to be converted back and forth from the electrical to optical domain and vice versa. Datacenter efficiency (including computing, memory, and communication) can be significantly improved by using photonic switches to develop new networks capable of exploiting these improvements.


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