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Electricity Generation and Delivery

University of Washington

Development of stable magnetized target fusion (MTF) plasmas for innovative, low-cost fusion power plants

The University of Washington (UW) will develop a new approach to generate edge transport barriers (ETBs), a way to confine and retain plasma heat. Many low-cost magnetized target fusion concepts rely on plasmas having sufficient energy confinement to reach the necessary densities and temperatures required for the large-scale production of fusion power. ETBs enable higher performance (better energy confinement), and more compact fusion plasmas for mainline fusion experiments. Unfortunately, state-of-the-art ETB generation is thought to be impractical for smaller and/or pulsed plasma experiments because it requires complex external magnetic fields, current profile shaping, and heating. The University of Washington team has recently discovered a new, simpler, approach to ETB generation that may be as effective as the state-of-the art approaches. Their method is to drive the current at the edge of a plasma while applying magnetic perturbations, thus injecting a corkscrew-like motion into the plasma, producing edge velocity shear that creates an ETB. If successful, this approach would allow ETBs to be used in smaller plasma systems, an important step on the pathway to fusion energy.

University of Wisconsin

An Integrated High Pressure SOFC and Premixed Compression Ignition Engine System

The University of Wisconsin - Madison will develop components for a hybrid distributed energy generation system that couples a pressurized solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) with a premixed compression ignition (PCI) engine system. In the resulting system, gases that leave the fuel cell, which consumes about 75% of the fuel, are directed into the engine to be ignited by compression of the pistons. To achieve a targeted 70% electric efficiency, the SOFC system must operate near 75% fuel utilization. When operating at this high level of fuel utilization, however, the flame speed of the leftover fuel in the cell's "tailgas" is too low to be used effectively in a conventional spark-ignited engine. The team will address this challenge by using a novel, PCI engine concept that adds an extra burst of spark-ignited natural gas, improving engine efficiency. The system will be analyzed in conjunction with a next generation, intermediate temperature (600°C to 800°C), metal-supported SOFC, but the final engine system will be designed to be suitable with any pressurized, intermediate temperature SOFC. With this universal capability, the final product will be an engine system that can "plug into" any intermediate temperature SOFC system. The team's design targets larger industrial applications, aiming for systems as large as 1MW.

University of Wisconsin

EPIGRIDS:Electric Power Infrastructure & Grid Representation in Interoperable Data Sets

The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) and its partners will develop realistic transmission system models and scenarios that will serve as test cases to reduce barriers to the development and adoption of new technologies in grid optimization and control. The EPIGRIDS project aims to construct realistic grid models by using software to emulate the transmission and generation expansion decision processes used by utility planners. This synthetic model development will utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data on population density, industrial and commercial energy consumption patterns, and land use, over sizes ranging from the city-level to continental-scale. In order to test the robustness of the system's solutions, it will allow users to tailor specific data sets and scenarios to challenge particular aspects of optimization and control algorithm development. Flexible methodologies for data set construction and connecting features of these data sets to geographically described energy use and land use constraints will enable collaborative development of new models, far beyond those directly delivered by this project.

University of Wisconsin

A Persistence Meter for Nimble Alarming Using Ambient Synchrophasor Data

Vacuum Process Engineering, Inc.

Compact Diffusion Bonded Printed-Circuit Heat Exchanger Development Using Nickel Superalloys for Highly Power Dense and Efficient Modular Energy Production Systems

Vacuum Process engineering will develop a superalloy-based printed circuit heat exchanger for operation at temperatures exceeding 800°C (1472°F) and pressures above 80 bar (1160 psi). The team will build the heat exchanger applying a diffusion solid-state welding manufacturing technique, which uses stacked individual metal sheets with semi-circular channels formed from a chemical treatment process. The goal is to create a highly effective, high temperature compact heat exchanger with a high-strength bond during the welding capable of containing the very high pressure fluid at elevated temperatures. This project will enable increased deployment of clean, efficient, compact, and cost-effective power dense power production systems that will reduce energy-related emissions.

Vanderbilt University

Resilient Information Architecture Platform for the Smart Grid

Vanderbilt University will develop a foundation platform for developing and deploying robust, reliable, effective and secure software applications for the Smart Grid. The Resilient Information Architecture Platform for the Smart Grid (RIAPS) provides core services for building effective and powerful smart grid applications. It offers unique services for real-time data dissemination, fault tolerance, and coordination across apps distributed over the network. The platform will allow plug-and-play architecture by providing a software layer that isolates the hardware details making software applications portable across multiple devices and enabling interoperability among heterogeneous devices and applications. Additionally, the RIAPS will be supported by a model-driven development toolchain to reduce development costs. The platform will allow apps to be upgraded and dynamically reconfigured in the field and will enable a marketplace of hardware device vendors, app developers, and end users to sell and buy products and services that will interoperate. Vanderbilt's team will develop and prototype the platform using an open source code base. The team will also construct representative open source energy management software apps that will demonstrate the effectiveness and dependability of the system, while offering a starting point for commercial implementations. The team expects the platform to become an industry standard on which Smart Grid applications can reliably run, much in the same way Android and iOS have become industry standard platforms for smartphones.

Varentec, Inc.

Compact Dynamic Phase Angle Regulators for Transmission Power Routing

Varentec is developing compact, low-cost transmission power controllers with fractional power rating for controlling power flow on transmission networks. The technology will enhance grid operations through improved use of current assets and by dramatically reducing the number of transmission lines that have to be built to meet increasing contributions of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The proposed transmission controllers would allow for the dynamic control of voltage and power flow, improving the grid's ability to dispatch power in real time to the places where it is most needed. The controllers would work as fail-safe devices whereby the grid would be restored to its present operating state in the event of a controller malfunction instead of failing outright. The ability to affordably and dynamically control power flow with adequate fail-safe switchgear could open up new competitive energy markets which are not possible under the current regulatory structure and technology base.

Washington State University

De-Coupled Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Gas Turbine Hybrid (dFC-GT)

Washington State University will develop a hybrid power system using a high-pressure, high-temperature fuel cell stack and gas turbine. The project will examine the benefits of a decoupled design, in which the fuel cell stack and gas turbine components are not directly connected within the hybrid system. The team's other primary innovation is the integration of a membrane to concentrate oxygen from air supplied by the turbine before feeding it into the fuel cell, which avoids pressurizing the entire air feed stream, improving performance and boosting efficiency. The pressurized solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) and a micro gas turbine (mGT) are physically separated by the ceramic oxygen transport membrane (OTM), which prevents the SOFC from being exposed to damaging pressure surges from the mGT. In this way, the decoupled system allows the individual components to contribute synergistically to the high-efficiency, cost-effective hybrid power generation system. By combining the efficiency of pressurized SOFC operation using natural gas and pure oxygen fuel with a microturbine in a decoupled configuration, the team hopes to achieve 75% fuel-to-electric efficiency.

Washington University

Reinforced AEM Separators Based on Triblock Copolymers for Electrode-decoupled RFBs

The Washington University team will develop new membrane separators for redox flow batteries using a styrene-ethylene-butylene block copolymer. The team will investigate three types of membrane construction to achieve the high levels of ion selectivity and mechanical stability necessary for use in flow batteries. If needed, the team will also explore the addition of inorganic silica particles in the polymer membrane to enhance selectivity. While many flow batteries utilize proton exchange membrane (PEM) separators that conduct positively-charged ions, the proposed membrane in this project is an anion exchange membrane (AEM) that will conduct negatively-charged ions. An inexpensive, durable AEM will allow for improved efficiency and lower system cost in existing flow battery systems such as the iron-chromium redox flow battery as well as enabling development of new low-cost chemistries.

West Virginia University Research Corporation

Advanced Stirling Power Generation System for Combined Heat and Power

West Virginia University Research Corporation (WVURC) and their partner, Infinia Technology Corporation, propose to demonstrate an advanced Stirling power generation system for residential CHP applications. 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 helium 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. This project makes extensive use of additive manufacturing i.e. constructing components one layer at a time - similar to 3D printing. They propose using additive manufacturing because building the system as one piece minimizes interfacial heat losses and improves heat transfer, leading to increased efficiency.

West Virginia University Research Corporation

Oscillating Linear Engine and Alternator

West Virginia University Research Corporation (WVURC), along with its partners at ANSYS, Inc., Sustainable Engineering, Wilson Works, and Stryke Industries, will develop a CHP generator for residential use based on a two-stroke, spark-ignited free-piston internal combustion engine (ICE). Traditional internal combustion engines use the force generated by the combustion of a fuel (natural gas in this case) to move a piston, transferring chemical energy to mechanical energy, which when used in conjunction with a generator produces electricity. This free-piston design differs from traditional slider-crank ICE models by eliminating the crankshaft and using a spring to increase frequency and stabilize operation. The resulting design is compact with few moving parts and has reduced frictional losses. In place of a traditional alternator, this engine drives a permanent magnet linear electric generator.

Westinghouse Electric Company LLC

Self-regulating, Solid Core Block "SCB" for an Inherently Safe Heat Pipe Reactor

Westinghouse Electric Company will develop a self-regulating "solid core block" (SCB) that employs solid material (instead of bulk liquid flow or moving parts) to passively regulate the reaction rate in a micro-scale nuclear reactor. The project aims for the reactor to achieve safe shutdown without the need for additional controls, external power sources, or operator intervention, enabling highly autonomous operation. The SCB is key to the reactor design, which is comprised of a core (containing fuel, moderator, and axial reflectors) and primary and decay heat exchangers, all connected end to end by horizontal heat pipes. During off-normal conditions, the reactor will shut itself down and promptly dissipate the decay heat for an indefinite amount of time without any operator intervention or using any control systems, improving safety. The team will conduct modeling and simulations to predict the SCB's inherent self-regulating ability. It will then fabricate and test several SCB samples to validate the modeling and simulation tools and confirm feasibility of advanced manufacturing techniques. The SCB will be the central component of the team's complete micro reactor concept, a robust product that aims to overcome many common challenges of current nuclear power plants, including complicated plant designs, uncertain construction times, high operating and financing costs, and load following limitations.

Wisconsin Engine Research Consultants, LLC

Spark-Assisted HCCI Residential Generator

Wisconsin Engine Research Consultants (WERC) and its partners Adiabatics, Briggs and Stratton, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison will develop a generator using an internal combustion engine (ICE) that incorporates an advanced spark-assisted homogeneous charge compression ignition (SA-HCCI) system. Traditional internal combustion engines use the force generated by the combustion of a fuel (e.g. natural gas) to move a piston, transferring chemical energy to mechanical energy. This can then be used in conjunction with a generator to create electricity. SA-HCCI systems achieve combustion by compressing their fuel/air mix to the point of ignition, with a spark helping to initiate the process. These systems run very fuel lean and achieve high efficiency and waste less heat compared to conventional ICEs. In addition, the WERC team will further increase efficiency by incorporating thermal barrier coatings, an advanced boost system, and an optimized low-friction combustion chamber.

Yale University

Power Generation from Waste Heat with Closed-Loop Membrane-Based System

Yale University is developing a system to generate electricity using low-temperature waste heat from power plants, industrial facilities, and geothermal wells. Low-temperature waste heat is a vast, mostly untapped potential energy source. Yale's closed loop system begins with waste heat as an input. This waste heat will separate an input salt water stream into two output streams, one with high salt concentration and one with low salt concentration. In the next stage, the high and low concentration salt streams will be recombined. Mixing these streams releases energy which can then be captured. The mixed saltwater stream is then sent back to the waste heat source, allowing the process to begin again. Yale's system for generating electricity from low-temperature waste heat could considerably increase the efficiency of power generation systems.

Yale University

Dual-Junction Solar Cells for High-Efficiency at Elevated Temperature

Yale University is developing a dual-junction solar cell that can operate efficiently at temperatures above 400 °C, unlike today's solar cells, which lose efficiency rapidly above 100°C and are likely to fail at high temperatures over time. Yale's specialized dual-junction design will allow the cell to extract significantly more energy from the sun at high temperature than today's cells, enabling the next generation of hybrid solar converters to deliver much higher quantities of electricity and highly useful dispatchable heat. Heat rejected from the cells at high temperature can be stored and used to generate electricity with a heat engine much more effectively than cells producing heat at lower temperatures. Therefore, electricity can be produced at higher overall efficiency for use even when the sun is not shining.

Yellowstone Energy

Reactivity Control Device for Advanced Reactors

Yellowstone Energy will develop a new passive control technology to enhance safety and reduce nuclear power plant costs. The team's Reactivity Control Device (RCD) will integrate with the Yellowstone Energy Molten Nitrate Salt Reactor and other advanced reactor designs. The RCD will use fluid embedded in the reactor's control rods to control reaction rates at elevated temperatures, even in the absence of external controls. As the heating from fission increases or decreases, the fluid density will automatically and passively respond to control the system. The RCD's passive control is highly beneficial for ensuring reactor safety and stability under normal operation and accident scenarios. The team will use simulation tools to determine the effectiveness of the control device and conduct a techno-economic analysis at the plant level to determine cost effectiveness. If successful, the system will provide a high level of resiliency and reliability while significantly improving the economics and safety of many advanced reactor designs. The RCD may also serve as the basis for additional innovations in reactor designs including a broader range of coolant salts in solid fueled, salt-cooled reactors and further advanced reactor defense against cybersecurity threats.

Zap Energy Incorporated

Advancing Performance and Electrode Technology for the Sheared-Flow Z-Pinch Fusion Concept

Zap Energy will advance the fusion performance of the sheared-flow stabilized (SFS) Z-pinch fusion concept. While the simplicity of the Z-pinch is attractive, it has been plagued by plasma instabilities. Like traditional Z-pinch approaches, the SFS Z-pinch drives electrical current through a plasma to create magnetic fields that compress and heat the plasma toward fusion conditions. The innovation of the SFS Z-pinch is the velocity gradient across the radius of the Z-pinch--in other words, the outer edge of the plasma column is moving at a different velocity than the center--which stabilizes the plasma instabilities of traditional Z-pinches. In this project the team will raise the electrical current of their SFS Z-pinch, reduce physics risks relating to plasma stability and confinement, and develop the electrode technology and plasma-initiation techniques necessary to enable the next steps toward a functional SFS Z-pinch fusion power plant. This could provide nearly limitless, on-demand, emission-free energy with negligible fuel costs.

The ARPA-E model is unique in that the agency does not just provide teams funding. Throughout the lifetime of an ARPA-E award, ARPA-E Program Directors and Tech-to-Market Advisors also provide teams with expert advice through quarterly reviews and onsite visits. This hands-on approach helps ensure teams can meet ambitious milestones, target and tackle problems early on, and advance their technologies towards commercialization. Program Director Dr. Isik Kizilyalli explains the importance of this active project management approach in helping teams identify and overcome barriers. In this video, Energy Storage Systems (ESS) from the GRIDS program and Monolith Semiconductors from the SWITCHES program discuss how ARPA-E’s active project management approach helped them find solutions to technical challenges.

ARPA-E’s Technology-to-Market Advisors work closely with each ARPA-E project team to develop and execute a commercialization strategy. ARPA-E requires our teams to focus on their commercial path forward, because we understand that to have an impact on our energy mission, technologies must have a viable path into the marketplace. ARPA-E Senior Commercialization Advisor Dr. John Tuttle discusses what this Tech-to-Market guidance in practice looks like with reference to two project teams. OPEN 2012 awardees from Harvard University and Sunfolding share their stories of how ARPA-E worked with their teams to analyze market conditions and identify commercial opportunities that ultimately convinced them to pivot their technologies towards market applications with greater potential.

Many of ARPA-E’s technology programs seek to break down silos and build new technological communities around a specific energy challenge. In this video, ARPA-E’s Deputy Director for Technology Eric Rohlfing, discusses how the Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS) program is bringing together the photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) communities to develop hybrid solar energy systems. This video features interviews with innovators from the FOCUS project team made up by Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, and showcases how the FOCUS program is combining the best elements of two types of solar to get the most out of the full solar spectrum.


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