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Electricity Generation and Delivery

Brayton Energy

Improved Laughlin-Brayton Cycle Energy Storage

The Brayton Energy team will develop a key component to enable a cost-competitive Laughlin-Brayton battery energy storage system that combines thermal storage and innovative turbomachinery to generate power. When the system is charging, an electrically driven heat pump will accumulate thermal energy in a high temperature thermal energy storage medium. During discharge, electricity is produced by heating a gas using the stored thermal energy and sending it through the generation turbine that drives an electric generator. Brayton Energy's innovation lies in its reversing, counter-rotating turbine design, in which each turbomachinery stage is designed to act as both as a compressor and turbine, alternating between charging and discharging cycles. This approach greatly simplifies the Laughlin-Brayton battery system, improves its efficiency and operability, and reduces the capital cost.

Brayton Energy

Low-Cost Dispatchable CSP Engine For Residential Power

Brown University

Marine Hydrokinetic Energy Harvesting Using Cyber-Physical Systems

Brown University is developing a power conversion device to maximize power production and reduce costs to capture energy from flowing water in rivers and tidal basins. Conventional methods to harness energy from these water resources face a number of challenges, including the costs associated with developing customized turbine technology to a specific site. Additionally, sites with sufficient energy exist near coastal habitats which depend on the natural water flow to transport nutrients. Brown University's tidal power conversion devices can continuously customize themselves by using an onboard computer and control software to respond to real-time measurements, which will increase tidal power conversion efficiency. Brown University's technology will allow for inexpensive installation and software upgrades and optimized layout of tidal power generators to maximize power generation and mitigate environmental impacts.

California Institute of Technology

Prototype Tools to Establish the Viability of the Adiabatic Heating and Compression Mechanisms Required for Magnetized Target Fusion

Caltech, in coordination with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), will investigate the scaling of adiabatic heating of plasma by propelling magnetized plasma jets into stationary heavy gases and/or metal walls. This is the reverse of the process that would occur in an actual fusion reactor - where a gas or metal liner would compress the plasma - but will provide experimental data to assess the magneto-inertial fusion approach. By using this alternative frame of reference, the researchers will be able to conduct experiments more frequently and at a lower cost because the experimental setup is non-destructive. The team will investigate the jet-target collision using many experiments with a wide range of parameters to determine the actual equation of state relating compression, change in magnetic field, and temperature increase. The experimental work will be supplemented with advanced 3D computer models. If successful, these results will show that compressional heating by a liner is a viable method for increasing temperatures to the levels required for magneto-inertial fusion. The study will also provide critical information on the interactions and limitations for a variety of possible driver and plasma target combinations being developed across the ALPHA program portfolio.

California Institute of Technology

Optics for Full Spectrum, Ultrahigh Efficiency Solar Energy Conversion

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is developing a solar module that splits sunlight into individual color bands to improve the efficiency of solar electricity generation. For PV to maintain momentum in the marketplace, the energy conversion efficiency must increase significantly to result in reduced power generation costs. Most conventional PV modules provide 15-20% energy conversion efficiency because their materials respond efficiently to only a narrow band of color in the sun's spectrum, which represents a significant constraint on their efficiency. To increase the light conversion efficiency, Caltech will assemble a solar module that includes several cells containing several different absorbing materials, each tuned to a different color range of the sun's spectrum. Once light is separated into color bands, Caltech's tailored solar cells will match each separated color band to dramatically improve the overall efficiency of solar energy conversion. Caltech's approach to improve the efficiency of PV solar generation should enable improved cost-competitiveness for PV energy.

California Institute of Technology

Micro-Optical Tandem Luminescent Solar Concentrator

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and their partners will design and fabricate a new CPV module with features that can capture both direct and diffuse sunlight. The team's approach uses a luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) sheet that includes quantum dots to capture and re-emit sunlight, micro-PV cells matched to the color of the light from the quantum dots, and a coating of advanced materials that enhance concentration and delivery of sunlight to the micro-PV cells. In addition, the light not captured by the quantum dots will impinge on a tandem solar cell beneath the LSC sheet. The design of the LSC will focus on lowering the number of expensive micro-PV cells needed within the concentrator sheet, which will reduce system costs, but still maintain high efficiency. The design will also allow the module to be effective without any tracking system, making it potentially attractive for all PV markets, including space-constrained rooftops.

California Institute of Technology

Scalable Real-Time Decentralized Volt/VAR Control

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is developing a distributed automation system that allows distributed generators--solar panels, wind farms, thermal co-generation systems--to effectively manage their own power. To date, the main stumbling block for distributed automation systems has been the inability to develop software that can handle more than 100,000 distributed generators and be implemented in real time. Caltech's software could allow millions of generators to self-manage through local sensing, computation, and communication. Taken together, localized algorithms can support certain global objectives, such as maintaining the balance of energy supply and demand, regulating voltage and frequency, and minimizing cost. An automated, grid-wide power control system would ease the integration of renewable energy sources like solar power into the grid by quickly transmitting power when it is created, eliminating the energy loss associated with the lack of renewable energy storage capacity of the grid.

Carnegie Mellon University

Additive Manufacturing of Spacer Grids for Nuclear Reactors

Carnegie Mellon will combine its expertise in additive manufacturing (AM) with Westinghouse's knowhow in nuclear reactor component fabrication to develop an innovative process for AM of nuclear components. The team chose to redesign nuclear reactor spacer grids as a test case because they are a particularly difficult component to manufacture. The role of spacer grids is to provide mechanical support to nuclear fuel rods within a reactor and reduce vibration as well as cause mixing of the cooling fluid. The team will alter the traditional AM process, including using nonstandard powders to optimize performance and reduce cost. If the project is successful, it could pave the way for other reactor components to be additively manufactured, enabling the rapid deployment of advanced reactors.

Carnegie Mellon University

High Energy Density Modular Heat Exchangers through Design, Materials Processing, and Manufacturing Innovations

Case Western Reserve University

High Energy Storage Capacity Low-Cost Iron Flow Battery

Case Western Reserve University is developing a water-based, all-iron flow battery for grid-scale energy storage at low cost. Flow batteries store chemical energy in external tanks instead of within the battery container. Using iron provides a low-cost, safe solution for energy storage because iron is both abundant and non-toxic. This design could drastically improve the energy storage capacity of stationary batteries at 10-20% of today's cost. Ultimately, this technology could help reduce the cost of stationary energy storage enough to facilitate the adoption and deployment of renewable energy technology.

Case Western Reserve University

High-Power Titanate Capacitors for Power Electronics

There is a constant demand for better performing, more compact, lighter-weight, and lower-cost electronic devices. Unfortunately, the materials traditionally used to make components for electronic devices have reached their limits. Case Western Reserve University is developing capacitors made of new materials that could be used to produce the next generation of compact and efficient high-powered consumer electronics and electronic vehicles. A capacitor is an important component of an electronic device. It stores an electric charge and then discharges it into an electrical circuit in the device. Case Western is creating its capacitors from titanium, an abundant material extracted from ore which can be found in the U.S. Case Western's capacitors store electric charges on the surfaces of films, which are grown on a titanium alloy electrode that is formed as a spinal column with attached branches. The new material and spine design make the capacitor smaller and lighter than traditional capacitors, and they enable the component to store 300% more energy than capacitors of the same weight made of tantalum, the current industry standard. Case Western's titanium-alloy capacitors also spontaneously self-repair, which prolongs their life.

Cogenra Solar, Inc.

Double-Focus Hybrid Solar Energy System with Full Spectrum Utilization

Cogenra Solar is developing a hybrid solar converter with a specialized light-filtering mirror that splits sunlight by wavelength, allowing part of the sunlight spectrum to be converted directly to electricity with photovoltaics (PV), while the rest is captured and stored as heat. By integrating a light-filtering mirror that passes the visible part of the spectrum to a PV cell, the system captures and converts as much as possible of the photons into high-value electricity and concentrates the remaining light onto a thermal fluid, which can be stored and be used as needed. Cogenra's hybrid solar energy system also captures waste heat from the solar cells, providing an additional source of low-temperature heat. This hybrid converter could make more efficient use of the full solar spectrum and can provide inexpensive solar power on demand.

Colorado School of Mines

Low-Cost Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Flexible Protonic Ceramic Fuel Cell Stack

The Colorado School of Mines is developing a mixed proton and oxygen ion conducting electrolyte that will allow a fuel cell to operate at temperatures less than 500°C. By using a proton and oxygen ion electrolyte, the fuel cell stack is able to reduce coking - which clogs anodes with carbon deposits - and enhance the process of turning hydrocarbon fuels into hydrogen. Today's ceramic fuel cells are based on oxygen-ion conducting electrolytes and operate at high temperatures. Mines' advanced mixed proton and oxygen-ion conducting fuel cells will operate on lower temperatures, and have the capacity to run on hydrogen, ethanol, methanol, or methane, representing a drastic improvement over using only oxygen-ion conducting electrolytes. Additionally, the fuel cell will leverage a recently developed ceramic processing technique that decreases fuel cell manufacturing cost and complexity. Additionally, their technology will reduce the number of manufacturing steps from 15 to 3, drastically reducing the cost of distributed generation applications.

Colorado School of Mines

High Efficiency, Low Cost & Robust Hybrid SOFC/IC Engine Power Generator

The Colorado School of Mines will develop a hybrid power generation system that leverages a pressurized, intermediate-temperature solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) stack and an advanced low-energy-content fuel internal combustion (IC) engine. The custom-designed, turbocharged IC engine will use the exhaust from the anode side of the SOFC as fuel and directly drive a specialized compressor-expander that supplies pressurized air to the fuel cell. High capital costs and poor durability have presented significant barriers to the widespread commercial adoption of SOFC technology. In part, these challenges have been associated with SOFC high operating temperatures of 750-1000°C (1382-1832°F). This team will use a robust, metal-supported SOFC (600°C or 1112°F) technology that will provide greater durability, better heat management, and superior sealing over standard ceramic-supported SOFC designs. The modified diesel IC engine in a hybrid system provides a low-cost, controllable solution to use the remaining chemical energy in the fuel cell exhaust. The system will use the hot air and exhaust gases it produces to keep components running at the proper temperatures to maximize overall efficiency. The team will also develop supporting equipment, including a specialized compressor-expander and power inverter. The new system has the potential to enable highly-efficient, cost-effective distributed power generation.

Colorado School of Mines

Hybrid Polyoxometalate Membranes for High Proton Conduction with Redox Ion Exclusion

The Colorado School of Mines will develop a new membrane for redox flow battery systems based on novel, low-cost materials. The membrane is a hybrid polymer that includes heteropoly acid molecules and a special purpose fluorocarbon-based synthetic rubber called a fluoroelastomer. The team will enhance the membrane's selectivity by refining the polymer structure, employing crosslinking techniques, and also through doping the polymer with cesium. The fluoroelastmer is commercially available, thereby contributing to a superior performance-to-cost ratio for the membrane. Flow battery experts at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory will extensively test the selectivity, conductivity, and stability of the membranes developed in this project, and 3M will apply its decades of membrane fabrication experience to scale-up the new technology. If successfully developed, the separator in this project will increase efficiency and reduce cost in existing flow battery systems such as the all-iron redox flow battery.

CompRex, LLC

Compact Heat Exchanger for High Temperature High Pressure Applications Using Advanced Cermet

Cornell University

GridControl: A Software Platform to Support the Smart Grid

Cornell University is creating a new software platform for grid operators called GridControl that will utilize cloud computing to more efficiently control the grid. In a cloud computing system, there are minimal hardware and software demands on users. The user can tap into a network of computers that is housed elsewhere (the cloud) and the network runs computer applications for the user. The user only needs interface software to access all of the cloud's data resources, which can be as simple as a web browser. Cloud computing can reduce costs, facilitate innovation through sharing, empower users, and improve the overall reliability of a dispersed system. Cornell's GridControl will focus on 4 elements: delivering the state of the grid to users quickly and reliably; building networked, scalable grid-control software; tailoring services to emerging smart grid uses; and simulating smart grid behavior under various conditions.

Creare LLC

Closed-Loop 5-kWe Brayton-Cycle Microturbine with 38% Efficiency: Advanced Generator Technology Designed for Inexpensive Mass Production

Creare, in partnership with IMBY Energy, is developing a mass-manufacturable, recuperated, closed-loop Brayton-cycle microturbine that will provide 5 kW of electrical power for residential and commercial buildings. The waste heat from the device can be harvested for heating. Technical innovations in the system that are anticipated to enable high efficiency at an attractive cost include a diffusion bonded foil recuperator, a turbomachine with specialized hydrodynamic gas bearings, a binary working fluid mixture and flameless combustion.

Cree, Inc.

15 kV SiC IGBT Power Modules for Grid-Scale Power Conversion

Cree is developing silicon carbide (SiC) power transistors that are 50% more energy efficient than traditional transistors. Transistors act like a switch, controlling the electrical energy that flows through an electrical circuit. Most power transistors today use silicon semiconductors to conduct electricity. However, transistors with SiC semiconductors operate at much higher temperatures, as well as higher voltage and power levels than their silicon counterparts. SiC-based transistors are also smaller and require less cooling than those made with traditional silicon power technology. Cree's SiC transistors will enable electrical circuits to handle higher power levels more efficiently, and they will result in much smaller and lighter electrical devices and power converters. Cree, an established leader in SiC technology, has already released a commercially available SiC transistor that can operate at up to 1,200 volts. The company has also demonstrated a utility-scale SiC transistor that operates at up to 15,000 volts.

CTFusion, Inc

Plasma Driver Technology Demonstration for Economical Fusion Power Plants

CTFusion is developing an early-stage approach to a commercially viable fusion power plant. The company will pursue higher performance in a compact fusion configuration called a spheromak through targeted upgrades of an existing plasma system. The project aims to demonstrate the required physical parameters, engineering performance, and scalability of the team's fusion concept toward an eventual electricity-producing, economical fusion power plant. CTFusion plans to 1) provide an integrated demonstration of its novel plasma sustainment method called imposed-dynamo current drive (IDCD) and 2) confirm the scalability of spheromaks sustained with IDCD toward eventual power plant conditions. Fusion energy has the potential to be a game-changing energy source that is plentiful, safe, and environmentally friendly, producing no harmful emissions. It could work together with renewable energy technologies to provide an economic, clean, and secure energy solution.

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