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Electricity Generation and Delivery

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Electroville: High Amperage Energy Storage Device--Energy for the Neighborhood

Led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Donald Sadoway, the Electroville project team is creating a community-scale electricity storage device using new materials and a battery design inspired by the aluminum production process known as smelting. A conventional battery includes a liquid electrolyte and a solid separator between its 2 solid electrodes. MIT's battery contains liquid metal electrodes and a molten salt electrolyte. Because metals and salt don't mix, these 3 liquids of different densities naturally separate into layers, eliminating the need for a solid separator. This efficient design significantly reduces packaging materials, which reduces cost and allows more space for storing energy than conventional batteries offer. MIT's battery also uses cheap, earth-abundant, domestically available materials and is more scalable. By using all liquids, the design can also easily be resized according to the changing needs of local communities.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Integrated Micro-Optical Concentrator Photovoltaics with Lateral Multijunction Cells

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with partner Arizona State University will develop a new concept for PV power generation that achieves the 30% conversion efficiency associated with traditional concentrated PV systems while maintaining the low cost, low profile, and lightweight of conventional FPV modules. MIT aims to combine three technologies to achieve their goals: a dispersive lens system, laterally arrayed multiple bandgap (LAMB) solar cells, and a low-cost power management system. The dispersive lens concentrates and separates light that passes through it, providing 400-fold concentration for direct sunlight and 3-fold concentration for diffuse sunlight. The dispersive lens is a thin layer consisting of inexpensive, lightweight materials that can be manufactured at low cost using plastic molding, an improvement over traditional methods. The lens focuses the direct light onto the array of LAMB solar cells, while also focusing the diffuse light onto common PV cells integrated beneath the LAMB array. The power management system combines power from multiple cells into a single output so that the power from a panel of LAMB arrays can be processed with grid-interface power electronics, enabling as much as 20% additional energy capture in applications where the roof is partially shaded.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Spectrum Splitting for High-Efficiency Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Energy Generation

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing a high-efficiency solar cell grown on a low-cost silicon wafer, which incorporates a micro-scale heat management system. The team will employ a novel fabrication process to ensure compatibility between the indium gallium phosphide (InGaP) solar cell and an inexpensive silicon wafer template, which will reduce cell costs. MIT will also develop a color-selective filter, designed to split incoming concentrated sunlight into two components. One component will be sent to the solar cells and immediately converted into electricity and the other will be sent to a thermal receiver to be captured as heat. This will allow the simultaneous availability of electricity and heat. By leveraging the InGaP system, MIT's solar cells will be more tolerant to high temperature operation than today's PV cells and allow recovery of more useful higher temperature waste heat through the micro-scale heat management system. The solar cell and heat recovery system will enable more efficient use of the entire solar spectrum to produce dispatchable renewable electricity.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

HybriSol Hybrid Nanostructures for High-Energy-Density Solar Thermal Fuels

MIT is developing a thermal energy storage device that captures energy from the sun; this energy can be stored and released at a later time when it is needed most. Within the device, the absorption of sunlight causes the solar thermal fuel's photoactive molecules to change shape, which allows energy to be stored within their chemical bonds. A trigger is applied to release the stored energy as heat, where it can be converted into electricity or used directly as heat. The molecules would then revert to their original shape, and can be recharged using sunlight to begin the process anew. MIT's technology would be 100% renewable, rechargeable like a battery, and emissions-free. Devices using these solar thermal fuels--called HybriSol--can also be used without a grid infrastructure for applications such as de-icing, heating, cooking, and water purification.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Full-Spectrum Stacked Solar-Thermal and PV Receiver

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing a hybrid solar converter that integrates a thermal absorber and solar cells into a layered stack, allowing some portions of sunlight to be converted directly to electricity and the rest to be stored as heat for conversion when needed most. MIT's design focuses concentrated sunlight onto metal fins coated with layers that reflect a portion of the sunlight while absorbing the rest. The absorbed light is converted to heat and stored in a thermal fluid for conversion to mechanical energy by a heat engine. The reflected light is directed to solar cells and converted directly into electricity. This way, each portion of the solar spectrum is directed to the conversion system where it can be most effectively used. The sunlight passes through a transparent microporous gel that also insulates each of the components so that the maximum energy can be extracted from both the heat-collecting metal fins and the solar cells. This unique stack design could utilize the full solar spectrum efficiently and enable the dispatch of electricity at any time of the day.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wafer-Level Integrated Concentrating Photovoltaics

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with partner Sandia National Laboratories will develop a micro-CPV system. The team's approach integrates optical concentrating elements with micro-scale solar cells to enhance efficiency, reduce material and fabrication costs, and significantly reduce system size. The team's key innovation is the use of traditional silicon PV cells for more than one function. These traditional cells lay on a silicon substrate that has etched reflective cavities with high-performance micro-PV cells on the cavity floor. Light entering the system will hit a primary concentrator that then directs light into the reflective cavities and towards the high performance micro-PV cells. Diffuse light, which most CPV technologies do not capture, is collected by the lower performance silicon PV cells. The proposed technology could provide 40-55% more energy than conventional FPV and 15-40% more energy than traditional CPV with a significantly reduced system cost, because of the ability to collect both direct and diffuse light in a thin form factor.

Materials & Systems Research, Inc.

Advanced Sodium Batteries with Enhanced Safety and Low-Cost Processing

Materials & Systems Research, Inc. (MSRI) is developing a high-strength, low-cost solid-state electrolyte membrane structure for use in advanced grid-scale sodium batteries. The electrolyte, a separator between the positive and negative electrodes, carries charged materials called ions. In the solid electrolyte sodium batteries, sodium ions move through the solid-state ceramic electrolyte. This electrolyte is normally brittle, expensive, and difficult to produce because it is formed over the course of hours in high-temperature furnaces. With MSRI's design, this ceramic electrolyte will be produced cheaply within minutes by single-step coating technologies onto high-strength support materials. The high-strength support material provides excellent structural integrity, much superior to the conventional cell design, which depends solely on the brittle ceramic material for its strength. The resulting stronger, cheaper sodium battery design will enable a new generation of low-cost, safe, and reliable batteries for grid-scale energy storage applications.

Materials & Systems Research, Inc.

Intermediate-Temperature Electrogenerative Cells for Flexible Cogeneration of Power and Liquid Fuel

Materials & Systems Research, Inc. (MSRI) is developing an intermediate-temperature fuel cell capable of electrochemically converting natural gas into electricity or liquid fuel in a single step. Existing solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) convert the chemical energy of hydrocarbons--such as hydrogen or methane--into electricity at higher efficiencies than traditional power generators, but are expensive to manufacture and operate at extremely high temperatures, introducing durability and cost concerns over time. Existing processes for converting methane to liquid transportation fuels are also capital intensive. MSRI's technology would convert natural gas into liquid fuel using efficient catalysts and a cost-effective fabrication process that can be readily scaled up for mass production. MSRI's technology will provide low-cost power or liquid fuel while operating in a temperature range of 400-500ºC, enabling better durability than today's high-temperature fuel cells.

Metis Design Corporation

Advanced Microturbine Engine for Residential CHP

Metis Design Corporation (MDC) with Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory will develop a Brayton cycle engine for residential use to produce heat and electricity. To begin the cycle, air is drawn into the system where it is compressed and pressurized. This compressed air is then heated in a recuperator and introduced in to the combustion chamber. Fuel is injected in to the combustion chamber and subsequently the air-fuel mixture is ignited. The high temperature exhaust gases then expand through a turbine, providing some of the work that drives the original compressor and the remainder produces electricity in a generator. Other innovations include adding a rotating vaneless diffuser to the compression process to reduce viscous losses that would normally reduce the efficiency of small compressors. The design also includes a high-efficiency recuperator to capture waste heat from the turbine exhaust and a low swirl burner to reduce emissions.

Michigan State University

Transformer-Less Unified Power Flow Controller for Wind and Solar Power Transmission

Michigan State University (MSU) is developing a power flow controller to improve the routing of electricity from renewable sources through existing power lines. The fast, innovative, and lightweight circuitry that MSU is incorporating into its controller will eliminate the need for a separate heavy and expensive transformer, as well as the construction of new transmission lines. MSU's controller is better suited to control power flows from distributed and intermittent wind and solar power systems than traditional transformer-based controllers are, so it will help to integrate more renewable energy into the grid. MSU's power flow controller can be installed anywhere in the existing grid to optimize energy transmission and help reduce transmission congestion.

Michigan State University

Wave Disk Engine

Michigan State University (MSU) is developing a new engine for use in hybrid automobiles that could significantly reduce fuel waste and improve engine efficiency. In a traditional internal combustion engine, air and fuel are ignited, creating high-temperature and high-pressure gases that expand rapidly. This expansion of gases forces the engine's pistons to pump and powers the car. MSU's engine has no pistons. It uses the combustion of air and fuel to build up pressure within the engine, generating a shockwave that blasts hot gas exhaust into the blades of the engine's rotors causing them to turn, which generates electricity. MSU's redesigned engine would be the size of a cooking pot and contain fewer moving parts--reducing the weight of the engine by 30%. It would also enable a vehicle that could use 60% of its fuel for propulsion.

MicroLink Devices

Epitaxial Lift-Off III-V Solar Cell for High Temperature Operation

MicroLink Devices is developing a high-efficiency solar cell that can maintain efficient operation at high temperatures and leverage reusable cell templates to reduce overall cell cost. MicroLink's cell will be able to operate 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. MicroLink'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 useful dispatchable heat. When integrated into hybrid solar converters, heat rejected from the cells at high temperature can be stored and used to generate electricity when the sun is not shining.

MicroLink Devices

High-Efficiency, Lattice-Matched Solar Cells Using Epitaxial Lift-Off

MicroLink Devices is developing low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells to capture concentrated sunlight in an effort to increase the amount of electricity generated by concentrating solar power plants. The continued growth of the CPV market depends strongly on continuing to reduce the cost of CPV solar cell technologies. MicroLink will make an all-lattice-matched solar cell that can achieve greater power conversion efficiency than conventional CPV technologies, thereby reducing the cost of generating electricity. In addition, MicroLink will use manufacturing techniques that allow for the reuse of expensive solar cell manufacturing templates to minimize costs. MicroLink's innovative high-efficiency solar cell design has the potential to reduce PV electricity costs well below the cost of electricity from conventional non-concentrating PV modules.

Mohawk Innovative Technology, Inc.

High-Speed Microturbine with Air Foil Bearings for Residential CHP

Mohawk Innovative Technology, Inc. (MiTi) and its partners at the University of Texas at Austin and Mitis SA will develop a 1 kW microturbine generator for residential CHP based on MiTi's hyperlaminar flow engine (HFE) design. Key innovations of the design include highly miniaturized components operating at ultra-high speeds and a viscous shear mechanism to compress air that is mixed with natural gas and undergoes a flameless combustion process that minimizes emissions. The hot combustion gas drives the turbine and generator to produce electricity and heat water for household use. Besides using the viscous shear-driven compressor and turbine impellers and flameless combustion, the turbogenerator uses permanent magnet generator elements and air foil bearings with very low power loss, all of which are combined into a highly efficient, low emission, and oil-free turbomachine for residential combined heat and power that requires little or no maintenance.

NanoConversion Technologies, Inc.

High-Efficiency Thermoelectric CHP

NanoConversion Technologies, along with researchers from Gas Technologies Institute (GTI), will develop a high-efficiency thermoelectric CHP system. This is a solid-state device that uses heat to create electricity and contains no moving parts, thus creating no noise or vibrations. Instead, this thermoelectric CHP engine uses a novel concentration mode-thermoelectric converter (C-TEC) to harness the heat of the natural gas combustor to vaporize and ionize sodium, creating positive sodium ions and electrons that carry electric current. The C-TEC uses this sodium expansion cycle to produce electricity using an array of electrochemical cells. The superadiabatic combustor technology from GTI provides a low emission external combustion heat source with 95% fuel-to-heat efficiency and a stable temperature compatible with the C-TEC units.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Ultrahigh Efficiency Photovoltaics at Ultralow Costs

This project team, led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will employ hydride vapor phase epitaxy (HVPE), a fast growth technique used to produce semiconductors, to lower the manufacturing cost of multijunction solar cells. Additionally the team will develop new materials to be used in the HVPE process, enabling a chemical liftoff method that allows reuse of substrates. The chemical liftoff will mitigate costs of substrates, further reducing the overall system cost. NREL's approach will leverage this improved HVPE technology to produce thin, flexible, highly efficient multijunction cells, with very high power at low cost. III-V PV has several inherent advantages over other PV materials, including higher efficiency, low temperature coefficients, and low material usage. The novel combination of HVPE growth of multijunction solar cells and substrate reuse could result in more cost-effective, higher performing multijunction solar cells, which could ultimately lower the cost and increase the efficiency of PV systems. These innovations could spur greater adoption of PV systems and reduce reliance on fossil-fuel power generation.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Real-time Optimization and Control of Next-Generation Distribution Infrastructure

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) lead team will develop a comprehensive distribution network management framework that unifies real-time voltage and frequency control at the home/DER controllers' level with network-wide energy management at the utility/aggregator level. The distributed control architecture will continuously steer operating points of DERs toward optimal solutions of pertinent optimization problems, while dynamically procuring and dispatching synthetic reserves based on current system state and forecasts of ambient and load conditions. The control algorithms invoke simple mathematical operations that can be embedded on low-cost microcontrollers, and enable distributed decision making on time scales that match the dynamics of distribution systems with high renewable integration.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

SMARtDaTa: Standardized multi-scale Models of Anonymized Realistic Distribution and Transmission data

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), with partner MIT-Comillas-IIT, will develop combined distribution-transmission power grid models. The team will create distribution models using a version of Comillas' Reference Network Model (RNM) that will be adapted to U.S. utilities and based on real data from a broad range of utility partners. The models will be complemented by the development of customizable scenarios that can be used for accurate algorithm comparisons. These scenarios will take into account unknown factors that affect the grid, such as future power generation technologies, increasing distributed energy resources, varying electrical load, disruptions due to weather events, and repeatable contingency sequences. These enhanced datasets and associated data building tools are intended to provide large-scale test cases that realistically describe potential future grid systems and enable the nation's research community to more accurately test advanced algorithms and control architectures. MIT-Comillas-IIT will assist NREL with the distribution model creation. Alstom Grid will assist in validating the distribution models.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

High-Temp, High-Efficiency Solar-Thermoelectric Generators

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is developing a solar thermoelectric generator to directly convert heat from concentrated sunlight to electricity. Thermoelectric devices can directly convert heat to electricity, yet due to cost and efficiency limitations they have not been viewed as a viable large-scale energy conversion technology. However, new thermoelectric materials have dramatically increased the efficiency of direct heat-to-electricity conversion. NREL is using these innovative materials to develop a new solar thermoelectric generator. This device will concentrate sunlight onto an absorbing surface on top of a thermoelectric stage, the resulting temperature difference between the top and bottom of the device will drive the generator to produce electricity at 3 times the efficiency of current systems. NREL's solar thermoelectric generator could reduce the cost associated with converting large amounts of solar energy into electricity through a much simpler and scalable process which does not rely upon moving parts and transfer fluids.

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

GridBallast - Autonomous Load Control For Grid Resilience

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) will develop GridBallast, a low-cost demand-side management technology, to address resiliency and stability concerns accompanying the exponential growth in DERs deployment in the U.S. electric grid. Specifically, devices based on GridBallast technology will monitor grid voltage and frequency and control the target load in order to address excursions from grid operating targets. The devices will operate autonomously to provide rapid local response, removing the need for costly infrastructure to communicate with a central controller. If the devices are installed with an optional radio, they will be able to support traditional demand response through peer-to-peer collaborative operation from a central operator. The team includes experts from Carnegie Mellon University, Eaton Corporation, and SparkMeter, and will focus development on two specific devices: a water heater controller, and a smart circuit controller. The GridBallast project aims to improve resiliency and reduce the cost of demand side management for voltage and frequency control by at least 50% using a streamlined design and removing the need for extensive communications infrastructure.

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