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Electricity Generation and Delivery

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

RePED 250: A Revolutionary, High-Drilling Rate, High-T Geothermal Drilling System and Companion (250-350 deg C) Power Electronics

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory team will develop technologies and component devices enabling a high-rate drilling method using electric pulses to bore hot, deep geothermal wells. Compared to the softer, sedimentary rock typically found in oil and gas wells, geothermal rock is harder and less porous, and at significantly higher temperatures. These factors generate slow geothermal drilling rates averaging only 125 feet per day compared to greater than 40 times this achieved in sedimentary rock. If successful, the high-rate technology could transform drilling techniques across multiple industries. Project activities will focus on developing and testing pulsed power electronics capable of surviving the high temperatures encountered in geothermal rock. Component development will be carried out with systems integration in mind, enabling a rapid upgrade from a low-temperature rated drilling tool to a high-temperature version.

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.

NAVITASMAX

Novel Tuning of Critical Fluctuations for Advanced Thermal Energy Storage

NAVITASMAX, along with their partners at Harvard University, Cornell University, and Barber-Nichols, is developing a novel thermal energy storage solution. This innovative technology is based on tuning the properties of simple and complex fluids to increase their ability to store more heat. In solar thermal storage systems, heat can be stored in NAVITASMAX's system during the day and released at night--when the sun is not shining--to drive a turbine and produce electricity. In nuclear storage systems, heat can be stored in NAVITASMAX's system at night and released to produce electricity during daytime peak-demand hours.

New York University

Grid Dynamics and Energy Consumption Patterns Through Remote Observations of City Light

New York University (NYU) will develop an observational platform to remotely reveal energy usage patterns of New York City using synoptic imaging of the urban skyline. The electrical grid of the future will be a complex collection of traditional centralized power generation, distributed energy resources, and emerging renewable energy technologies. Advanced energy consumption data is required to design and optimize our future grid. At present, the costly and time-consuming installation of smart meters is the only way to obtain this level of building energy information. NYU will harness astronomical lessons from the study of light emitted by stars to propose a method to understand city-level energy consumption using a single platform. This platform will develop proxy measures of energy consumption, monitor the health of the electric grid, and characterize end use. The project will use three different imaging methodologies to measure interior lights at night: persistent broadband visible, hypertemporal, and hyperspectral. Broadband visible imaging of an urban skyline will measure changes in the city lightscape. This variability serves as a proxy for occupancy and behavior patterns that, when combined with "ground truth" meter data, will be used to train models to quantify energy use. Hypertemporal visible imaging can detect and classify tiny changes over time in the oscillations of electrical lights. For urban lightscapes, phase changes in individual units can signal changes in load (e.g. appliances turning on/off), while neighborhood-level changes can indicate the health of distribution transformers. The information from these methods can serve as a low-cost supplement (and potential alternative) to smart meters. Hyperspectral observations, including bands of infrared light not visible by the human eye, allow the team to distinguish lighting technologies at night. By combining this data with their broadband visible observations, the team can uniquely quantify energy use phenomena such as technology penetration and "rebound," where the energy benefits of energy efficient lighting are partially offset by greater use. With these results, utility companies can design targeted outreach efforts to incentivize energy conservation at the consumer level. Utility providers can use these insights to improve grid resilience, preemptively detect outages, and more effectively manage assets in real time. If successful, the system is well suited to deployment in developing countries where the use of modern energy-monitoring technologies is prohibitively expensive.

Newton Energy Group, LLC

Coordinated Operation of Electric And Natural Gas Supply Networks: Optimization Processes And Market Design

The team led by Newton Energy Group will lead the Gas-Electric Co-Optimization (GECO) project to improve coordination of wholesale natural gas and power operators both at the physical and market levels. The team's approach uses mathematical methods and computational techniques that have revolutionized the field of optimal control. These methods will be applied to natural gas pipeline networks, and the final deliverable will consist of three major components. First, they will model and optimize intra-day pipeline operations represented by realistic models of gas network flow. Next, the team will develop economic theory and computation algorithms for the pricing of natural gas delivered to end users, in particular to gas-fired power plants. Finally, they will combine these two analytical components to design practical market mechanisms for efficient coordination of gas and electric systems. The goal of efficient market design is to develop a mechanism under which access to pipeline capacity will be provided on the basis of its economic value as determined by gas buyers and sellers, and not on the current allocation of physical capacity rights. The tool guarantees natural gas will be available when power plants need it, and that the power produced can be sold to consumers at a price sufficient to cover the cost of the natural gas.

NexTech Materials, Ltd. dba Nexceris, LLC

Advanced Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Stack for Hybrid Power Systems

Nexceris will develop a compact, ultra-high efficiency solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) stack tailored for hybrid power systems. Hybridized power generation systems, combining energy efficient SOFCs with a microturbine or internal combustion (IC) engine, offer a path to high efficiency distributed generation from abundant natural gas. Proof-of-concept systems have shown the potential of this hybrid approach, but component optimization is necessary to increase system efficiencies and reduce costs. Existing SOFC stacks are relatively expensive and improving their efficiency and robustness would enhance the overall commercial viability of these systems. Nexceris' SOFC stack design includes a patented high performance planar cell design and a novel anode current collector that that provides structural support to each cell during pressurized operation, helps define the flow of fuel gas through the stack, and improves control over the reaction of natural gas in the cell, and a sealing approach that facilitates pressurized stack operation. If successful, this stack design will result in increased performance and durability at reduced cost. The 10-kW-scale cell stack building blocks will be housed within a hermetically sealed "hotbox" to reduce drastic changes in temperature and pressure during operation. These design features would allow for seamless integration with a turbine or combustion engine to maximize the overall efficiency of a hybrid system.

North Carolina State University

Development of a Nearly Autonomous Management and Control System for Advanced Reactors

North Carolina State University (NC State) will develop a highly automated management and control system for advanced nuclear reactors. The system will provide operations recommendations to staff during all modes of plant operation except shutdown operations. Using an artificial-intelligence (AI) guided system enabling continuous extensive monitoring of plant status, knowledge of current component status, and plant parameter trends, the system will continuously predict near-term behavior within the plant and recommend a course of action to plant personnel. If successful, this comprehensive, knowledge-based control system for credible, consistent management of plant operations will improve safety and optimize emergency management in advanced reactors. AI-guided models trained on data from plant monitoring instruments combined with expectations generated by advanced modeling and simulation can vastly improve the effectiveness of plant diagnosis and prognosis in plant management, as well as enable vulnerability search in safety analysis. In particular, the system will greatly increase the time available before operator action is required. This means that a significantly smaller operational staff--assisted by instrumentation, operator training, and smart procedures--is needed to manage the plant, reducing overall operational cost.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems

FSPOT-X: Full Spectrum Power for Optical/Thermal Exergy

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems is developing a dish-shaped sunlight-concentrating hybrid solar converter that integrates high-efficiency solar cells and a thermo-acoustic engine that generates electricity directly from heat. Current solar cells lose significant amounts of energy as heat, because they do not have heat storage capability. By integrating a high-temperature solar cell and thermo-acoustic engine into a single system, thermal energy losses are minimized. The thermo-acoustic unit, which was originally designed for space missions, converts waste heat from the solar cell into sound waves to generate electricity using as few moving parts as possible. The engine and solar cell are connected to a molten salt thermal storage unit to store heat when the sun shines and to release the heat and make electricity when the sun is not shining. Northrop Grumman's system could efficiently generate electricity more cheaply than existing solar power plants and lead to inexpensive, on-demand electricity from solar energy.

Northwestern University

A Novel Hierarchical Frequency-Based Load Control Architecture 

Northwestern University and its partners will develop a frequency-based load control architecture to provide additional frequency response capability and allow increased renewable generation on the grid. The work will focus on developing and demonstrating algorithms that adapt to rapid changes of loads, generation, and system configuration while taking into account various constraints arising from the transmission and distribution networks. The multi-layer control architecture makes it possible to simultaneously ensure system stability at the transmission network level, control frequency at the local distribution network level, and maintain the quality-of-service for individual customers at the building level, all under a single framework. At the transmission level, coordination among different areas will be achieved through a centralized scheme to ensure stable frequency synchronization, while the control decisions within a single area will be made based on local information. The efficiency of the centralized scheme will be ensured by decomposing the network into smaller components on which the control problem is solved individually. At the local distribution network level, the control scheme will be decentralized, in which control decisions are made based on the state of the neighboring nodes. At the building level, dynamic models for flexible appliances and DERs will be developed and used to design algorithms to optimally follow a given aggregated load profile.

NumerEx, LLC

Stabilized Liner Compressor (SLC) For Low-Cost Fusion

NumerEx will develop a Stabilized Liner Compressor (SLC) which uses a liquid metal liner for non-destructive experimentation and operation, meaning the liner implosion is quickly repeatable. The SLC uses a rotating chamber, in which liquid metal is formed into a hollow cylinder. The liquid is pushed by pistons driven by high-pressure gas, collapsing the inner surface around a target on the axis. The rotation of the liquid liner avoids instabilities that would otherwise occur during compression of the plasma. After each experiment, the liquid liner can flow back to its original position for subsequent implosion. In the NumerEx team's conceptual design for a power plant, the liquid liner acts as a blanket absorbing radiation from fusion reactions, reducing damage to the reactor hardware and creating fusion fuel for future reactor operation. Additionally, energy from the recoil of the liner and piston can be captured and reused, making the power plant design more efficient.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Hydration-Free Proton Conductive Membranes Based on Two Dimensional Materials

The team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will design proton-selective membranes for use in storage technologies, such as flow batteries, fuel cells, or electrolyzers for liquid-fuel storage. Current proton-selective membranes (e.g. Nafion) require hydration, but the proposed materials would be the first low-temperature membranes that conduct protons without the need for hydration. The enabling technology relies on making single-layer membranes from graphene or similar materials and supporting them for mechanical stability. The team estimates that these membranes can be manufactured at costs around one order of magnitude lower than Nafion membranes. Due to the lower system complexity, the team's innovations would enable fuel cell production at lower system-level costs.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Magnetic Amplifier for Power Flow Control

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is developing an electromagnet-based, amplifier-like device that will allow for complete control over the flow of power within the electric grid. To date, complete control of power flow within the grid has been prohibitively expensive. ORNL's controller could provide a reliable, cost-effective solution to this problem. The team is combining two types of pre-existing technologies to assist in flow control, culminating in a prototype iron-based magnetic amplifier. Ordinarily, such a device would require expensive superconductive wire, but the magnetic iron core of ORNL's device could serve as a low-cost alternative that is equally adept at regulating power flow.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Magnetically Suspended Canned Rotor Pumps for the Integral Molten Salt Reactor

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

A Natural-gas based High Efficiency Combined Thermo-chemical Affordable Reactor (NECTAR)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Nanocomposite Electrodes for a Solid Acid Fuel Cell Stack Operating on Reformate

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is redesigning a fuel cell electrode that operates at 250ºC. Today's solid acid fuel cells (SAFCs) contain relatively inefficient cathodes, which require expensive platinum catalysts for the chemical reactions to take place. ORNL's fuel cell will contain highly porous carbon nanostructures that increase the amount of surface area of the cell's electrolyte, and substantially reduce the amount of catalyst required by the cell. By using nanostructured electrodes, ORNL can increase the performance of SAFC cathodes at a fraction of the cost of existing technologies. The ORNL team will also modify existing fuel processors to operate efficiently at reduced temperatures; those processors will work in conjunction with the fuel cell to lower costs at the system level. ORNL's innovations will enable efficient distributed electricity generation from domestic fuel sources using less expensive catalysts.

Ocean Renewable Power Company

Innovative Deployment and Retrieval Scheme for Cross-flow Hydrokinetic Turbines

The Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) will develop an innovative, self-deploying MHK power system, which will reduce the operating costs and improve the efficiency of MHK systems by up to 50%. ORPC's system is based on pitch control of the blades of a cross-flow turbine, in which the tidal flow passes across the turbine blades rather than in a radial fashion. This system will allow the turbine to self-propel itself to the deployment location, and lower itself to the sea floor remotely. This innovative approach will allow for lower costs of deployment and retrieval, reduced requirements for sea-bed foundation construction, as well as increased turbine efficiency. The ORPC team will design, build, and test a model scale of the MHK system to demonstrate the benefits of using a self-deploying turbine, before completing the design and cost analysis of the full-scale commercial system. Successful deployment of this system would significantly reduce the LCOE associated with MHK systems, making the technology a viable renewable resource to generate electrical power.

Opcondys, Inc.

A Bidirectional, Transformerless Converter Topology for Grid-Tied Energy Storage Systems 

Opcondys will develop a high-voltage power converter design for energy storage systems connected directly to the power grid. Opcondys' converter design will use a modified switched multiplier topology that will allow connection to utility transmission lines without intervening step-up transformers. It uses a photonic, wide bandgap power switching device called the Optical Transconductance Varistor. This is a fast, high-voltage, bidirectional device which reduces the number of circuit elements required for charging and discharging the storage element. By operating at 100 kHz it is possible to increase efficiency to 99% compared to 95-98% efficiency of traditional converters. The system also reduces the size of the passive elements by 50% and, because of the optical control, mitigates electromagnetic interference issues. The elimination of step-up transformers further reduces system size, and can enable a lower cost than existing systems. If successful, project developments could open the door to increased integration of grid-level energy storage.

Oregon State University

Home Generator Benchmarking Program

Oregon State University (OSU) will precisely measure the performance of three commercially-available home generators. The team will collect data on engine efficiency, endurance, emissions, and calculate a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for each generator. Published data on the performance of small generators is scarce, which has hampered efforts to identify where new technologies can be applied to improve the efficiency of small generators. The rigorous and repeatable measurements collected through this project will be an important step forward in developing future high-performance distributed power generation systems.

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