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Transportation

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bio-GTL: Direct and Indirect Paths of Methane Activation and Conversion to Biofuels

The Bioinformatics and Metabolic Engineering Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) led by Prof. Greg Stephanopoulos will develop a comprehensive process to directly convert methane into a usable transportation fuel in a single step. MIT's unique technologies integrate methane activation with fuel synthesis, two distinct processes required to convert methane that are typically performed separately. Today, activating methane prior to converting it to useful fuel is a high-temperature, energy-intensive process. MIT's unique approach would use nitrate instead of oxygen to oxidize the methane, which could increase the energy efficiency of methane activation and ultimately convert it to fuel. Further, MIT will investigate the use of zeolite catalysts that have the potential to activate methane and convert it to methanol at very high efficiencies.

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

Sustainable Travel Incentives with Prediction, Optimization and Personalization (TRIPOD)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will develop and test its "Sustainable Travel Incentives with Prediction, Optimization and Personalization" (TRIPOD), a system that could incentivize travelers to pursue specific routes, modes of travel, departure times, vehicle types, and driving styles in order to reduce energy use. TRIPOD relies on an app-based travel incentive tool designed to influence users' travel choices by offering them real-time information and rewards. MIT researchers will use an open-source simulation platform, SimMobility, and an energy model, TripEnergy, to test TRIPOD. The system model, which will simulate the Greater Boston area, will be able to dynamically measure energy use as changes to the network and travelers' behavior occur. The team's system model will be linked with a control architecture that will evaluate energy savings and traveler satisfaction with different incentive structures. The control architecture will present users with personalized options via a smartphone app, and it will include a reward points system to incentivize users to adopt energy-efficient travel options. Reward points, or tokens, could be redeemed for prizes or discounts at participating vendors, or could be transferred amongst users in a social network.

Medical University of South Carolina

Electroalcoholgenesis: Bioelectrochemical Reduction of CO2 to Butanol

Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is developing an engineered system to create liquid fuels from communities of interdependent microorganisms. MUSC is first pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) and renewable sources of electricity into a battery-like cell. A community of microorganisms uses the electricity to convert the CO2 into hydrogen. That hydrogen is then consumed by another community of microorganisms living in the same system. These new microorganisms convert the hydrogen into acetate, which in turn feed yet another community of microorganisms. This last community of microorganisms uses the acetate to produce a liquid biofuel called butanol. Similar interdependent microbial communities can be found in some natural environments, but they've never been coupled together in an engineered cell to produce liquid fuels. MUSC is working to triple the amount of butanol that can be produced in its system and to reduce the overall cost of the process.

Michigan Technological University

Connected and Automated Control for Vehicle Dynamics and Powertrain Operation on a Light-Duty Multi-Mode Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Michigan Technological University (MTU), in partnership with General Motors (GM), will develop, validate, and demonstrate a fleet of connected electric vehicles and a mobile cloud-connected computing center. The project will integrate advanced controls with connected and automated vehicle functions and enable: eco-routing, efficient approach and departure from traffic signals and cooperative driving between multiple vehicles, including speed harmonization. Use of the new vehicle dynamic and powertrain controls will allow a 20% reduction in energy consumption and a 6% increase in all-electric driving range through the first-ever implementation and connection of route planning, powertrain energy management, and model-predictive control algorithms. The selected vehicle for the fleet, the 2017 Chevrolet Volt, contains a unique powertrain architecture with multiple operating modes, including all-electric (EV) and hybrid-electric (HEV) modes, allowing the team to optimize numerous powertrain components. This project will use eight Chevrolet Volts in order to demonstrate the idea of platooning in a future automated highway system. In a platoon, vehicles follow closely together at a constant speed, thus reducing drag and lowering energy consumption and emissions. The MTU Mobile Lab (ML) will serve as a control center, vehicle-to-cloud communication hub, and mobile charging station for the fleet of Volts. The ML, a specially designed 18-wheeler, can travel with the fleet and enables real-time traffic simulation and eco-routing. The MTU team includes expertise in powertrain engineering, vehicle controls, algorithm design, and traffic simulation, while the GM team includes experts in the control and engineering of advanced electric powertrains who, if the project is successful, can facilitate the integration of the new control technology into future GM vehicles.

Missouri University of Science and Technology

High Performance Cathodes for Lithium-Air Batteries

Researchers at Missouri University of Science & Technology (Missouri S&T) are developing an affordable lithium-air (Li-Air) battery that could enable an EV to travel up to 350 miles on a single charge. Today's EVs run on Li-Ion batteries, which are expensive and suffer from low energy density compared with gasoline. This new Li-Air battery could perform as well as gasoline and store 3 times more energy than current Li-Ion batteries. A Li-Air battery uses an air cathode to breathe oxygen into the battery from the surrounding air, like a human lung. The oxygen and lithium react in the battery to produce electricity. Current Li-Air batteries are limited by the rate at which they can draw oxygen from the air. The team is designing a battery using hierarchical electrode structures to enhance air breathing and effective catalysts to accelerate electricity production.

MOgene Green Chemicals, LLC

Biotransformation of Methane into N-Butanol by a Methanotrophic Cyanobacterium

MOgene Green Chemicals will engineer a photosynthetic organism for methane conversion that can use energy from both methane and sunlight. The first step in aerobic biological activation of methane requires oxygen and the introduction of energy in the form of heat. Organisms that use methane typically do so through a process that creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, losing energy-rich carbon molecules in the process. To address this, MOgene will engineer a "phototrophic" organism to convert methane that is capable of deriving additional energy from sunlight. This will allow the organism to naturally provide oxygen needed for methane conversion while recapturing any carbon dioxide that would have been released in the process. Consequently, MOgene's technology would be a more efficient and cost-effective way to activate methane, while producing n-butanol, a liquid fuel precursor.

Molecule Works Inc.

Novel Electrochemical Membrane Reactor for Synthesis of Ammonia from Air and Water at Low Temperature and Low Pressure

Molecule Works will develop an electrochemical membrane reactor to produce ammonia from air, water, and renewable electricity. The team proposes a solid-state, thin-film alkaline electrochemical cell that has the potential to enhance ammonia synthesis productivity and energy efficiency, while lowering the cell material and fabrication costs. Current systems for ammonia production all have several challenges. Some use acidic membranes that can react with ammonia, resulting in lower conductivity and reduced membrane life. Others that operate at low temperatures (<100°C) may have low rates of reactions, while those that operate at high temperatures (>500°C) have long-heating processes that make them less practical for intermittent operation using renewable energy. Alkaline electrolytes have a number of advantages over traditional cells. Notably, alkaline electrolytes allow a larger area of the catalyst for nitrogen activation, increasing the rate of ammonia production. The team's system operates at a much lower temperature and pressure than the traditional ammonia production process. The modular nature of the system will also allow it to be deployed near the point of use.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

High Energy, Long Life Organic Battery with Quick Charge Capability

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is developing a low-cost battery system that uses safe and inexpensive organic energy storage materials that can be pumped in and out of the system. NREL's battery, known as a "liquid-phase organic redox system," uses newly developed non-flammable compounds from biological sources to reduce cost while improving the amount of energy that can be stored. The battery's unique construction will enable a 5-minute "fast-charge" and promote long life by allowing for the rapid replacement of liquid electrodes. NREL anticipates an energy density of approximately 590 watt hours per liter with a cost of only $72 per kilowatt hour.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The Connected Traveler: A Framework to Reduce Energy Use in Transportation

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and its partners will create a network architecture that approaches sustainable transportation as a dynamic system of travelers and decision points, rather than one of vehicles and roads, in order to create personalized energy-saving opportunities. The project will use currently available demographic and transportation data from an urban U.S. city as a test bed for energy reduction. To incentivize travelers to pursue energy-efficient routes, the control architecture will develop algorithms to understand a traveler's preferences, tailor recommendations to the user, and identify personal incentives that will enable transportation system energy benefits. The Connected Traveler framework will provide local transportation authorities and individual travelers with a tool to identify personal travel decisions that balance quality of service with energy efficiency.

North Carolina State University

Jet Fuel From Camelina Sativa: A Systems Approach

North Carolina State University (NC State) will genetically modify the oil-crop plant Camelina sativa to produce high quantities of both modified oils and terpenes. These components are optimized for thermocatalytic conversion into energy-dense drop-in transportation fuels. The genetically engineered Camelina will capture more carbon than current varieties and have higher oil yields. The Camelina will be more tolerant to drought and heat, which makes it suitable for farming in warmer and drier climate zones in the US. The increased productivity of NC State's enhanced Camelina and the development of energy-effective harvesting, extraction, and conversion technology could provide an alternative non-petrochemical source of fuel.

North Carolina State University

H2-Dependent Conversion of CO2 to Liquid Electrofuels by Extremely Thermophilic Archaea

North Carolina State University (NC State) is working with the University of Georgia to create electrofuels from primitive organisms called extremophiles that evolved before photosynthetic organisms and live in extreme, hot water environments with temperatures ranging from 167-212 degrees Fahrenheit. The team is genetically engineering these microorganisms so they can use hydrogen to turn carbon dioxide directly into alcohol-based fuels. High temperatures are required to distill the biofuels from the water where the organisms live, but the heat-tolerant organisms will continue to thrive even as the biofuels are being distilled--making the fuel-production process more efficient. The microorganisms don't require light, so they can be grown anywhere--inside a dark reactor or even in an underground facility.

Northwestern University

Engineering Multicopper Oxidases for Methane C-H Activation

Northwestern University and partners will leverage computational protein design to engineer and repurpose a natural catalyst to convert methane gas to liquid fuel. Current industrial processes to convert methane to liquid fuels are costly, or inefficient and wasteful. To address this, Northwestern University will alter natural catalysts to create versatile new protein catalysts that convert methane to methanol which can more easily integrate into fuel production pathways. Northwestern will also engineer an additional protein catalysts to couple, or join, two molecules of methane together, a process critical towards producing longer chain "hydrocarbons" similar to those found in gasoline. Northwestern University's simplified catalysts will provide a better alternative to existing methane converting enzymes and can be incorporated into multiple types of processes.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Safe Impact Resistant Electrolyte (SAFIRE)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is developing an electrolyte for use in EV batteries that changes from liquid to solid during collisions, eliminating the need for many of the safety components found in today's batteries. Today's batteries contain a flammable electrolyte and an expensive polymer separator to prevent electrical shorts--in an accident, the separator must prevent the battery positive and negative ends of the battery from touching each other and causing fires or other safety problems. ORNL's new electrolyte would undergo a phase change--from liquid to solid--in the event of an external force such as a collision. This phase change would produce a solid impenetrable barrier that prevents electrical shorts, eliminating the need for a separator. This would improve the safety and reduce the weight of the vehicle battery system, ultimately resulting in increased driving range.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Lithium Ion Battery with Integrated Abuse Tolerant Electrode Features

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is developing an abuse-tolerant EV battery. Abuse tolerance is a key factor for EV batteries. Robust batteries allow for a broader range of battery chemistries, including low-cost chemistries that could improve driving range and enable cost parity with gas-powered vehicles. ORNL's design would improve battery abuse tolerance at the cell level, thereby reducing the need for heavy protective battery housing. This will enable an EV system that would be lighter and more efficient, both reducing weight and cost and allowing the vehicle to drive further on each charge. ORNL will be researching a new architecture within each cell that will reduce the likelihood of a thermal damage in the event of an abuse situation. The new architecture incorporates a novel foil concept into the battery current collectors. In event of impact, crushing or penetration of the battery, the novel current collector will limit the connectivity and/or conductivity of the battery electrode assembly and hence limit the current at the site of an internal or external short. Limiting the current will avoid the local heating that can trigger thermal excitation and battery damage.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Metastable And Glassy Ionic Conductors (MAGIC)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will develop glassy Li-ion conductors that are electrochemically and mechanically stable against lithium metal and can be integrated into full battery cells. Metallic lithium anodes could significantly improve the energy density of batteries versus today's state-of-the-art lithium ion cells. ORNL has chosen glass as a solid barrier because the lack of grain boundaries in glass mitigates the growth of branchlike metal fibers called dendrites, which short-circuit battery cells. The team aims to identify a glassy electrolyte with high conductivity, explore novel and cost-effective ways to fabricate this thin glass electrolyte, and design electrolyte membranes that are sufficiently robust to prevent cracking and degradation during battery fabrication and cycling. Advanced glass processing using rapid quench methods will enable a range of compositions and microstructures as well as their cost-effective fabrication as thin, dense membranes. In addition to glass composition, a range of membrane designs will be investigated by modeling and experiment. For efficient battery fabrication, the glassy membrane will likely require mechanical support and protection, which could be achieved by employing polymers or ceramic layers as a support.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Temperature Self-Regulation for Large-Format Li-Ion cells

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is developing an innovative battery design to more effectively regulate destructive isolated hot-spots that develop within a battery during use and eventually lead to degradation of the cells. Today's batteries are not fully equipped to monitor and regulate internal temperatures, which can negatively impact battery performance, life-time, and safety. ORNL's design would integrate efficient temperature control at each layer inside lithium ion (Li-Ion) battery cells. In addition to monitoring temperatures, the design would provide active cooling and temperature control deep within the cell, which would represent a dramatic improvement over today's systems, which tend to cool only the surface of the cells. The elimination of cell surface cooling and achievement of internal temperature regulation would have significant impact on battery performance, life-time, and safety.

Ohio State University

Fuel Economy Optimization with Dynamic Skip Fire in a Connected Vehicle

The Ohio State University will develop and demonstrate a transformational powertrain control technology that uses vehicle connectivity and automated driving capabilities to enhance the energy consumption of a light duty passenger vehicle up-fitted with a mild hybrid system. At the core of the proposed powertrain control technology, is the use of a novel cylinder deactivation strategy called Dynamic Skip Fire which makes instantaneous decisions about which engine cylinders are fired or skipped thus significantly improving vehicle energy efficiency. Connected and automated vehicle technologies will allow route-based optimization of driving. Route terrain information including road slope, curvature, and speed limits will be used to calculate an energy-optimal speed trajectory for the vehicle. Traffic condition information based on V2I communication (such as traffic lights) will be used to further optimize route selection and optimize the vehicle and powertrain control. The vehicle will interact with traffic lights using Dedicated Short Range Communications and will stop and start from intersections using an energy-optimal speed trajectory. The integrated radar/camera sensor and V2V connectivity will be used to determine the immediate traffic around the vehicle. Finally, machine learning algorithms will be used to make intelligent powertrain and vehicle optimization decisions in continuously changing and uncertain environments.

Ohio State University

Bioconversion of Carbon Dioxide to Biofuels by Facultatively Autotrophic Hydrogen Bacteria

The Ohio State University is genetically modifying bacteria to efficiently convert carbon dioxide directly into butanol, an alcohol that can be used directly as a fuel blend or converted to a hydrocarbon, which closely resembles gasoline. Bacteria are typically capable of producing a certain amount of butanol before it becomes too toxic for the bacteria to survive. Ohio State is engineering a new strain of the bacteria that could produce up to 50% more butanol before it becomes too toxic for the bacteria to survive. Finding a way to produce more butanol more efficiently would significantly cut down on biofuel production costs and help make butanol cost competitive with gasoline. Ohio State is also engineering large tanks, or bioreactors, to grow the biofuel-producing bacteria in, and they are developing ways to efficiently recover biofuel from the tanks.

OnBoard Dynamics

Vehicle-Integrated Natural Gas Compressor

OnBoard Dynamics is modifying a passenger vehicle to allow its internal combustion engine to be used to compress natural gas for storage on board the vehicle. Ordinarily, filling a compressed natural gas vehicle with natural gas would involve driving to a natural gas refueling station or buying an expensive stand-alone station for home use. OnBoard's design would allow natural gas compression to take place in a single cylinder of the engine itself, allowing the actual car to behave like a natural gas refueling station. Ultimately, the engine would then have the ability both to power the vehicle and to compress natural gas so it can be stored efficiently for future use. The design would cost approximately $400 and pay for itself with fuel savings in less than 6 months.

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