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Pennsylvania State University

Engineering a Methane-to-Acetate Pathway for Producing Liquid Biofuels

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is engineering a type of bacteria known as Methanosarcina acetivorans to produce acetate from methane gas. Current approaches to methane conversion are energy-intensive and result in substantial waste of carbon dioxide. Penn State will engineer a pathway for converting methane to a chemical called acetate by reversing the natural pathway for acetate to methanol conversion. This new approach is advantageous because it consumes carbon dioxide, produces energy-rich carbon-carbon bonds, and conserves electrons to make the molecules produced reactive and easy to combine with other molecules. The acetate generated can be used to form polymers that can be further processed into liquid fuels.

Pennsylvania State University

A Multi-Purpose, Intelligent, and Reconfigurable Battery Pack Health Management System

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is developing an innovative, reconfigurable design for electric vehicle battery packs that can re-route power in real time between individual cells. Much like how most cars carry a spare tire in the event of a blowout, today's battery packs contain extra capacity to continue supplying power, managing current, and maintaining capacity as cells age and degrade. Some batteries carry more than 4 times the capacity needed to maintain operation, or the equivalent of mounting 16 tires on a vehicle in the event that one tire goes flat. This overdesign is expensive and inefficient. Penn State's design involves unique methods of electrical reconfigurability to enable the battery pack to switch out cells as they age and weaken. The system would also contain control hardware elements to monitor and manage power across cells, identify damaged cells, and signal the need to switch them out of the circuit.

Pennsylvania State University

Towards Scale Solar Conversion of CO2 and Water Vapor to Hydrocarbon Fuels

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is developing a novel sunlight to chemical fuel conversion system. This innovative technology is based on tuning the properties of nanotube arrays with co-catalysts to achieve efficient solar conversion of CO2 and water vapor to methane and other hydrocarbons. The goal of this project is to build a stand-alone collector which can achieve ~2% sunlight to chemical fuel conversion efficiency via CO2 reduction.

Pennsylvania State University

PowerPanels: Multifunctional Composites with Li-Ion Battery Cores

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is using a new fabrication process to build load-bearing lithium-ion batteries that could be used as structural components of electric vehicles. Conventional batteries remain independent of a vehicle's structure and require heavy protective components that reduce the energy to weight ratio of a vehicle. PowerPanels combine the structural components with a functional battery for an overall reduction in weight. Penn State's PowerPanels use a "jelly roll" design that winds battery components together in a configuration that is strong and stiff enough to be used as a structural component. The result of this would be a low-profile battery usable as a panel on the floor of a vehicle.

Planar Energy Devices, Inc.

Solid-State Large Format All Inorganic Lithium Batteries

Planar Energy Devices is developing a new production process where lithium-ion batteries would be printed as a thin film onto sheets of metal or plastic. Thin-film printing methods could revolutionize battery manufacturing, allowing for smaller, lighter, and cheaper EV batteries. Typically, a battery's electrolyte--the material that actually stores energy within the cell--is a liquid or semi-liquid; this makes them unsuitable for use in thin-film printing. Planar is working with a ceramic-based gel electrolyte that is better suited for printing. The electrolyte would be printed onto large reels of metal or plastic along with other battery components. Once printed, these reels can be cut up into individual cells and wired together to make battery packs. By reducing packaging materials with this unique production process, Planar's efficient Li-Ion battery design would allow more space for storing energy--at a far lower cost--than today's best Li-Ion battery designs.

Plant Sensory Systems

Development of High-Output, Low-Input Energy Beets

Plant Sensory Systems (PSS) is developing an enhanced energy beet that will provide an improved fermentable feedstock. A gene that has been shown to increase biomass and soluble sugars in other crop species will be introduced into beets in order produce higher levels of non-food-grade sugars and use both nutrients and water more efficiently. These engineered beets will have a lower cost of production and increased yield of fermentable sugars to help diversify feedstocks for bioproduction of fuel molecules.

PolyPlus Battery Company

Development of Ultra High Specific Energy Rechargeable Lithium-Air Batteries Based on Protected Lithium Metal Electrodes

PolyPlus Battery Company is developing the world's first commercially available rechargeable lithium-air (Li-Air) battery. Li-Air batteries are better than the Li-Ion batteries used in most EVs today because they breathe in air from the atmosphere for use as an active material in the battery, which greatly decreases its weight. Li-Air batteries also store nearly 700% as much energy as traditional Li-Ion batteries. A lighter battery would improve the range of EVs dramatically. PolyPlus is on track to making a critical breakthrough: the first manufacturable protective membrane between its lithium-based negative electrode and the reaction chamber where it reacts with oxygen from the air. This gives the battery the unique ability to recharge by moving lithium in and out of the battery's reaction chamber for storage until the battery needs to discharge once again. Until now, engineers had been unable to create the complex packaging and air-breathing components required to turn Li-Air batteries into rechargeable systems.

PolyPlus Battery Company

Flexible Solid Electrolyte Protected Lithium Metal Electrodes for Next Generation Batteries

PolyPlus Battery Company, in collaboration with SCHOTT Glass, will develop flexible, solid-electrolyte-protected lithium metal electrodes made by the lamination of lithium metal foil to thin solid electrolyte membranes that are highly conductive. Past efforts to improve lithium cycling by moving to solid-state structures based on polycrystalline ceramics have found limited success due to initiation and propagation of dendrites, which are branchlike metal fibers that short-circuit battery cells. A major benefit of the PolyPlus concept is that the lithium electrode is bonded to a "nearly flawless" glass surface which is devoid of grain boundaries or sufficiently large surface defects through which dendrites can initiate and propagate. These thin and flexible solid electrolyte membranes will be laminated to lithium metal foils, which can then be used to replace the graphite electrode and separators in commercial Li-ion batteries. The team's approach is based on electrolyte films made by commercial melt processing techniques, and they will work in close cooperation to develop compositions and processes suitable for high-volume, low-cost production of the lithium/glass laminate. The SCHOTT team will focus on glass composition and its relationship to physical properties while the PolyPlus team will determine electrochemical properties of the glass and provide this information to SCHOTT to further refine the glass composition. PolyPlus will also develop the Li/glass lamination process and work with the SCHOTT team on manufacturing and scale-up using high volume roll-to-roll processing.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

Rocket Engine Derived High Efficiency Turbomachinery for Electric Power Generation / Turbo-Pox for Ultra-Low Cost Gasoline

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) is developing two distinct--but related--technologies that could revolutionize how we convert natural gas. First, PWR will work with Pennsylvania State University to create a high-efficiency gas turbine which uses supercritical fluids to cool the turbine blades. Allowing gas turbines to operate at higher temperatures can drive significant improvements in performance, particularly when coupled with the recapture of waste heat. This advancement could reduce the cost of electricity by roughly 60% and resulting in significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. Drawing upon lessons learned from this technology, PWR will then work with the Gas Technology Institute to build a system that partially oxidizes natural gas in the high-temperature, high-pressure combustor of a natural gas turbine, efficiently facilitating its conversion into a liquid fuel. This approach could simultaneously improve the efficiency of gas conversion into fuels and chemicals, and also generate high-quality waste heat in the process which could be used to generate electricity.

Princeton Optronics

Development of a New Type of Laser Ignition System for Next Generation High Efficiency, Low Exhaust Emission Combustion Engines

Princeton Optronics will develop a low-cost, high-temperature capable laser ignition system which can be mounted directly on the engine heads of stationary natural gas engines, just like regular spark plugs are today. This will be done using a newly developed high-temperature Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) pump combined with a solid-state laser gain material that can operate at temperatures typically experienced on a stationary natural gas engine. The key innovations of this project will allow the laser pump and complete laser ignition system to deliver the required pulse energy output at the engine block temperature and create a solution that is entirely exchangeable with a conventional spark plug. This avoids the need for an expensive and complicated fiber optics system to deliver the laser energy to the engine's combustion chamber from an off-board, cooled location. If successful, the high temperature laser ignition system will provide a reliable solution to extend the lean limit of combustion and increase the efficiency of stationary natural gas engines, resulting in significant fuel savings and emissions reductions.

Princeton University

Fast, Aqueous Multiple Electron Ubiquitous Systems for Robust, Affordable Next Generation EV-Storage (FAMEUS RANGE)

Alkaline batteries are used in a variety of electronic devices today because of their ability to hold considerable energy, for a long time, at a low cost. In order to create alkaline batteries suitable for EVs, Princeton University will use its expertise in alkaline battery systems examine a variety of suitable positive and negative electrode chemistries. Princeton will then select and experiment with those chemistries that show promise, using computational models to better understand their potential cycle life and storage capacities. Once a promising chemistry has been settled on, Princeton will build and test a prototype battery for an EV.

Purdue University

Automated Sorghum Phenotyping and Trait Development Platform

Purdue University, along with IBM Research and international partners from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO, Australia) will utilize remote sensing platforms to collect data and develop models for automated phenotyping and predictive plant growth. The team will create a system that combines data streams from ground and airborne mobile platforms for high-throughput automated field phenotyping. The team's custom "phenomobile" will be a mobile, ground-based platform that will carry a sensor package capable of measuring numerous plant traits in a large number of research plots in a single day. In addition, the team will use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with advanced sensors configured to optimize the collection of diverse phenotypic data and complement the data collected from the phenomobile. Advanced image and signal processing methods will be utilized to extract phenotypic information and develop predictive models for plant growth and development. IBM Research will contribute high-performance computing platforms and advanced machine learning approaches to associate these measurements with genomic information to identify genes controlling sorghum performance. International partners from CSIRO will lend their expertise in crop modelling and phenotyping to the effort.

Purdue University

High-Efficiency Control System for Connected and Automated Class 8 Trucks 

Purdue University will develop an integrated, connected vehicle control system for diesel-powered Class 8 trucks. Improvements from this system are expected to achieve 20% fuel consumption reduction relative to a 2016 baseline Peterbilt Class 8 truck. Class 8 trucks are large (over 33,000 lbs) vehicles such as trucks and tractor-trailer combinations like 18-wheelers. While these large trucks represent only 4% of all on-road vehicles in the U.S., they are responsible for almost 22% of global on-road fuel consumption. The Purdue team's work is based on a system-of-systems approach that integrates hardware and software components of the powertrain, vehicle dynamic control systems, and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, supported by cloud computing. Communication between vehicles relies on short range radio, while cloud communications will operate over the LTE cellular network. This approach will provide the data needed to optimize single vehicle or two vehicles closely following each other in a platooning formation - reducing the platoon's overall energy consumption using technologies such as predictive cruise control and coordinated gear shifting. The proposed technology can also be applied to lighter class of trucks as the same performance shortcomings for Class 8 truck engines and transmissions also exist in lighter vehicle classes.

Purdue University

Crash Safety of Batteries for Passenger Vehicle

Purdue University is developing an EV battery pack that can better withstand impact during a collision. In contrast to today's EV battery packs that require heavy packaging to ensure safety, Purdue's pack stores energy like a standard battery but is also designed to absorb the shock from an accident, prevents battery failure, and mitigates the risk of personal injury. Batteries housed in protective units are arranged in an interlocking configuration to create an impact energy dissipation device. Should a collision occur, the assemblies of the encased battery units rub against each other, thereby absorbing impact energy and preserving the integrity of the battery pack. Purdue will build a prototype protective casing, create a battery array of several battery units using this design, and study the dynamic behavior of battery units under impact in order to develop a novel EV battery pack.

Recapping, Inc.

High Energy Density Capacitors

Recapping is developing a capacitor that could rival the energy storage potential and price of today's best EV batteries. When power is needed, the capacitor rapidly releases its stored energy, similar to lightning being discharged from a cloud. Capacitors are an ideal substitute for batteries if their energy storage capacity can be improved. Recapping is addressing storage capacity by experimenting with the material that separates the positive and negative electrodes of its capacitors. These separators could significantly improve the energy density of electrochemical devices.

REL, Inc.

Fully and Intricately Conformable, Single-Piece, Mass-Manufacturable High-Pressure Gas Storage Tanks

REL is developing a low-cost, conformable natural gas tank for light-duty vehicles that contains an internal structural cellular core. Traditional natural gas storage tanks are cylindrical and rigid. REL is exploring various materials that could be used to design a gas tank's internal structure that could allow the tank to be any shape. The REL team is exploring various methods of manufacturing the interconnected core structure and the tank skin to identify which combination best meets their target pressure-containment objectives. REL's conformable internal core would enable higher storage capacity than current carbon fiber-based tanks at 70% less cost. REL is developing small-scale prototypes that meet their durability, safety, and cost goals before scaling up to a full-sized prototype.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

A Novel Hollow Fiber Membrane Reactor for High Purity Hydrogen Generation from Thermal Catalytic Ammonia Decomposition

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) will develop an innovative, hollow fiber membrane reactor that can generate high purity hydrogen from ammonia. The project combines three key components: a low-cost ruthenium (Ru)-based catalyst, a hydrogen-selective membrane, and a catalytic hydrogen burner. Pressurized ammonia vapor is fed into the reactor for high-rate decomposition at the Ru-based catalyst and at a reaction temperature below 450°C. Ceramic hollow fibers at the reactor boundary will extract the high purity hydrogen from the reaction product. Residual hydrogen will be burned with air in the catalytic burner to provide heat for ammonia cracking. Both the high-purity hydrogen and the heated exhaust from the catalytic hydrogen combustion are fed past the ammonia vapor before it enters the reactor, increasing its temperature and improving the overall efficiency of the process. The team seeks to develop a compact and modular membrane reactor prototype that can deliver hydrogen at high rate per volume from ammonia decomposition at relatively low temperatures (<450°C) and high conversion (>99%).

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Channeling Engineering of Hydroxide Ion Exchange Polymers and Reinforced Membranes

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) will develop hydroxide ion-conducting polymers that are chemically and mechanically stable for use in anion exchange membranes (AEM). Unlike PEMs, AEMs can be used in an alkaline environment and can use inexpensive, non-precious metal catalysts such as nickel. Simultaneously achieving high ion conductivity and mechanical stability has been a challenge because high ion exchange capacity causes swelling, which degrades the system's mechanical strength. To solve this problem, the team plans to decouple the structural units of the AEM that are responsible for ion conduction and mechanical properties, so that each can contribute to the overall properties of the AEM. The team will also use channel engineering to provide a direct path for ion transport, with minimal room for water, in order to achieve high ion conductivity with low swelling. If successful, the team hopes to create a pathway to the first commercial hydroxide ion exchange membrane products suitable for electrochemical energy conversion technologies.

Research Triangle Institute

Catalytic Biocrude Production in a Novel, Short-Contact Time Reactor

Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is developing a new pyrolysis process to convert second-generation biomass into biofuels in one simple step. Pyrolysis is the decomposition of substances by heating--the same process used to render wood into charcoal, caramelize sugar, and dry roast coffee and beans. RTI's catalytic biomass pyrolysis differs from conventional flash pyrolysis in that its end product contains less oxygen, metals, and nitrogen--all of which contribute to corrosion, instability, and inefficiency in the fuel-production process. This technology is expected to easily integrate into the existing domestic petroleum refining infrastructure, making it an economically attractive option for biofuels production.

Research Triangle Institute

Compact, Inexpensive Micro-Reformers for Distributed GTL

Research Triangle Institute (RTI) is leveraging existing engine technology to develop a compact reformer for natural gas conversion. Reformers produce synthesis gas--the first step in the commercial process of converting natural gas to liquid fuels. As a major component of any gas-to-liquid plant, the reformer represents a substantial cost. RTI's re-designed reformer would be compact, inexpensive, and easily integrated with small-scale chemical reactors. RTI's technology allows for significant cost savings by harnessing equipment that is already manufactured and readily available. Unlike other systems that are too large to be deployed remotely, RTI's reformer could be used for small, remote sources of gas.


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