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Transportation Fuels

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.

Opus 12 Incorporated

Renewable Electricity-Powered Carbon Dioxide Conversion to Ethanol for Storage and Transportation

Opus 12 will develop a cost effective, modular reactor to electrochemically convert CO2 to ethanol in one step using water, air, and renewable electricity. Electrochemical reduction of CO2 has been demonstrated in laboratories to produce different fuels and chemicals, but these technologies do not provide efficient conversions and can only be executed in non-economical reactors. The Opus 12 team will integrate its novel cathode layer formulation, containing CO2 reducing catalysts and a polymer electrolyte, into an existing proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer architecture. Their unique polymer-electrolyte blend used in the cathode catalyst layer acts to minimize competing reactions by controlling the pH at the active sites. Currently, PEM electrolyzers are limited to hydrogen production, but the team's approach expands their use to include high-efficiency ethanol synthesis. PEM electrolyzers are also a well-established technology and integrating them into an existing reactor architecture reduces system capital costs and scale-up risk. PEM electrolyzers can also ramp quickly, allowing the use of intermittent, low-cost renewable electricity. They operate at high current density, leading to a small footprint, and they are operationally simple, with no need for specialized operators on site. The team's system will operate at less than 80°C and near atmospheric pressure with a coproduct of pure oxygen. The team's pilot reactor will be one of the first examples of a PEM electrolysis system used to generate a liquid fuel directly.

OPX Biotechnologies, Inc.

Novel Biological Conversion of Hydrogen and Carbon Dioxide Directly into Free Fatty Acids

OPX Biotechnologies is engineering a microorganism currently used in industrial biotechnology to directly produce a liquid fuel from hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2). The microorganism has the natural ability to use hydrogen and CO2 for growth. OPX Biotechnologies is modifying the microorganism to divert energy and carbon away from growth and towards the production of liquid fuels in larger, commercially viable quantities. The microbial system will produce a fuel precursor that can be chemically upgraded to various hydrocarbon fuels.

Oregon State University

Bio-Lamina-Plates Bioreactor for Enhanced Mass and Heat Transfer

Oregon State University (OSU) will develop a small-scale bioreactor that can enable high-rate, low cost bioconversion of methane to liquid fuel. Current systems to convert methane using microorganisms can be slow and inefficient due to the low rate at which methane gas and nutrients are transferred to biocatalysts as well as the build-up of toxins that affect the health of biocatalysts. Using an ultra-thin, stacked "Bio-Lamina-Plate" system OSU will attempt to improve the overall rate at which methane is transferred to the biocatalysts. This new reactor design also helps to improve the rate at which oxygen is provided and products are removed from the system. The reactor design improves the amount of surface exposed relative to the volume of biofilm and provides better heat transfer to improve overall reactor efficiency. Unlike reactors build using stainless steel, OSU's reactor may use low-cost materials such as plastic and glass, as well as simple fabrication techniques to reduce the bioreactor manufacturing costs.

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.

Oregon State University

Converting Natural Gas to Liquid Fuels by Low Energy Electrical Corona Discharge Processes

The team led by Oregon State University (OSU) is developing a novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) technology that utilizes a "corona discharge" plasma to convert methane to higher value chemicals, such as ethylene or liquid fuels. A corona discharge is formed when a high voltage is applied across a gap with a shaped electrode that concentrates the electric field at a tip. At sufficiently high voltage, an electrical discharge (characterized by a faint glow - a corona) is formed, and ionizes the surrounding gas molecules, i.e. split them into positive ions and free electrons. The team will build a reactor consisting of an array of micro-structured conducting surfaces to form corona discharges that ionize methane molecules and recombine the ionized components to form longer chain hydrocarbons with higher value. The key advantages of this technology are the innovative reactor design, which will allow small-scale production, as well as the high energy and conversion efficiencies, resulting in less energy being consumed to convert methane to liquid fuels.

Otherlab, Inc.

Safe, Dense, Conformal, Gas Intestine Storage

Otherlab is developing a natural gas storage tank made of small-radius, high-pressure tubes that allow for maximum conformability to vehicle shape. Current storage options are too rigid, expensive, and inefficient to support adoption of natural gas vehicles. Otherlab's space-filling tube design, modeled after human intestines, provides for maximum storage capacity. This transformational system could be constructed from low-cost materials and well suited to highly automated manufacturing processes.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Multi-Resolution, Multi-Scale Modeling for Scalable Macroalgae Production

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will lead a MARINER Category 3 project to develop a set of numerical modeling tools capable of simulating hydrodynamics, mechanical stress, and trajectories of free-floating, unmoored macroalgae production systems. Macroalgae farming systems require significant capital and those investment decisions can be guided by the development of advanced modeling tools to help better understand the nature of macroalgae production. In this project, PNNL will develop modeling tools capable of simulating and predicting macroalgae trajectories for free-floating systems and, supported by biogeochemical modeling processes, macroalgae growth and biomass yields. Importantly, the mechanical stresses on macroalgae from ocean currents and waves will also be simulated. PNNL's set of modeling tools will provide a suite of information essential for the deployment and real-time management of free-floating seaweed production systems in the open ocean. The model will provide new hydrodynamic and nutrient information that will support system design, optimal project siting and risk analysis. Better clarity can also help macroalgae system developers reduce deployment cost, operational risk, and potential impacts on the local marine environment.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Nautical Offshore Macroalgal Autonomous Device

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design, build, and field-test a Nautical Off-shore Macroalgal Autonomous Device (NOMAD), which is a free-floating, sensor-equipped, carbon-fiber longline (5 km) to which macroalgae can be attached for cultivation. The PNNL concept eliminates the significant costs associated with mooring, or anchoring, farms at a precise, invariable location in the ocean. Rather, PNNL proposes to release the NOMADs from a seeding vessel far offshore the United States West Coast and use harvesting boats to collect the free-floating systems after a six month, 1500 km southbound journey along nutrient-rich ocean currents. The NOMADs will be equipped with buoys and GPS sensors to track their positions as well as accelerometers and underwater light sensors to estimate, in real time, the biomass yield to optimize harvesting time. The project will employ state-of-the-art hydrodynamic modeling to identify offshore locations for release and harvest that result in optimum biomass yields as the NOMAD travels in nutrient-rich currents. Fully automated, high-speed seeding and harvesting machines will be designed and deployed to minimize labor costs. The team will also use polyculture farming where two species of kelp will be grown to improved light utilization and potentially achieve higher biomass yields than a single species could achieve alone.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

The Consortium for Advanced Sorghum Phenomics (CASP)

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), along with its partners, will use aerial and ground-based platforms to identify traits required for greater production yield and resistance to drought and salinity stresses to accelerate sorghum breeding for biofuel production. The project will combine plant analysis in both outdoor field and indoor greenhouse environments as each provides unique advantages; and will use robotics and imaging platforms for increased speed and accuracy of data collection. Traditionally aboveground biomass is measured by harvesting, drying, and weighing the plant material. As an alternative approach, the team will develop non-destructive high-throughput methods to measure biomass over time. Drought tolerance will be measured by mapping water stress and using sensors to compare the difference between the canopy temperature and air temperature. The overall goal of the project is to understand the traits related to increasing biomass yield and drought/salinity stress, and to predict those traits in the early stages of plant development, before those traits become apparent using current methods.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Low-Cost Efficient Manufacturing of Pressurized Conformal Compressed Natural Gas Storage Tanks

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is developing a low-cost, conformable natural gas tank for light-duty vehicles utilizing the same metal forming techniques used to fabricate high-strength cruise missile fins. Traditional gas tanks are made using a method known as arc welding, where an electric arc is used to melt and combine metals, which can limit their conformability. PNNL's ultra-light design relies on friction stir welding, where metal is softened--like taffy--instead of melted, which allows the metal to retain its original properties and preserves its conformability. The manufacturing process for PNNL's tanks incorporates high-strength internal strut technology that efficiently fits into a vehicle, offering a tank that costs around $1500, a substantial price reduction compared to today's best tanks.

Pennsylvania State University

DEEPER: An Integrated Phenotyping Platform for Deeper Roots 

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) will develop DEEPER, a platform for identifying the traits of deeper-rooted crops that integrates breakthroughs in nondestructive field phenotyping of rooting depth, root modeling, high-throughput 3D imaging of root architecture and anatomy, gene discovery, and genomic selection modeling. The platform will be deployed to observe maize (corn) in the field under drought, nitrogen stress, and non-stressed conditions. Their key sensor innovation is to measure leaf elemental composition with x-ray fluorescence, and use it as a proxy for rooting depth. This above-ground, high throughput measurement for root depth will enable plant breeders to screen large populations and develop deep rooted commercial varieties. The team will also develop an automated imaging system for excavated roots that, with associated computer vision software, will identify architectural traits of roots. Lastly, they will greatly enhance a laser-based imaging platform to determine root anatomy. The combination of these technology platforms with advanced computational models developed for this program will allow Penn State to determine the depth of plant roots, enabling better quantification of root biomass. As a full system platform, they aim to enable the breeding of maize with deeper roots that sequester more carbon and are more efficient in their utilization of nitrogen and water. The team will also contribute data to a nationwide dataset that seeks to study the interactions between genes and the environment. The dataset will include extensive plant data across multiple environments, a breeding toolkit of major genes regulating root depth, and genomic selection models for root depth, drought tolerance, and nitrogen use efficiency.

Pennsylvania State University

Development of Rhodobacter as a Versatile Platform for Fuels Production

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is genetically engineering bacteria called Rhodobacter to use electricity or electrically generated hydrogen to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels. In collaboration with the University of Kentucky, Penn State is taking genes from oil-producing algae called Botryococcus braunii and putting them into Rhodobacter to produce hydrocarbon molecules, which closely resemble gasoline. Penn State is developing engineered tanks to support microbial fuel production and determining the most economical way to feed the electricity or hydrogen to the bacteria, including using renewable sources of power like solar energy.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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