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Transportation Fuels

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%).

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.

Research Triangle Institute

Innovative Renewable Energy-based Catalytic Ammonia Production

Research Triangle Institute (RTI) will develop a catalytic technology for converting renewable energy, water, and air into ammonia. Their work focuses on three innovations: the development of an ammonia synthesis catalyst for improved reactions, refinement of the ammonia synthesis to handle intermittent loads, and optimized and scalable technologies for air separation to produce high-purity nitrogen. Their ammonia synthesis catalyst features increased surface area, high dispersion, and high thermal stability - enabling the system to operate at much lower temperatures and pressures, lowering energy consumption by 35%. It also reduces the balance of plant costs by simplifying the design and decreasing refrigeration loads. By using low-cost nitrogen purification techniques, they aim to lower the cost and amount of nitrogen required. When completed, the project will result in a small-scale ammonia synthesis system that is economically viable and can start and stop in synchronization with intermittent renewable power sources.

SAFCell, Inc.

Distributed Electrochemical Production and Conversion of Carbon-Neutral Ammonia

SAFCell will develop a novel electrochemical system that converts ammonia to hydrogen. The key innovation is the use of a solid acid electrolyte, a type of electrolyte that is stable in the presence of ammonia while under the operating conditions needed for reactions. Solid acid fuel cell stacks operate at intermediate temperatures (around 250°C) and demonstrate high tolerances to typical anode catalyst poisons such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide without a significant decrease in performance. The system also aims to realize the conversion of ammonia along with the purification and compression of hydrogen in a single, cost-effective system, thus greatly simplifying the infrastructure required to transport and store hydrogen. These properties give solid acid fuel cell devices advantages over other fuel cell technologies in cost, durability, start/stop cycling, fuel flexibility, and simplified system design.

Sandia National Laboratory

Multi-Modal Monitoring of Plant Roots for Drought & Heat Tolerance in the US Southwest

Sandia National Laboratories will develop novel, field-deployable sensor technologies for monitoring soil, root, and plant systems. First, the team will develop microneedles similar and shape and function to hypodermic needles used in transdermal drug delivery and wearable sensors. The minimally invasive needles will be used to report on sugar concentrations and water stress in leaves, stems, and large roots in real-time. Continuously monitoring the sugar concentrations at multiple locations will be transformative in understanding whole plant carbon dynamics and the function of the vascular tissues that conduct sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves. The second key technology are gas chromatographs deployed in the soil and near plants in order to monitor volatile organic compounds (VOC). Plants synthesize and release volatile organic compounds both aboveground and belowground that act as chemical signals or in response to biotic stress (damage from insects, bacteria, etc.) or abiotic stress (such as drought, flooding, and extreme temperatures). VOCs modulate biomass uptake and the team hopes to better understand soil composition by measuring VOC transport. The team's integrated microsensor technologies will be deployed in arid environments in both natural and agricultural lands to characterize whole plant function in both environments. Applying these sensors to plants in arid environments could assist in re-greening arid ecosystems with new specially bred plants developed and selected to improve soil function with less water and nutrient requirements while depositing more soil carbon.

Skyre, Inc.

Electricity From an Energy-Dense Carbon-Neutral Energy Carrier

Skyre will develop a system to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from industrial or chemical processes, electrochemically convert it into methanol, and further transform the methanol into dimethyl ether (DME). DME can be stored and transported using existing infrastructure and can be converted into electricity to provide power for transportation and distributed energy generation. To convert CO2 to methanol, new catalysts that improve efficiency and lower costs will be developed that are highly selective and durable, building on the team's prior work with transition-metal-supported catalysts. The CO2 reduction technology is designed to be modular and scalable. The system does not require a continuous supply of power and can, therefore, use intermittent renewable energy sources. These technologies offer a path to better utilize domestic resources, providing long-term energy storage from wind and solar, and long-distance energy delivery from remote locations.

Space Orbital Services

Low Temperature Methane Conversion Through Impacting Common Alloy Catalysts

Space Orbital Services, in conjunction with SRI International, proposes to conduct laboratory-based, small-scale research to develop a methane conversion technology that employs unconventional chemistry at relatively low temperature, based on impacting a common alloy catalyst. The project uses laboratory experiments to establish, measure and refine operational parameters including conversion rates and efficiency, reaction products, and reactor design.

Stanford University

Thermoacoustic Root Imaging, Biomass Analysis, and Characterization

Stanford University will develop a non-contact root imaging system that uses a hybrid of microwave excitation and ultrasound detection. Microwave excitation from the surface can penetrate the soil to the roots, and results in minor heating of the roots and soil at varying levels depending on their physical properties. This heating creates a thermoacoustic signal in the ultrasound domain that travels back out of the soil. The team's advanced ultrasound detector has the ability to detect these signals and maintain sufficient signal-to-noise ratio for imaging and root biomass analysis. The team will develop a suite of image processing algorithms to convert the data into an understanding of root properties including structure, biomass density, and depth. Plant physiologists from the Carnegie Institution for Science will partner with Stanford to characterize maize roots under various drought conditions as well as soil type and density variations. Since the entire system is non-contact, it eliminates the need to make good physical contact with the irregular soil surfaces. Over a three-year period, the team will first demonstrate the feasibility of non-contact thermoacoustics for root imaging under laboratory conditions, then develop and test a thermoacoustic system in the field. If successful, Stanford's system could examine root structures in a noninvasive manner that produces images far more advanced than current imaging methods.

Starfire Energy

Ammonia Synthesis for Fuel, Energy Storage, and Agriculture Applications

The team led by Starfire Energy will develop a modular, small-scale, HB-type process for ammonia synthesis. The team's innovative approach is less energy-intensive and more economical than conventional, large-scale HB because a novel electroactive catalyst allows operation at lower temperatures and pressures. Their approach combines a high-activity precious metal catalyst and an electroactive catalyst support to form ammonia molecules, while operating at moderate pressures and using localized high-temperature reaction zones. The extreme reaction conditions in conventional HB require that the process runs continuously, as turning on and off would require bringing the reactor back up to synthesis temperature. Since Starfire's process is smaller scale, it does not require continuous energy input and therefore could be compatible with intermittent energy sources, setting it on a path to be carbon-neutral.

Storagenergy Technologies, Inc.

High Rate Ammonia Synthesis by Intermediate Temperature Solid-State Alkaline Electrolyzer 

Storagenergy Technologies will develop a solid-state electrolyzer that uses nitrogen or air for high-rate ammonia production. Current electrolyzer systems for ammonia production have several challenges. Some use acidic membranes that can react with ammonia, resulting in lower conductivity and reduced membrane life. Operation at conventional low temperatures (<100°C) traditionally 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. The Storagenergy team has chosen a system that operates at an intermediate temperature (100-300°C) and uses an alkaline membrane environment to minimize side-reactions with the ammonia. To develop their technology, the team will combine a low-cost solid-state hydroxide conducting membrane, a nanostructured cathode catalyst, and a noble metal-free nanoparticle catalyst on the anode. This proposed system will synthesize ammonia more efficiently and at much lower temperatures and pressures than traditional ammonia production techniques. The modular nature of the system will also allow it to be deployed near the point of use.

Texas A&M Agrilife Research

Automated TERRA Phenotyping System for Genetic Improvement of Energy Crops

Texas A&M University, along with Carnegie Melon University (CMU), will develop a rugged robotic system to measure characteristics of sorghum in the field. Traditionally this type of data collection is performed manually and often can only be collected when the crop is harvested. The team from CMU will create an automated gantry system with a plunging sensor arm to characterize individual plants in the field. The sensor arm of the gantry system allows the team to collect data not only from above, but to descend into the canopy and take measurements within. The team will utilize machine learning algorithms to interpret the field data and correlate them to plant phenotypes, molecular markers, and genes of interest linked to the field phenotypes. TAMU will incorporate this technology into its world class sorghum breeding program to increase the rate of genetic improvement.

Texas A&M Agrilife Research

Synthetic Crop for Direct Biofuel Production through Re-Routing the Photosynthesis Intermediates and Engineering Terpenoid Pathways

Texas A&M Agrilife Research is addressing one of the major inefficiencies in photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy. Texas A&M Agrilife Research is targeting the most wasteful step in photosynthesis by redirecting a waste byproduct into a new pathway that will create terpenes--energy-dense fuel molecules that can be converted into jet or diesel fuel. This strategy will be first applied to tobacco to demonstrate more efficient terpene production in the leaf. If successful in tobacco, the approach will be translated into the high biomass plant Arundo donax (giant cane) for fuel production.

Texas A&M Agrilife Research

Developing ground penetrating radar (GPR) for enhanced root and soil organic carbon imaging: Optimizing bioenergy crop adaptation and agro-ecosystem services

Texas A&M AgriLife Research will develop ground penetrating radar (GPR) antenna arrays for 3D root and soil organic carbon imaging and quantification. Visualization of root systems with one mm resolution in soils could enable breeders to select climate-resilient bioenergy crops that provide higher yields, require fewer inputs, improve soil health, and promote carbon sequestration. Texas A&M will create a GPR system that will collect real-time measurements using a deployable robotic platform. The GPR system will collect data comparing annual energy sorghum to perennial species, which have great potential to deposit and store carbon in the soil. Texas A&M's primary focus is to complement the selection of high biomass feedstock crops by providing valuable data about the root architecture. This data could improve understanding of the soil ecosystem and ultimately allow for improved bioenergy crop productivity.

Texas A&M University

System Development for Vehicular Natural Gas Storage Using Advanced Porous Materials

Texas A&M University is developing a highly adsorbent material for use in on-board natural gas storage tanks that could drastically increase the volumetric energy density of methane, which makes up 95% of natural gas. Today's best tanks do not optimize their natural gas storage capacity and add too much to the sticker price of natural gas vehicles to make them viable options for most consumers. Texas A&M University will synthesize low-cost materials that adsorb high volumes of natural gas and increase the storage capacity of the tanks. This design could result in a natural gas storage tank that maximizes its ability to store methane and can be manufactured at low cost, side-stepping two major obstacles associated with the use of natural gas vehicles.

Texas A&M University

A Field-Deployable Magnetic Resonance Imaging Rhizotron for Modeling and Enhancing Root Growth and Biogeochemical Function

Texas A&M AgriLife Research will develop low field magnetic resonance imaging (LF-MRI) instrumentation that can image intact soil-root systems. The system will measure root biomass, architecture, 3D mass distribution, and growth rate, and could be used for selection of ideal plant characteristics based on these root metrics. It will also have the ability to three-dimensionally image soil water content, a key property that drives root growth and exploration. Operating much like a MRI used in a medical setting, the system can function in the field without damaging plants, unlike traditional methods such as trenching, soil coring, and root excavation. The team will test two different approaches: an in-ground system shaped like a cylinder that can be inserted into the soil to surround the roots; and a coil device that can be deployed on the soil surface around the plant stem. If successful, these systems can help scientists better understand the root-water-soil interactions that drive processes such as nutrient uptake by crops, water use, and carbon management. This new information is crucial for the development of plants optimized for carbon sequestration without sacrificing economic yield. The project also aims to help develop ideal energy sorghum possessing high root growth rates, roots with more vertical angles, and roots that are more drought resistant and proliferate under water limiting conditions.

Trophic, LLC.

Continuous, High-Yield Kelp Production

Trophic will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design and develop a seaweed cultivation system anticipated to maximize biomass yield while reducing costs. Trophic's system will rely on development of a number of innovations to increase the production of seaweed-based biomass. First, they will implement a variable-row spacing cultivation system to maximize the capital efficiency of the farm. Seaweed is traditionally grown on multiple parallel long culture ropes. Trophic's concept will explore the capability to dynamically vary the distance between each line to maximize the sustainable yield over the entire farm area across all stages of seaweed growth -- the culture ropes are kept closer together when the plants are small, while expanding as the plants grow. This reduces crowding and shading that could lead to slower growth rates. The second innovation is to design a passively tethered hydrofoil powered by solar energy. Higher concentrations of nutrients exist in deeper ocean depths. The hydrofoil, positioned deep below the surface and tethered to a buoy, lifts nutrients from deeper water to fertilize crops at the surface. A third innovation is their wave-diving system. Large waves pose a consistent danger in unprotected offshore environments. The wave-diving system acts as a brake against the upward movement of the culture ropes, capping the maximum structural loads from waves, thus allowing the system to survive much heavier sea states than otherwise possible. The team plans to combine these innovations with computer modeling to develop a system for seaweed farming that, if successful, will produce high yields at a cost of less than $60 per dry metric ton.

UHV Technologies, Inc.

Low Cost X-Ray CT System for in-situ Imaging of Roots

UHV Technologies will develop and demonstrate a low cost, field deployable 3D x-ray computed tomography system that will image total root systems in the field with micron-size resolution and can sample hundreds of plants per cycle. This system is based on UHV's low cost linear x-ray tube technology and sophisticated reconstruction and image segmentation algorithms. The linear x-ray tube technology was originally designed for extremely high throughput scrap aluminum sorting, and when used with an array x-ray detector the system can also produce 2D and 3D imaging of plant roots in the field without the use of heavy, moving gantry systems normally used for trait observation. Maize (corn) was chosen as the crop to study due to its robust root system, well-characterized genetic resources, sequenced genome, and access to existing breeding pipelines with commercial potential. The system will be tested in two environments, at the University of Wisconsin with clay-like soil and at Texas A&M University which features sandy soil. Due to its small size, high resolution and fast imaging of fine roots, low power consumption, large penetration depth (i.e. the ability to see through several feet of soil) and ease of use in the field, the proposed system will increase the speed and efficacy of discovery and deployment of improved crops and systems. These advanced crops can improve soil carbon accumulation and storage, decrease nitrogen oxide emissions, and improve water efficiency. If successful, this new level of imaging will be invaluable to scientists seeking to understand how environmental conditions and plant trait variations contribute to carbon deposition through root development.

United Technologies Research Center

Low Cost Hybrid Materials and Manufacturing for Conformable CNG Tanks

United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) is developing a conformable modular storage tank that could integrate easily into the tight spaces in the undercarriage of natural gas-powered vehicles. Traditional steel and carbon fiber natural gas storage tanks are rigid, bulky, and expensive, which adds to the overall cost of the vehicle and discourages broad use of natural gas vehicles. UTRC is designing modular natural gas storage units that can be assembled to form a wide range of shapes and fit a wide range of undercarriages. UTRC's modular tank could substantially improve upon the conformability level of existing technologies at a cost of approximately $1500, considerably less than today's tanks.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Development of Scalable Coastal and Offshore Macroalgal Farming

The University of Alaska Fairbanks will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design and develop replicable model farms capable of cost-effective production of sugar kelp, a type of macroalgae suitable for large-scale cultivation is U.S. ocean waters. Much of the cost of kelp farms is related to expensive anchor components, and the laborious process of installing and planting individual longlines between opposing anchors. Another 20% of the cost is ascribed to the harvest process and transport. The team plans innovations to reduce both equipment and operating costs. First, the team will implement a two-point mooring system, anchoring the longline superstructure to only two opposite anchors. Two-point moorings will reduce project costs, and they will allow the superstructure to be more easily lowered to avoid damaging storms or to take advantage of cooler water temperatures or additional nutrients available at lower depths. The reduced complexity of their proposed design also allows the deployment of an entire 1 hectare farm in less than a day. The team seeks to integrate the entire farming process, including seed production, outplanting, grow-out, harvest, and re-seeding. A particular emphasis will be on the development of cost-effective harvesting methods based on technologies applied in the commercial fishing industry. Test deployments for the integrated system are planned for locations in Alaska and New England. Additionally, team members working in Alaska will investigate the potential for "ultra" long-line systems of greater than 1 km in length. These systems may be exceptionally well suited for deployment in the protected waters of the expansive Alaska coastline.

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