Lab Partnering Service Discovery
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NREL is partnering with solar inverter manufacturer Solectria at the ESIF to develop 500- and 750-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) inverters with advanced features that can support the electric grid.
The ESIF’s utility-scale power hardware allows Solectria to test its inverters using simulated utility grid and solar PV emulation so researchers can see the impact of the inverter’s advanced features on power reliability and quality. The?ESIF’s grid simulator allows researchers to subject the solar inverter to practical abnormal grid conditions, and the solar PV simulator allows re-creation of solar variations due to weather. This unique testing capability allows Solectria to test its inverter’s controls and functionality at full power—and determine how its integration supports and impacts the grid under a variety of conditions.
This work supports the development of PV inverters that can provide bulk system support to utilities under fault conditions—which will ultimately allow for increased penetration of solar on the grid.
Hybrid car sales have taken off in recent years, with a fuel-sipping combination of electric- and gas-powered technologies that simultaneously deliver energy efficiency, low emissions, and strong performance. The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—which played a pivotal role in putting hybrids on the road—has applied a similar strategy to its talent base and partnerships, bringing together the best minds from the worlds of research and industry.
NREL's Transportation and Hydrogen Systems Center (THSC) provides just one example of how NREL partners with industry to address some of the toughest energy efficiency challenges. NREL's work with individual companies—from startups to established corporations—includes full collaboration, technical assistance, deployment guidance, research facility use, and technology licensing. The lab has also attracted national-caliber experts to its staff from the commercial sector, while continuing to bank on the intellectual capital of its research veterans.
For instance, THSC Director Chris Gearhart and Vehicle Technologies Laboratory Program Manager John Farrell joined NREL in 2013 after three collective decades in the automotive and fuels industries.
"We recruited Chris and John because we knew they could effectively steer our transportation team even further along in meeting the Energy Department's goals and the NREL mission," said Associate Lab Director for Mechanical and Thermal Systems Engineering Barbara Goodman. "Their ability to provide industry perspectives was essential for maintaining our relevance."
Gearhart led research and development (R&D) teams at Ford Motor Company for more than 16 years, as well as playing pivotal roles in product development, safety research, and quality assurance programs. Farrell came to NREL after 15 years at the ExxonMobil Corporate Strategic Research Lab, where he held R&D, technical, strategic planning, and program management positions, leading collaborations with Toyota, Caterpillar, and Ford.
"Even in my Ford days, reducing petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas production was my mantra," said Gearhart, who championed the company's fuel cell system, stack, and hydrogen storage research efforts. "Being able to focus 100% on sustainable transportation solutions was the logical next step."
Farrell might have spent most of his career in private industry, but he also draws on considerable experience working with Sandia, Oak Ridge, and Argonne national labs on Energy Department projects. He carried this spirit of public-private partnership with him to NREL.
"The government, automakers, component manufacturers—they're all our partners," Farrell said. "We're an Energy Department lab, responsible for moving forward energy-efficient solutions with the potential for significant market impact. That means our work must deliver the greatest possible energy savings, while being informed by private-sector realities."
For more NREL success stories visit http://www.nrel.gov/technologytransfer/success_stories.html
An introduction facilitated by the EERE's Energy Innovation Portal has led to the formation of a Colorado start-up company. Syed Reza, now a co-founder of Nexus BioEnergy, originally used the Techportal to search out promising biogas technologies. In a message sent through the portal, Syed contacted Jeremy Nelson, Director of Licensing & Business Development for CSU Ventures, which acts as the university technology transfer office for Colorado State. After several months of discussions with Prof. Sybil Sharvelle and her graduate student, Lucas Loetcher, the inventors of a low water use anaerobic digester technology specially developed for the concentrated animal feeding operations in the arid west, the three decided to found a company to commercialize this technology.
The technology is highly efficient compared to conventional biogas plants with 2-5X lower construction cost, and low operating costs. Furthermore, while conventional biogas plants rarely handle material with >40% solids loading, the CSU technology handles wastes that are as high as 80% solids. In contrast to conventional composting technologies, which result in loss of energy and nutrients from the biomass, the CSU technology produces energy and also recovers valuable nutrients in a product that is nutritionally superior to compost and is highly attractive for organic farming. The system is modular, which provides several benefits:
- It is simple to expand and easily adjusts to variable demand.
- Conditions within each reactor are optimized for each step in the digestion process.
- Additional sources of waste (e.g., food waste, low solids waste) may be straightforwardly integrated into the system.
Nexus BioEnergy is currently seeking strategic partners and early capital investment to demonstrate the technology in a small scale pilot facility. More information, including contact info, can be found at the company's website.
NREL has joined forces with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop a plug-and-play technology that will result in newly connected solar generation being automatically "discovered" and configured by the main generation control system. NREL will perform a review of communications protocols to identify important protocols that the plug-and-play solar microgrid controller must be compatible with. CSIRO will also collaborate with multinational engineering firm ABB on the project.
NREL will perform prototype testing of the microgrid controller in the ESIF to test the hardware's ability to manage the output power of a diesel generator in the presence of a load bank and solar simulator. The effort ultimately aims to simplify the integration, accelerate the deployment, and lower the cost of solar energy in hybrid distributed generation applications using this new plug-and-play solar technology.
For more NREL success stories visit http://www.nrel.gov/technologytransfer/success_stories.html
According to the DOE, doubling the efficiency of single-pane windows can save roughly the amount of energy needed to power 32 million U.S. homes for a year. The associated investments in energy efficient window films could return about $12 billion/year to energy consumers. Yet this would require breakthrough thermal management materials that are low-cost and easy to apply.
The Materials Science Center and Physical, Chemical and Nano Science Center at Sandia National Laboratories are working with IR Dynamics (IRD) on thermochromic materials. Together, they’re developing nanoparticles that are tunable and triggered by the environment. These nanomaterials transition to let the heat through when it’s cold outside and reflect heat when it’s warm. The technology can be incorporated into a variety of products where controlling solar heat gain and infrared reflectivity is a significant advantage.
IRD brings industry experience to the partnership, particularly with energy efficient products for the building industry. Sandia brings experience in materials science and the physics of optical materials. The company is now licensing two technologies from Sandia and has developed joint intellectual property with the Labs.
After working with Sandia under two NMSBA projects to test the feasibility of creating products based on thermally dynamic materials invented at the Labs, work continues under a CRADA to further develop these materials for applications including window films, architectural membranes, and performance clothing.
For windows, this new technology may double the energy efficiency of single pane glass. The new window film contains technologies developed at Sandia, including thermochromic pigments which reject >50% of infrared radiation above 85°F.
IRD was awarded $1.95 million from the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in 2016 to fund further development of the window film application of the nanomaterial technology. Currently the company is raising $2 million in A-round funding and building out new offices and laboratories in Albuquerque, NM.
Madico, one of the largest providers of window films worldwide, is working with IRD to develop window film products and laminated ETFE structural film (an architectural membrane). The company also has a joint development agreement with HeiQ, a fabric finishing company that provides modified performance materials to major apparel brands.
This partnership between Sandia and IRD can help improve the performance of products in industries from apparel to aerospace, and increase energy efficiency in structures from greenhouses to skyscrapers by bringing new technology to market.
Agriculture can create a lot of waste products. Tucumcari Bio-Energy has a vision of a synergistic integration of dairy farming, feedlots, municipal waste, biofuel production, and greenhouse farming that would address this issue. As a first step, the company intends to build a high-efficiency biomethane processing facility by reconfiguring an ethanol plant in New Mexico. This facility will take animal manure and convert it to energy. It will also serve as a prototype for other highly efficient digester systems utilizing unused ethanol plants in the Midwest.
As Bob Hockaday and his team at Tucumcari Bio-Energy made plans, they soon learned that the process used to convert manure to energy suffered from various instabilities. Tucumcari Bio-Energy turned to NMSBA, which in turn connected the company with Sal Rodriguez at Sandia National Laboratories.
Rodriguez and his team worked to determine the optimum water-to-manure ratio to maximize energy conversion. Such a ratio minimizes instabilities, such as extreme temperatures, high alkalinity, or the plugging of anaerobic digestion tanks. To perform this analysis, Rodriguez and his team used advanced computational fluid dynamics and theoretical modeling, along with natural circulation dynamics.
Using the information resulting from this technical assistance, Tucumcari Bio-Energy was able to apply for loans to fund the conversion of the ethanol plant in Tucumcari. Once the plant is producing energy, the company anticipates a revenue stream of approximately $10 million per year and the creation of 20 new jobs.
Trying to produce cost-competitive renewable products that can compete with petroleum-based commodities like plastics is challenging. Various individual algae strains have been tried as a source material for biofuels and other products traditionally derived from petroleum. But now a consortium of cyanobacteria is being researched as an alternative. Cyanobacteria are microscopic photosynthetic bacteria, with impressive economic and production potential.
After testing their cyanobacteria consortium at a small scale in a closed system, startup company HelioBioSys needed to prove their idea at a larger scale, in an environment more closely resembling industrial-scale production.
Sandia National Laboratories operates open, yet environmentally controlled algae ponds that are used to research promising new strains and technologies. Through a collaborative project, Sandia is helping HelioBioSys validate their cyanobacterial consortium strategy with facilities and expertise that would otherwise be unavailable to the small company.
The research is helping to reveal the roles of each cyanobacteria strain within the consortium, so growing strategies can be fine-tuned to optimize production. The pilot-scale environment is also proving that these cyanobacteria can be grown in open ponds without experiencing damaging contamination from “spectator” species (unintentionally introduced microorganisms). At the same time the pilot is evaluating the impacts of different nutrient (nitrogen, carbon dioxide) addition levels, and harvesting strategies.
The two founders of HelioBioSys came up with the idea of using a cyanobacterial consortium as a source of fermentable sugars for biofuels. Their trio of cyanobacteria coexist in a system resembling those in nature, as each species fills a niche and has a synergistic relationship with the others. The cyanobacteria produce a variety of polysaccharides that can be processed into biofuels and sustainable biomaterials, including plastics.
The cyanobacteria consortium has shown higher product concentrations than those typically observed with microalgae, but does not require expensive fertilizers or nutrients as the cyanobacteria fix N2 and CO2 directly from air. Harvesting is easier, too, as the organisms secrete their sugars directly into the water, forming a gel at the appropriate pH. Polysachharides and biomass can be harvested separately or together, depending on the intended end product.
The HelioBioSys cyanobacteria are producing concentrations of bioproducts more than double those that are common with algae. They are achieving these superior product concentrations with lower production costs.
This collaborative project with Sandia is giving HelioBioSys metrics to justify proceeding to large scale commercial production. It is creating a new biomaterials-based industry opportunity and also a petroleum displacement strategy for U.S. energy security.
After a number of serious storms, culminating in Superstorm Sandy in 2012 which caused billions of dollars in damage and closed parts of the transit system, New Jersey Transit (NJT) wanted to reduce their vulnerability to electric power outages caused by natural or manmade disasters. The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force was charged by President Obama with identifying and working to remove obstacles to resilient infrastructure rebuilding while considering existing and future risks.
Because northern New Jersey and New York City have a higher concentration of economic activity compared to other regions, power failure due to major storms can result in significant disruption. Without power, train service is halted, causing extreme economic and safety impacts. NJT links major points in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, and provides nearly 275 million passenger trips each year.
Sandia National Laboratories was brought in by the DOE based on their prior work in microgrid research and their development of microgrid designs for more than 20 military bases.
An MOU between the DOE, NJT, and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, allowed Sandia to do a feasibility study for a microgrid. Through the partnership with NJT, Sandia applied its Energy Surety Design Microgrid (ESDM), a risk-assessment approach that has been successfully applied to high security installations.
Based on the conceptual design, NJT was awarded approximately $410 million from the Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop NJ TRANSITGRID, an innovative microgrid capable of supplying highly reliable power to a core section of NJT’s system. The project will include a large-scale gas-fired generation facility and distributed energy resources to supply power during storm-related disruptions or other power failure events.
An umbrella CRADA with a total value of over $1 million was signed so that Sandia could continue working with NJT on jointly developing a technologically and economically feasible microgrid system.
NJ TRANSITGRID is the first critical application for public transportation of a design methodology originally developed for military installations. The project will help identify and address gaps that challenge the widespread deployment of microgrids, including regulatory implementation.
NJ TRANSITGRID will be the largest microgrid by capacity and geographical footprint in the U.S. While it will normally be operated while connected to a utility electrical grid, it will also be able to operate in “island mode.” The project has attracted the interest of other cities and organizations, and its success will spur more resilient energy projects.