Lab Partnering Service Discovery
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In some parts of the developing world, people may live in homes without electricity or toilets or running water but yet they own cell phones. To charge those phones, they may have to walk for miles to reach a town charging station—and possibly even have to leave their phones overnight. Now a startup company spun off technology developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has created a simple, inexpensive way to provide electricity to the 2.5 billion people in the world who don’t get it reliably.Point Source Power’s innovative device is based on a solid oxide fuel cell that is powered by burning charcoal, wood or other types of biomass—even cow dung—the types of fuel that many in the developing world use for cooking. The fuel cell sits in the fire and is attached to circuitry in a handle that is charged as the fuel cell heats up to temperatures of 700 to 800 degrees Celsius. The handle, which contains an LED bulb, can then be detached and used for lighting or to charge a phone.
The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) played crucial roles in developing the technology that has led companies such as DuPont, POET, and Abengoa to open commercial-scale facilities to turn biomass into clean transportation fuels.
Combined, the three facilities are a huge step toward meeting the Department's goals of producing clean energy from the non-food parts of plants, creating good American jobs, mitigating greenhouse gases, and boosting America's energy security.
- POET's Project Liberty opened last September in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and is projected to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year.
- Abengoa's Biomass of Kansas facility in Hugoton, Kansas, opened last October and has an estimated annual bioethanol production capacity of 25 million gallons.
- DuPont's facility in Nevada, Iowa, will open in 2015 and is designed to produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year.
All three companies turned to NREL for the lab's biofuels expertise—POET for pretreatment, Abengoa for compositional analysis, and DuPont for several crucial steps in the process.
Fore 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.
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.