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3 winners of DOE’s “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator” Challenge: hydrogen-assisted lean-burn engines, graphene for Li-air and -sulfur batteries, and titanium process
11 February 2012
US Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced three winning startup companies—based on a public vote and an expert review—out of the 14 participating in the US Department of Energy (DOE) “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator” challenge. (Earlier post.)
Initially, 36 start-up companies elected to participate in this first-of-its-kind effort. Of those 36 companies, 14 signed option agreements allowing them to license advanced technologies developed and patented by one of the DOE 17 National Laboratories and the Y-12 National Security Complex. The three winning companies are:
Umpqua Energy, a startup company based in Medford, Oregon, is using an Argonne National Laboratory technology to develop a system that allows a gasoline engine to operate in an extreme lean burn mode in order to increase gasoline mileage. One negative side effect of a lean burn engine, whether powered by gasoline or diesel fuel, is an increase in the amount of emissions released to the environment.
Umpqua Energy’s EVOPAC system combines an advanced hydrogen-injection system using a plasma reformer with a DeNOx Catalyst. The plasma reformer, installed into the engine compartment, convert fuel into hydrogen. The hydrogen is then injected into the combustion chambers and ignites the fuel earlier in the engine’s process, causing more power in the downward stroke. The hydrogen causes the fuel to burn more completely, resulting in greater fuel efficiency, less emissions, and more power.
The DeNOx Catalyst attaches to the tailpipe and has been proven to reduce NOx emissions by 85%. Combined with hydrogen injection, the complete EVOPAC system provides the most complete emission reduction system yet, according to Umpqua.
Tests have demonstrated reductions in fuel usage in hydrogen-injection systems compared with conventional combustion engines. The introduction of hydrogen into the engine virtually eliminates fuel emissions while greatly reducing the emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.
Vorbeck Materials, a startup company based in Jessup, Maryland, is using a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)-developed method for developing graphene for better lithium air and lithium sulfur batteries.
In 2007, Vorbeck signed a worldwide license agreement with Princeton University for a patented method from the the Aksay Labs for manufacturing graphene at commercial scale. Developments by PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) and Princeton of lithium air batteries incorporating graphene as a cathode material set the highest energy storage capacity ever recorded, 15,000 mAh g-1. Vorbeck, in collaboration with PNNL and Princeton, is working to rapidly bring this new technology to market.
Vorbeck is partnering with Hardwire LLC to integrate the new batteries into hybrid military vehicles and is collaborating with companies to incorporate the new technology in toys, tools, and commercial vehicles.
IPAT, a startup company based in Nevada, Iowa, is using gas atomization technology developed at Ames Laboratory to make titanium powder with processes that are ten times more efficient than traditional powder-making methods—significantly lowering the cost of the powder to manufacturers. The powder form of titanium is easier to work with than having to cast the metal, particularly given titanium’s tendency to react with the materials used to form molds.
Titanium’s strength, light weight, biocompatibility and resistance to corrosion make it ideal for use in a variety of parts—from components for artificial limbs to military vehicle components, biomedical implants, aerospace fasteners and chemical plant valves.
The winners of this year’s competition will be featured at the 2012 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit at the end of the month. The US Department of Energy (DOE) is now kicking off a second year of “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator.”
The three runners-up in this first-year competition are:
7AC Technologies, based in Woburn, Massachusetts, is developing Liquid Desiccant HVAC systems for Commercial and Industrial buildings using technology from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. These Liquid Desiccant HVAC systems deliver a 50 - 75% reduction in energy usage over conventional HVAC units. The system consists of a membrane conditioner responsible for drying and cooling the air and a heat-driven regenerator. The liquid desiccant design allows for the utilization of solar or waste heat sources, paving the way for net-zero energy retrofits to existing buildings with costs comparable to conventional HVAC.
California Lithium Battery (CaLBattery), based in Los Angeles, California, is developing a low-cost, advanced lithium-ion battery that employs a novel silicon graphene composite material that will substantially improve battery cycle life. When combined with other advanced battery materials, it could effectively lower battery life cycle cost by up to 70%. Over the next year, CALBattery will be working with Argonne National Laboratory to combine their patented silicon-graphene anode material process together with other advanced ANL cathode and electrolyte battery materials.
Element One, based in Boulder, Colorado, has created the only available coatings that change color when detecting hydrogen and other hazardous gas leaks, either reversibly or non-reversibly, to provide both current and historical information about leaks. Element One’s patented gas indicators and sensors use catalyzed thin films or nanoparticles of a transition metal oxide to create very low cost sensors for use in industrial and consumer environments, greatly reducing the potential for undetected leaks and their cost and safety implications. This technology is also being integrated for use in refineries, industry gas and fuel cells systems and was developed using technology from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
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