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DOE releases SBIR/STTR FY16 Phase 1 Release 2 topics; hydrogen, electric vehicles, more efficient combustion engines; biogas-to-fuels

The US Department of Energy has announced the 2016 Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) Phase I Release 2 Topics, covering eight DOE research program organizations.

Among the many topics listed are magnetocaloric materials development for hydrogen delivery; two hydrogen technology transfer opportunities (TTO); EV traction batteries and power electronics; new combustion engine technologies; and the co-utilization of CO2 and methane in biogas to produce higher hydrocarbon fuels. DOE plans to issue the full Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) on 30 November 2015.

Hydrogen. The first hydrogen TTO is focused on durable, high activity electrocatalyst with low platinum content and low cost for polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell applications. Conventional polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology requires high content of platinum electrocatalyst, which raises manufacturing costs. Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed an electrocatalyst design that significantly decreases the platinum content of the cathode by an order of magnitude while maintaining cathode performance.

The selected project will meet the critical need for core-shell electrocatalyst manufacturing processes for PEM fuel cell membrane electrode assembly (MEA) components and develop a plan to scale-up production of the core-shell nanocatalysts, incorporate those catalysts into MEAs, and test the performance and durability of the MEAs under realistic fuel cell operating conditions.

The second TTO is focused on safety sensors for hydrogen infrastructure applications. The selected project will use a unique class of electrochemical sensors created at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to develop low cost electronics packaging that is manufacturable at high volume and will integrate the LANL sensor into a commercial package that can meet the codes and standards for being deployed at a hydrogen fueling station.

The Magnetocaloric Materials Development project will develop novel magnetocaloric materials that optimize material properties for cooling and liquefaction of hydrogen. Magnetocaloric materials have great potential to lower the energy consumption and carbon footprint of technologies used in building cooling, refrigeration, and gas liquefaction.

Electric drive vehicle batteries. DOE will seek projects to develop electrochemical energy storage technologies which support commercialization of micro-, mild-, and full-HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs. Some specific improvements of interest include, but are not limited to, new low-cost materials; high voltage and high temperature non-carbonate electrolytes; improvements in manufacturing processes, speed, or yield; novel SEI stabilization techniques for silicon anodes; improved cell/pack design minimizing inactive material; significant improvement in specific energy (Wh/kg) or energy density (Wh/L); and improved safety.

Phase I feasibility studies must be evaluated in full cells (not half cells) greater than 200mAh in size while Phase II technologies should be demonstrated in full cells greater than 2Ah. DOE will reject applications as non-responsive if the proposed technology is high cost; requires substantial infrastructure investments or industry standardization to be commercially viable; and/or cannot accept high power recharge pulses from regenerative breaking or has other characteristics that prohibit market penetration.

SiC MOSFETs for electric drive vehicle power electronics. With large area (> 150 mm, or 6") Silicon Carbide (SiC) epitaxial wafer availability from a large number of qualified suppliers, the SiC device industry is approaching the state of the cost- competitive silicon (Si) power device industry, where the cost of fabrication is the primary driver for device cost, and their high device yield allows for a low overall cost of devices.

Devices crucial for vehicle inverters which can take advantage of these SiC epitaxial wafers, SiC switches with either built-in free-wheeling Schottky diodes (lower cost) or in conjunction with Schottky diodes, offer significantly smaller on-state resistance as compared to current Si switches and enable very high power density, modular inverters for use in electric drive vehicles. The extremely high speed of SiC switches also allows for increased efficiencies and reduced passive device requirements for power inverter applications.

While lower current (<50A) SiC switches offered by few SiC device suppliers have already penetrated solar and computer power supply manufacturers, the capability to handle currents > 100 A remains a key threshold for automotive applications.

This topic seeks to address this barrier through demonstrating the successful production of > 100A, > 600V rated switches with either built-in Schottky diodes (lower cost) or used with external Schottky diodes suitable for use in electric drive vehicle traction motor inverters.

Specifically, devices produced should show automotive application readiness through passing qualification specifications or standards and high yields. Where possible, applicants should show a relationship to, and demonstrate an understanding of, automotive application requirements and environments. Examples include surface and/or substrate treatments and processing, and compatibility with existing power module packaging and processing.

Proposals should also describe the cost of manufacturing SiC switches compared to competing Si switches, including details such as costs and availability of commercial SiC substrates, epi-layers, and additional equipment needed. These costs should be linked to a commercially viable business model for large scale manufacturing and should approach cost parity with Si switches on a cost per amp basis.

Variable compression ratio or variable stroke internal combustion engine with real- time controllability. DOE is seeking a commercially viable control system design, including hardware and software, to enable the dynamic control of the compression ratio and/or piston stroke of operating internal combustion engines in passenger vehicles. Applications for variable compression ratio control should propose the development of systems that:

  1. Are viable in current passenger car engines with only minor hardware design changes;
  2. Have a low expected additional cost to implement on an automotive engine;
  3. Work reliably for the typical lifetime of an automobile;
  4. Allow real-time compression ratio control from approximately 9.0 to 14.0;
  5. Are capable of a short response time to control input changes over the desired compression ratio range above—the ability to change compression ratio by at least 0.25 per engine cycle over the entire range;
  6. Are compatible with existing automotive engine architectures; and
  7. Are likely to result in a working prototype implemented on a modern, modified production automotive engine in Phase II.

Applications for variable stroke control should propose the development of systems that:

  1. Are viable in current passenger car engines with only minor hardware design changes;
  2. Have a low expected additional cost to implement on an automotive engine;
  3. Work reliably for the typical lifetime of an automobile;
  4. Allow real-time stroke control from approximately 40% to 100% of the maximum stroke;
  5. Are capable of a short response time to control input changes over the desired stroke range above;
  6. Are compatible with existing automotive engine architectures; and
  7. Are likely to result in a working prototype implemented on a modern, modified production automotive engine in Phase II.

Alternative crank mechanisms for internal combustion engines leading to improved energy efficiency. Reciprocating internal combustion (e.g. gasoline or diesel) engines for automotive applications use slider/crank mechanisms to create torque on an engine’s output shaft from forces applied to pistons as a result of the pressure created by the combustion of fuel.

While direct mechanical losses of traditional slider/crank mechanisms are small, there is another indirect loss as a consequence of slider/crank use. Early in an engine’s power stroke, cylinder temperatures—and therefore convective and radiative heat losses—all peak. The engine’s rate of performing work is still very low reducing energy efficiency. The net effect may be that slider/crank mechanisms indirectly lead to preventable energy losses and reduced energy efficiency.

DOE is seeking projects for the development or demonstration of a functioning prototype of a mass-produced, commercially available reciprocating engine, modified with an alternative mechanical mechanism linking the piston to the engine’s output shaft. Reporting must include fuel consumption test results over the entire engine map of the prototype compared with a second, unmodified, otherwise identical engine. All fuel consumption testing must be conducted according to engine industry norms. Statistically valid fuel economy improvements (95% confidence level) of at least 4.0% are desired.

Reduction of PGM loading in automotive emission control systems. Modern automotive emission control catalyst systems utilize monolithic flow-through supports coated with high surface area inorganic oxides and, typically, platinum group metals (PGMs). These metals—palladium, platinum and rhodium—are suspended in the washcoat, a refractory oxide layer bonded to a ceramic or metal support surface.

The North American market has the most stringent emissions regulations for the passenger car sector. The tightening of emissions standards has placed an ever-greater burden on catalyst performance and compliance has come in part through higher PGM content with associated higher costs and market volatility risks.

DOE is seeking strategies for reducing PGM loading in automotive catalyst systems through new techniques for dispersing the PGMs in the washcoat or through complete or partial substitution of PGMs with other, lower cost catalytic materials. Applications may include oxidation catalysts and three-way catalysts for gasoline engines, NOx adsorbers for lean-burn gasoline engines, as well as oxidation catalysts, urea selective catalytic reduction and NOx adsorbers for diesel engines.

The prototype catalyst thrifting strategy developed under this subtopic must be capable of reducing PGM loading by 50% in the proposed automotive emission control system application with conversion performance and durability comparable to current production catalyst systems. (For reference, the average loading for three-way catalysts is 1.1 grams PGM per liter of engine displacement).

Co-utilization of CO2 and CH4 to produce biofuel and bioproduct precursors. Biogas is primarily comprised of methane and carbon dioxide. DOE seeks projects to convert the combination of biogenic CO2 and CH4 into higher hydrocarbons (C3 and above, or C2 and above with at least one double bond). Proposals that produce syngas, ethanol, or methanol as a final product will be considered non-responsive, although all of those substances are acceptable as process intermediates.

Options include, but are not limited to:

  1. Biologically-based conversions;
  2. Thermo- and electrochemically based processes, which may include microbial components; and
  3. Dry (utilizing CO2) reforming of methane.

Evaluation criteria will include the conversion efficiency of biogenic carbon, total energy balance of the proposed processes, and cost-effectiveness in terms of DOE’s BETO’s 2017 and 2022 strategic targets.

While biogas from wet organic waste streams is the primary target of this subtopic, proposals that utilize CO2 streams from other sources may be within scope, provided that they utilize non-photosynthetic biological conversion mechanisms. While the primary goal of this solicitation is to further the development of drop-in biofuels from wet organic waste streams, proposals that include biochemical precursors as part of the overall value proposition are welcomed.


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