Quadrennial Technology Review - September 2015

On September 10th, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz released the second Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR 2015), which examines the most promising research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) opportunities across energy technologies to effectively address the nation’s energy needs. Specifically, this analysis identifies the important technology RDD&D opportunities across energy supply and end-use in working toward a clean US energy economy. The insight gained from this analysis will provide essential information for decision-makers as they develop funding decisions, approaches to public-private partnerships, and other strategic actions over the next five years. In announcing the release, Franklin M. Orr, Jr., Under Secretary for Science and Energy, provided the following statement:

The 2015 QTR provides one of the most comprehensive assessments ever completed of R&D opportunities to sustain and deepen our clean-energy revolution. The report examines energy technology opportunities across six sectors of the energy system that can help the nation address our energy security, economic, and environmental challenges—including climate change.

This review comes at a critical time in the nation’s energy landscape. The United States is in the midst of an energy revolution, in part driven by technology resulting from decades of R&D. As a result, much has changed over the past four years since the last QTR, and many new trends and technological opportunities have arisen for the future. The QTR identifies these trends and R&D opportunities to inform decision making about investments across the nation’s energy systems in the years to come.

In 2010, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended that the DOE regularly complete a technology review to create a systematic effort in R&D portfolio analysis. The 2015 QTR does exactly this—and although the future has plenty of challenges, the QTR shows that it is certainly bright.

We can now see what our clean energy future looks like, but we have to keep this momentum going. The 2015 QTR helps us see what is possible. Now it is up to us to keep pursuing new R&D opportunities that build on the progress we’ve made so far.

The 2015 QTR builds upon the first QTR (in 2011), focusing on DOE energy technology RDD&D activities and complements the work of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), which focuses on energy infrastructure and government-wide energy policy. The 2015 QTR describes the nation’s energy landscape and the dramatic changes that have taken place in the last four years. It then identifies the RDD&D activities, opportunities, and pathways forward to help address our national energy challenges. Read the framing document for the second QTR here, for more on the context of this QTR activity. (Download the full 2015 QTR report.)

Combustion Research Facility Contribution Is a Sidebar in the New QTR

Sandia researchers, led by David Osborn (in Sandia’s Combustion Chemistry Dept.), were the first to directly measure hydroperoxyalkyl radicals—a class of reactive molecules denoted as “QOOH”—that are key in the chain of reactions that controls the early stages of combustion. This breakthrough has generated data on QOOH reaction rates and outcomes that will improve the fidelity of models used by engine manufacturers to create cleaner and more efficient cars and trucks.

Sandia chemist John Savee (left) identified cycloheptadiene as the best fuel for creating a detectable QOOH, and Sandia computational expert Ewa Papajak (right) and her adviser, Judit Zádor, used quantum chemistry to explain the mechanism of the reaction. Savee and Papajak appear in front of an instrument, the Multiplexed Photoionization Mass Spectrometer in the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that took direct measurements. (Photo by David Osborn)

Sandia chemist John Savee (left) identified cycloheptadiene as the best fuel for creating a detectable QOOH, and Sandia computa- tional expert Ewa Papajak (right) and her adviser, Judit Zádor, used quantum chemistry to explain the mechanism of the reaction. Savee and Papajak appear in front of an instrument, the Multiplexed Photoionization Mass Spectrometer in the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, that took direct measurements. (Photo by David Osborn)

Thousands of chemical reactions are involved in the conversion of a fuel’s chemical energy into mechanical work in an automobile engine. The fleeting molecules that initiate, sustain, and then increase combustion are radicals: short-lived molecules that readily react and form new chemical bonds. Although many aspects of combustion are well established, a veil still covers ignition, the early stage of this process, and the chemistry that determines whether a fuel-air mixture will ignite rapidly, react slowly, or extinguish.

Decades of research worldwide shows that QOOH must be a central connection in the network of ignition reactions. Researchers learned this by studying the products of ignition chemistry, looking at this web of reactions from its perimeter and working inward, gradually deducing the nature of the “reactive intermediate” molecules that must lie at the center.

Nearly 10 years ago, Sandia researchers designed a new instrument, the Multiplexed Photoionization Mass Spectrometer (MPIMS), to directly probe all kinds of intermediates. In 2012, the Sandia team, together with colleagues from the University of Manchester and Bristol University in England used the MPIMS to directly measure reaction rates and products of the “Criegee intermediate,” a crucial reactive molecule in the web of reactions that occur in atmospheric chemistry.

“We not only measured the Criegee intermediates and provided fundamental knowledge about Criegee reactions,” said Craig Taatjes, manager of Sandia’s Combustion Chemistry Dept. “We also disclosed to other researchers the process for generating and measuring the intermediates on their own. The impact has been enormous, as others have taken this knowledge and put it to work.”

A later paper furthered this knowledge. QOOH was next in line. For the direct measurements, the team used the Sandia-designed MPIMS at the Advanced Light Source, a LBNL synchrotron user facility. The intense tunable light created by the synchrotron allowed the team to measure spectral fingerprints of molecules, deducing the particular arrangement of atoms that gives a molecule its identity. They confirmed that the spectrum of the radical they observed matched that of a QOOH molecule, rather than some other possible arrangement of the same atoms.

A description of this DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences-funded research and its implications and impact appears in a QTR sidebar on page 333. Read more about the direct measurement of the QOOH molecule.