Transformational Energy Technologies for a More Secure and Affordable Future

Sandia National Laboratories responds to Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Funding Opportunity Announcements in partnership with external institutions. In these partnerships, Sandia seeks to help companies move their technologies to commercialization stage through the use of Sandia staff expertise and facilities. Sandia also seeks to transfer its existing intellectual property to companies for commercialization.

ARPA-E is a Department of Energy office tasked with promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies. ARPA-e is intended to fund high-risk, high-reward research that might not otherwise be pursued.

ARPA-E has four main objectives:

  • To bring a freshness, excitement, and sense of mission to energy research that will attract the U.S.’s best and brightest minds;
  • To focus on creative, transformational energy research that industry cannot, or will not support due to its high risk;
  • To utilize an ARPA-like organization that is flat, nimble, and sparse, capable of sustaining for long periods of time those projects whose promise remains real, while phasing out programs that do not prove to be as promising as anticipated; and
  • To create a new tool to bridge the gap between basic energy research and development/industrial innovation

ARPA-E focuses on transformational energy projects that can be meaningfully advanced with a small investment over a defined period of time. Their streamlined awards process enables Sandia to act quickly and catalyze cutting-edge areas of energy research.

Partnering with Sandia

Leverage the resources of Sandia National Laboratories for your benefit through a technology partnership. Sandia has been transferring technology to external partners for more than three decades, making it possible for partners to access our science and technology, people, and infrastructure. Sandia’s many and varied collaborations with industry, small businesses, universities, and government agencies on emerging technologies directly support our primary mission for the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and bring new technologies to the marketplace.

Sandia offers partnership opportunities through a number of mediums:

  • Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA)
  • Commercial License Agreement
  • Funds-In Agreement/Work for Others (WFO)
  • Designated Capability Agreement
  • Technology Development Center Agreement
  • User Facility Agreement

Learn more about partnering opportunities with Sandia.

Currently Funded Projects

ARPA-E Program: IDEAS

Partnering Institution(s): Pilawa Consulting

Project Summary: A large impediment to fulfilling state and utility renewable portfolio standards is the high levelized cost of solar PV energy ($109.8/MWh) compared to other sources (e.g. a conventional coal plant at $60.4/MWh). This disparity in cost is due primarily to the high installed cost of commercial and utility-scale solar PV systems (relative to capacity factor). This has motivated new developments in power electronics and grid infrastructure to favor efficiency and economy. Major themes include the utilization of wide bandgap (WBG) power electronics and medium voltage (MV) DC power distribution. This project will develop and demonstrate a novel MV, high-power density, high-efficiency, DC-DC power conversion circuit that relies on WBG semiconductor devices and is capable of 10 kV DC output at 10 kW with >100 W/in3 power density. The converter could be used to connect PV arrays to an MVDC bus for distribution in industrial-scale and utility-scale PV generation systems. The smaller converter size would yield cost savings from construction, shipping, and installation.

Transformational Merit: New improvements in switched-mode power converter performance are being realized with SiC and GaN, which permit higher switching frequencies, blocking voltages, and operating temperatures. Of these, SiC devices are the most mature, and several devices have become available including field effect transistor (FET) switches and high-voltage diodes. Compared to SiC, GaN has demonstrated some superior material characteristics, and several new advances have resulted in the development of GaN diodes capable of high-voltage, high-current, and high-speed switching. Unfortunately, realization of a GaN transistor with similar voltage and current capabilities has been elusive due to limitations in lateral GaN FET technology; further, the development of vertical GaN transistors is still in its infancy. Thus, this project will develop switched-mode power converter topologies that exploit the use of SiC switches coupled with GaN diodes for improved power density and higher performance. If successful, this development will exploit the superior material characteristics of GaN to realize unprecedented power density using a converter topology that is scalable to 100s of kW.

ARPA-E Program: ROOTS (Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration)

 

 Partnering Institution(s): University of New Mexico, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Project Summary: Understanding how crops can be optimized in current and expanding arid regions could help stabilize greenhouse gas emissions while improving productivity.  A comprehensive, multi-disciplinary field-screening investigation of aridland ecosystems (ALEs) using new, advanced sensors will address carbon (C) cycling, predict and alleviate responses to global environmental change pressures, and accelerate cultivar selection and development for ALEs. The project’s primary goal will be to improve selection of Sorghum varieties with increased root biomass, soil organic carbon storage, and water use efficiency. Sandia’s sensors will also be deployed in natural systems at the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research station to discover desirable traits that could be used in future work to improve crops. With The Emerson Group, the effort will also explore the utility of Sandia technologies for improving productivity of other valuable arid land crops, such as yucca and guayule. This project will demonstrate how Sandia’s novel and integrated micro-sensor technologies and computational modeling capabilities can be rapidly deployed in natural and agricultural arid land settings to continuously characterize whole plant function in the field at low cost.

Transformational Merit: The potential collapse in ALEs is a global issue because they are the largest terrestrial biome, covering almost half the landmass & human population, and reportedly sequester far more C than accountable via current understanding. ALEs of the American Southwest are especially at risk according to climate projections, with potential consequences of vast quantities of stored C, diminished capacity to cycle/sequester C, and feedback-driven contributions to climate.

Our ultimate goal could lead to re-greening of ALEs with new cultivars developed and selected to improve soil function with less water and nutrient requirements while depositing more soil carbon.  Aims include high-throughput breeding and monitoring in soil, root, and plant systems with a suite of scalable advanced sensors from near single-cell levels to aerial surveillance.

Partnering Institution(s): Iowa State University, University of California-David, Areva

ARPA-E Program: Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI)

Project Summary: Sandia National Laboratories is working with several commercial and university partners to develop software for market management systems (MMSs) that enable greater use of renewable energy sources throughout the grid. MMSs are used to securely and optimally determine which energy sources should be used to service energy demand across the country. Contributions of electricity to the grid from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are intermittent, introducing complications for MMSs, which have trouble accommodating the multiple sources of price and supply uncertainties associated with bringing these new types of energy into the grid. Sandia’s software will bring anew probability-based formulation to account for these uncertainties. By factoring in various probability scenarios for electricity production from renewable energy sources in real time, Sandia’s formula can reduce the risk of inefficient electricity transmission, save ratepayers money, conserve power, and support the future use of renewable energy.

Transformational Merit: Sandia’s software could encourage the spread of renewable energy throughout the electric grid by accounting for the uncertainties associated with its pricing and production.

Partnering Institution(s): University of Colorado-Boulder, Michigan State University

ARPA-E Program: Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems (RANGE)

Project Summary: This work focuses on the development of a new low-cost, all-solid battery for EVs with greater energy storage capacity and lighter, safer design compared to lithium-ion batteries. Conventional batteries are expensive, perform poorly at high temperatures and require heavy protective components to ensure safety. Solid Power’s liquid-free cells store more energy for their size and weight, but use non-flammable and on-volatile materials that are stable in high temperatures. This results in improved safety in the event of a collision or fire as well as Solid Power plant to use low-cost, abundant materials in the range of $10-$20/kg that could reduce battery manufacturing costs, to help drive down the cost of EVs.

Transformational Merit: If this project is successful, Solid Power’s solid-state battery would reduce battery costs and offer manufacturers greater flexibility with regard to battery placement and vehicle design. In turn, the adoption of EVs would diminish the demand for petroleum, dramatically reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as technological advancements from the RANGE program could enable EVs to ravel significantly further on a single charge at a much lower cost than that of current EVs and conventional vehicles.

Partnering Institutions: Ford Motor Company

ARPA-E Program: Advanced Management and Protection of Energy-storage Devices (AMPED)

Project Summary: Ford is developing a commercially viable battery tester with measurement precision that is significantly better than today’s best battery testers. Improvements in the predictive ability of battery testers would enable significant reductions in the time and expense involved in electric vehicle technology validation. Unfortunately, the instrumental precision required to reliably predict performance of batteries after thousands of charge and discharge cycles does not exist in today’s commercial systems. Ford’s design would dramatically improve the precision of electric vehicle battery testing equipment, which would reduce the time and expense required in the research, development, and qualification testing of new automotive and stationary batteries.

Transformational Merit: If successful, the battery tester would improve upon the precision of today’s best electric vehicle battery testers, allowing for better predictive capacity of the battery’s life.

Partnering Institution(s): Sea Engineering

ARPA-E Program: Open Funding Opportunity Announcement

Project Summary: Sea Engineering is developing a cost-effective ocean wave buoy system that will accurately measure its own movements as it follows the surface wave motions of the ocean and relay this real-time wave data. Conventional real-time wave measurement buoys are expensive, which limits the ability to deploy large networks of buoys. Data from Sea Engineering’s buoys can be used as input to control strategies of wave energy conversion (WEC) devices and allow these controlled WECs to capture significantly more energy than systems that do not employ control strategies. Sea Engineering’s system will also enable assessment of the optimal locations and designs of WEC systems. Sea Engineering’s ocean wave buoy system could measure and relay real-time wave data at 10% the cost of commercially available wave measurement systems.

Transformational Merit: If successful, Sea Engineering’s wave measurement system would enable more efficient and cost-effective ocean energy conversion systems and provide the innovative step forward to propel WEC designs from a niche technology to an affordable energy resource for the U.S. Wave energy is the most abundant form of hydrokinetic energy in the work. Successful harnessing of wave energy is dependent on real-time knowledge of the wave climate incident to a wave energy converter (WEC) array. This knowledge allows for the optimization of WEC array placement and design, and provides a link for active tuning of WECs to capture significantly more energy specific wave condition data (e.g., significant wave height and peak wave period) needed to implement successful WEC facilities that can make an impact on our nation’s electricity demands. Presently, real-time wave measurement buoys are available at costs in excess of $50,000 per buoy. The high cost limits the ability to deploy large networks of buoys for both assessment and operational needs.

Wave Buoy Calibration Stand

Custom wave buoy calibration stand with Wave Assessment Tool sensor unit mounted in center ring

Schematic diagram of Wave Assessment Tool buoy and sensor setup

Schematic diagram of Wave Assessment Tool buoy and sensor setup

Partnering Institutions: University of Florida

ARPA-E Program: Plants Engineered to Replace Oil (PETRO)

Project Summary: Currently, traditional biofuels production is limited not only by the small amount of solar energy that plants convert through photosynthesis into biological materials, but also by inefficient processes for converting these biological materials into fuels. While enhanced feedstocks for biofuels have generally focused on fuel production from leafy plants and grasses, the University of Florida is experimenting with enhancing fuel production in a species of pine that is currently used in the paper pulping industry. The university is working to increase the amount of turpentine in harvested pine from 4% to 20% of its dry weight. Pine trees naturally produce around 3-5% terpene content in the wood—terpenes are the energy-dense fuel molecules that are the predominant components of turpentine. The team aims to increase the terpene storage potential and production capacity while improving the terpene composition to a point at which the trees could be tapped while alive. Even though the growth and production of these trees will take years, the pioneering technology could have a significant impact in making available an economical and domestic source of aviation and diesel biofuels.

Transformational Merit: If successful, the University of Florida’s project could make pine trees sources of fuel precursors for the domestic production of aviation and diesel biofuels, enabling large-scale production of replacement for petroleum-based fuels. The transportation sector accounts for nearly all of their petroleum imports and by providing an advanced biofuels alternative to petroleum will allow the U.S. to reduce these imports, improving our energy independence. By producing biofuels domestically, it will allow for the U.S. to keep more dollars at home.

Partnering Institutions: MoGene

ARPA-E Program: Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy (REMOTE)

Project Summary: There is currently no commercially viable biological approach to converting methane into liquid fuel, and synthetic approaches are expensive and inefficient at small scales. Throughout the United States, natural gas can be found in abundance and in order to take advantage of the country’s remote natural gas resources, new biological processes that uses special microorganisms called “biocatalysts” are needed to transform methane into liquid fuel. These small-scale processes could provide an environment advantage since they would be carbon neutral or better relative to traditional fuels. MOgene will engineer a “phototrophic” organism to convert methane that is capable of deriving additional energy from sunlight, allowing the organism to naturally provide oxygen needed for methane conversion while recapturing any carbon dioxide that would have been released in the process. MOgene’s technology would be a more efficient and cost-effective way to activate methane, while producing n-butanol, a liquid fuel precursor.

Transformational Merit: If successful, MOgene will develop a low-carbon-emissions technology that produces a liquid fuel from natural gas and sunlight through efficient, low-cost biological conversion. An improved bioconversion process could create cost-competitive liquid fuels significantly reducing demand for foreign oil. This technology will also allow for utilization of small-scale remote natural gas resources or methane and carbon rich gas residues for fuel production reducing harmful emissions associated with conventional fuel technologies. By expanding U.S. natural gas resources via bioconversion to liquid fuels could contribute tens of billions of dollars to the nation’s economy while reducing or stabilizing transport fuel prices.

Partnering Institutions: iBeam Materials

ARPA-E Program: Strategies for Wide Bandgap, Inexpensive Transistors for Controlling High-Efficiency Systems (SWITCHES)

Project Summary: Sandia National Laboratories is working with iBeam Materials will develop a manufacturing method to produce low-cost gallium nitride (GaN) devices for use in large-scale power electronics. If successful iBeam Materials will use a crystal-aligned GaN coating on top of a large-area, flexible, metal foil, such as stainless steel, which is significantly less expensive than the all-GaN wafers used in conventional GaN manufacturing processes. This cost-effective coating technology was recently developed to manufacture high-quality, low-cost superconductor wire, and iBeam is working to perfect its use in power electronics and lighting.

Transformational Merit: If successful, iBeam Material’s GaN coating would significantly reduce the manufacturing cost of high-performance GaN power electronic devices, helping to facilitate their widespread use.

Partnering Institution(s): University of Rochester

ARPA-E Program: Accelerating Low-cost Plasma Heating and Assembly (ALPHA)

Project Summary: Sandia National Laboratories will partner with the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester to investigate the behavior of the magnetized plasma under fusion conditions, using a fusion concept known as Magnetized Liner Inertial Fusion (MagLIF). MagLIF uses lasers to pre-heat a magnetically insulated plasma in a metal liner and then compresses the liner to achieve fusion. The research team will conduct experiments at Sandia’s large Z facility as well as Rochester’s OMEGA facilities, and will collect key measurements of magnetized plasma fuel including temperature, density, and magnetic field over time. The results will help researchers improve compression and heating performance. By using the smaller OMEGA facility, researchers will be able to conduct experiments more rapidly, speeding the learning process and validating the MagLIF approach. Sandia’s team will also use their experimental results to validate and expand a suite of simulation and numerical design tools to improve future fusion energy applications that employ magnetized inertial fusion concepts. This project will help accelerate the development of the MagLIF concept, and assist with the continued development of intermediate density approaches across the ALPHA program.

Transformational Merit: If successful, Sandia’s work will validate the MagLIF technique and provide important experimental and computational results that will help enable a rapid development path towards economical fusion power.

View MIF Fact Sheet View Fuel Magnetization Fact Sheet

Showcase Nominees

2017 High-Temperature Falling Particle Receiver

Falling particle receivers for concentrating solar power (CSP) systems enable clean, on-demand energy production using concentrated sunlight with highly efficient and inexpensive thermal storage. The falling particle receiver uses sand-like particles that fall through a beam of highly concentrated sunlight focused by an array of mirrors. The particles are heated very efficiently, increasing in temperature by over 100 °C in just a fraction of a second, and are capable of reaching temperatures over 1,000 °C. Once heated, the hot particles are stored and used to generate electricity in a power cycle or to create process heat.

View Fact Sheet

2017

Stress-Induced Fabrication

Stress-Induced Fabrication enables the production of new materials with better performance and structure control while reducing costs, improving manufacturability, and minimizing environmental and safety concerns. Sandia’s technology represents a new paradigm for the production of functionally designed nanomaterials with more degrees of freedom than chemical methods. It offers significant flexibility in control of materials architecture and property, as well as direct integration of nanoelectronic devices. The cross-disciplinary, economic, logistic, and environmental benefits of these new processes promise widespread impact for this technology.

View Fact Sheet

2017

Low Energy, Chlorine-Tolerant Desalination Membranes

Laboratory tests show that GO/polymer membranes tolerate drinking water level chlorination (1-3 mg/L). This chlorine tolerance eliminates the need for energy-intensive de-chlorination processes used to pre-treat water for conventional thin-film composite reverse osmosis (TFC-RO) membranes, which are damaged by free chlorine levels >0.1 mg/L.

View Fact Sheet

2016 Hydrocarbon Membranes for Energy and Water Electrochemical Systems Poly (phenylene)-based hydrocarbon membrane separators developed at Sandia National Laboratories are showing exceptional performance in real-world applications tests by system customers and partner research institutions. Polymer membranes play a crucial function in many energy and water technologies, including energy storage, water electrolysis and purification, and stationary and transportation power systems. An important advantage of the Sandia membrane technology is that the poly (phenylene) backbone is similar for all applications, with chemical functionalization determining the application space. Key technology improvement milestones include, improving the chemical and mechanical durability in both acidic and alkaline conditions, and addressing materials and system integration issues.

View Fact Sheet

2016 Sodium-Based Battery Development Sodium-based batteries promise safe, low cost, high performance energy storage solutions for grid renovation and vehicle electrification. Sandia National Laboratories and Ceramatec, Inc., are developing a high-performance, intermediate temperature (< 200oC) sodium battery. This high-energy-density, low-cost battery features 3V battery chemistry with a molten sodium metal anode and iodine cathode, separated by a stable ceramic NaSICON sodium-ion conductor. Battery design incorporates low cost, thermally tolerant, US-abundant materials suitable for commercial-scale manufacturing. Current demonstration efforts are leading to development of 100 Wh/250 Wh unit cells followed by production of a KWh size battery pack to be tested in a grid/microgrid environment.

View Fact Sheet

2016 Magnetoelastic Smart Sensors for Smart PV modules and components (MagSens-PV) Grid health and reliability forms the backbone of our Nation’s infrastructure. Real time monitoring and fast failure location and identification is critical for electrical grid sustainability. We propose the development of a cheap, fast (µs), fully integrated, passive micro-sensor capable of detecting changes in currents at µA levels in electric grids, which can enable the early detection of failures in the electric grid. Integrating smart sensors into grid systems will enable more complex modeling and adaptation to unknown problems for preventing future catastrophic failures.

View Fact Sheet

2015 Advanced Materials for Energy and Cost-Efficient
Large Scale Separations of Oxygen from Air
Sandia National Laboratories is developing methods for the purification of oxygen from air for industrial uses, such as oxyfuel combustion. This technology can enable significant energy savings and reduced operation costs for industry,as well as reduced U.S. fossil fuel dependence.
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2015 Metal Ionic Liquids for Flow Batteries Sandia National Laboratories has created a new family of ionic-liquid based electrolytes with accompanying nonaqueous compatible membranes and flow cell designs for higher energy density redox flow batteries targeted to support increasing demands for stationary energy storage.
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2014 Sandia Hand The Sandia Hand is an inexpensive, dexterous and modular manipulator. In the standard configuration, the hand consists of four fingers and 12 active degrees of freedom. The fingers are replaceable and re configurable allowing a variety of other configurations to be realized. The dexterity and modularity, coupled with fingernails, soft skin, tactile sensing and stereo vision enable several important applications at a previously unavailable price point.
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2014 Recompression Brayton Cycle Sandia National Laboratories is developing a thermal-to-electric power conversion technology that utilizes carbon dioxide (CO2) as the working fluid in a closed Brayton cycle. This technology possesses the capability to generate electricity at high efficiencies while reducing both costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
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2014 Binder-free Pelletization Process This binder-free pelletization process can fabricate industrially relevant pellets of porous catalysts and separations materials, and enables the implementation of oxide based materials into industrial process with full access to surface area and reactivity of the base material.
2014 Sandia Cooler Sandia’s radically different approach to a CPU cooler overcomes the heat transfer bottleneck of “dead air” that clings to cooling fins, generating a several-fold improvement in cooling performance in a device that is smaller, quieter, and immune to clogging by dust.
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2014 Silicon Photonics Silicon photonics offers a potential breakthrough in optical interconnection performance, not just for supercomputer applications, but also for data communication and other applications.
SiP Brochure SAND 2014-15057M
2013 Microsystems Enabled Photovoltaics (MEPV) These tiny glitter-sized photovoltaic (PV) cells could revolutionize solar energy collection. Made from robust semiconductor materials, miniaturized PV generate clean electricity that can work as safely, reliably, and durably as present-day grid power, and be cheaper than all other forms of energy.
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2013 Biomimetic Membrane Biomimetic membranes have the potential to produce clean water more efficiently than current state-of-the-art reverse osmosis membranes and could provide easier access to cheaper, clean water while lessening demands on the electrical energy production used for desalination.
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2012 Smart Outlet Sandia’s Smart Outlet is an autonomous intelligent electrical outlet for controlling loads for power grids with a high percentage of renewable resources. The Smart Outlet platform performs sensing, actuation, communications, and processing for autonomous load control in response to variations in generation supply.