Sandia’s Energy Program Wins Two Federal Laboratory Consortium 2015 Awards

September 10, 2015 4:00 pm Published by

Sandia’s Energy Program has won two awards from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer’s (FLC’s) Far West Region for its work to develop and commercialize innovative technologies.

The FLC is a nationwide network of ~300 federal laboratories and centers that provides a forum to develop strategies and opportunities for linking laboratory mission technologies and expertise with the marketplace. The FLC’s technology transfer awards program annually recognizes federal laboratories and their industry partners for outstanding technology-transfer efforts. Since 1984, the FLC has recognized honorees at nearly 200 federal laboratories. These awards have become one of the most prestigious honors in technology transfer.

A New Approach to Wind Energy

The Sandia-patented rotary electrical contact device and method for providing current to and/or from a rotating member. Twistact is a fundamentally new class of rotary electrical-contact device to replace brush/slip-ring hardware and eliminate the need for rare earth element magnets in wind-turbine generators. The Twistact technology provides rolling contact, the electric current spends minimal time on belt, and it is convectively cooled.
The Sandia-patented rotary electrical contact device and method for providing current to and/or from a rotating member.

Sandia’s Twistact technology is capable of taking wind energy to the next level. It’s under development by a multidisciplinary team:

  • Jeff Koplow and Wayne Staats (in Sandia’s Energy Innovation Dept.),
  • Nicholas Argibay (in Sandia’s Materials Mechanics & Tribology Dept.), &
  • Justin Vanness (in Sandia’s Telemetry & Stockpile RDCS Dept.).

Twistact was recognized with an “Outstanding Technology Development” award. The Twistact patent was issued very quickly, in just 18 months, without any changes to the claims—due to the fact that the technology was so novel.

“It can eliminate the need for rare earth element-based magnets in multiple-megawatt wind turbines, which is one of the last major hurdles to the proliferation of cost-effective wind power,” said principal investigator Jeff Koplow. It should also allow industry to construct very large wind turbines to

  • achieve better economies of scale that exist at 10 MW and beyond and
  • reduce wind-turbine housing weight and, potentially, construction costs.

“Twistact is a new approach to the very old problem of how to transmit electrical power between something that moves and something that doesn’t,” Koplow said. “Think of a moving subway train taking power off a stationary third rail [or commuter train powered by overhead catenary wires].” It is done now with a sliding contact device, a brush or shoe that rides along a surface. But sliding electrical contacts easily wear out.

“Twistact connects an electrical circuit between something moving and something stationary or, in the case of a wind turbine, something rotating and something not, without a sliding contact and without electrical arcing,” Koplow said. Twistact provides pure rolling contact; direct metallic contact, with negligible voltage drop; a large electrical contact area; two parallel current paths; and extremely effective thermal management.

The technology could be important for wind turbines because it makes using copper and steel—instead of rare earth magnets—practical in the generators. “Twistact technology is designed to eliminate the need for high-maintenance components like gear boxes and brush contacts,” said Koplow. In addition, the Twistact technology is designed for long component lifetimes: the belt carries no mechanical load, current flow is transverse to the belt (short path), and the time-averaged resistive heating is not localized (distributed over entire belt circumference).

Recently, Twistact was selected for participation in the DOE’s Lab Corps program (an effort in which Bianca Thayer, see below, was very much involved). LabCorps’ goal is to accelerate transferring innovative clean-energy technologies from DOE’s national laboratories into the marketplace. The program aims to empower and better train national lab researchers to successfully transition their discoveries into high-impact, real-world technologies in the private sector. With the Lab Corps pilot in place, Sandia is poised to team with the wind industry to make a huge impact. Sandia is eager to commercialize this technology and help industry increase wind-energy penetration across the nation.

A Passion for Technology Transfer

Another FLC Award honored Bianca Thayer (a business-development specialist in Sandia-California’s Business Development Dept.) as “Technology Transfer Professional of the Year.”

Bianca Thayer started her Sandia career five years ago as a licensing executive in Albuquerque after working 30 years in industry. She has negotiated new industry and academic partnerships and transferred a wide range of Sandia technologies through licensing, cooperative research and development and other business agreements.

Among Thayer’s successes was negotiating the patent license in 2012 with Honeywell UOP for crystalline silico-titanates used to remove radioactive cesium from contaminated seawater following the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. She also negotiated numerous new licenses for Sandia’s decontamination technology resulting in more widespread use of the product.

Her manager, Carrie Burchard, said Thayer, who transferred to Sandia’s Livermore, California, lab in 2013, “is constantly thinking of new ways to help her licensees be successful in commercializing technologies from Sandia. She’s got a true passion for technology transfer.”

The FLC Far West Region awards were presented at an awards dinner on August 26, as part of their Far West/Mid-Continent Regional Meeting, in San Diego, California.

Read the Sandia news release for more details on the other two FLC awards Sandia technologies outside our Energy Program earned this year.

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