Energy Innovation

//Energy Innovation
Energy Innovation 2019-11-22T17:05:16+00:00

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


Partnering Institution(s): Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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.

Transformational Merit: 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.



 Partnering Institution(s): University of New Mexico

Project Summary: Vertical transistors based on bulk gallium nitride (GaN) have emerged as promising candidates for future high efficiency, high power applications. However, they have been plagued by poor electrical performance attributed to the existing selective doping processes. Sandia National Laboratories will develop patterned epitaxial regrowth of GaN as a selective area doping processes to fabricate diodes with electronic performance equivalent to as-grown state-of-the-art GaN diodes.

Transformational Merit: The team’s research will provide a better understanding of which particular defects resulting from impurities and etch damage during the epitaxial regrowth process limit device performance, how those defects specifically impact the junction electronic properties, and ultimately how to control and mitigate the defects. The improved mechanistic understanding developed under the project will help the team design specific approaches to controlling impurity contamination and defect incorporation at regrowth interfaces and include development of in-chamber cleans and regrowth initiation processes to recover a high-quality epitaxial surfaces immediately prior to crystal regrowth.

Partnering Institution(s):


Project Summary: Sandia National Laboratories will develop a new type of switch, a 100kV optically controlled switch (often called photoconductive semiconductor switch or PCSS), based on the WBG semiconductors GaN and AlGaN. The capabilities of the PCSS will be demonstrated in high-voltage circuits for medium and high voltage direct current (MVDC/HVDC) power conversion for grid applications. Photoconductivity is the measure of a material’s response to the energy inherent in light radiation. The electrical conductivity of a photoconductive material increases when it absorbs light. The team will first measure the photoconductive properties of GaN and AlGaN in order to assess if they operate similarly to gallium arsenide, a conventional semiconductor material used for PCSS, demonstrating sub-bandgap optical triggering and low-field, high-gain avalanche providing many times as many carriers by the electric field as created by the optical trigger. These two effects provide a tremendous reduction in the optical trigger energy required to activate the switch. The team will then design and fabricate GaN and AlGaN-based photoconductive semiconductor switches.

Transformational Merit: The team predicts that WBG PCSS will outperform their predecessors with higher switch efficiency, the ability to switch at higher voltages, and will turn-off and recover faster, allowing for a higher frequency of switching. Ultimately, this will enable high-voltage switch assemblies (50-500kV) that can be triggered from a single, small driver (e.g. semiconductor laser). These modules will be substantially smaller (~10x) and simpler than existing modules used in grid-connected power electronics, allowing the realization of inexpensive and efficient switch modules that can be used in DC to AC power conversion systems on the grid at distribution and transmission scales.

Partnering Institution(s): University of New Mexico


Project Summary: Sandia National Laboratory will develop novel, field-deployable sensor technologies for monitoring soil, root, and plant systems. First, the team will develop microneedles similar and shape and function to hypodermic needles used in transdermal drug delivery and wearable sensors. The minimally invasive needles will be used to report on sugar concentrations and water stress in leaves, stems, and large roots in real-time. Continuously monitoring the sugar concentrations at multiple locations will be transformative in understanding whole plant carbon dynamics and the function of the vascular tissues that conduct sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves. The second key technology are gas chromatographs deployed in the soil and near plants in order to monitor volatile organic compounds (VOC). Plants synthesize and release volatile organic compounds both aboveground and belowground that act as chemical signals or in response to biotic stress (damage from insects, bacteria, etc.) or abiotic stress (such as drought, flooding, and extreme temperatures). VOCs modulate biomass uptake and the team hopes to better understand soil composition by measuring VOC transport.

Transformational Merit: The team’s integrated microsensor technologies will be deployed in arid environments in both natural and agricultural lands to characterize whole plant function in both environments. Applying these sensors to plants in arid environments could assist in re-greening arid ecosystems with new specially bred plants developed and selected to improve soil function with less water and nutrient requirements while depositing more soil carbon.

Partnering Institutions: Harvard University (Lead)


Project Summary: Harvard University in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories will develop a transistor-less 16kW DC to DC converter boosting a 0.5kV DC input to 8kV that is scalable to 100kW. If successful, the transistor-less DC to DC converter could improve the performance of power electronics for electric vehicles, commercial power supplies, renewable energy systems, grid operations, and other applications. Converting DC to DC is a two-step process that traditionally uses fast-switching transistors to convert a DC input to an AC signal before the signal is rectified to a DC output. The Harvard and Sandia team will improve the process by replacing the active, fast-switching transistors with a slow switch followed by a passive, nonlinear transmission line (NLTL). The NLTL is a ladder network of passive components (inductors and diodes) that provide a nonlinear output with voltage. The combination of the nonlinear behavior with dispersion converts a quasi-DC input into a series of sharper and taller (amplified) voltage pulses called solitons, thus executing the DC to AC conversion without the use of active, fast-switching transistors. The NLTL will be followed by a high breakdown voltage silicon carbide and/or gallium nitride diode-based accumulator that converts the series of solitons to a DC output. Replacing the fast-switching transistors with a slow switch and a NLTL addresses the cost, size, efficiency, and reliability issues associated with fast switching based converters. Diodes also cost less and last longer because they are simpler structures than transistors and use no dielectrics.

Transformational Merit: Efficiency, cost, and reliability improvements provided by a NLTL-based power converter will drastically benefit commercial power supplies, industrial motors, electric vehicles, data centers, the electric grid, and renewable electric power generation such as solar and wind.

Partnering Institution(s): iBeam Materials (Lead), Los Alamos National Laboratory


Project Summary:iBeam Materials is developing a scalable manufacturing method to produce low-cost gallium nitride (GaN) LED devices for use in solid-state lighting. iBeam Materials uses an ion-beam crystal-aligning process to create single-crystal-like templates on arbitrary substrates thereby eliminating the need for small rigid single-crystal substrates.

Transformational Merit:This process is inexpensive, high-output, and allows for large-area deposition in particular on flexible metal foils. In using flexible substrates, in contrast to rigid single-crystal wafers, the ion-aligning process also enables roll-to-roll (R2R) processing of crystalline films. R2R processing in turn simplifies manufacturing scale-up by reducing equipment footprint and associated labor costs By fabricating the LED directly on a metal substrate, one “pre-packages” the LED with the reflector and the heat sink built-in. This significantly reduces cost, simplifies packaging and allows a pick-and-place (P&P) technology to be replaced with printing of LEDs.

Partnering Institution(s): IR Dynamics (Lead); Madico Inc.


Project Summary: IR Dynamics, LLC will develop a low-cost nanomaterial technology to be incorporated into flexible window films that will improve thermal insulation and solar heat gain. The team’s nanomaterial will incorporate two materials. First, low-cost nanosheets will increase thermal resistance. Second, a new type of nanomaterial will allow heat, in the form of infrared radiation (IR) from the sun, to pass through the window when it is cold outside, helping to warm the room in cold weather. When it is hot outside, the material will block the solar IR from passing through the window and warming the interior. This same material reflects thermal radiation and displays a tunable emissivity, contributing more to its insulation value and energy retention. The dynamic IR reflectivity and emissivity are passive by nature, requiring no electronics or power source to shift, and only rely on environmental temperature changes.

Transformational Merit: IR Dynamics’ technology creates a window film that automatically adjusts depending on outside temperatures and can have a substantive impact in performance on single-pane and older variants of double-pane windows.

Partnering Institution(s): Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Project Summary: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with partner Sandia National Laboratories will develop a micro-CPV system. The team’s approach integrates optical concentrating elements with micro-scale solar cells to enhance efficiency, reduce material and fabrication costs, and significantly reduce system size. The team’s key innovation is the use of traditional silicon PV cells for more than one function. These traditional cells lay on a silicon substrate that has etched reflective cavities with high-performance micro-PV cells on the cavity floor. Light entering the system will hit a primary concentrator that then directs light into the reflective cavities and towards the high performance micro-PV cells.

Transformational Merit: Diffuse light, which most CPV technologies do not capture, is collected by the lower performance silicon PV cells. The proposed technology could provide 40-55% more energy than conventional FPV and 15-40% more energy than traditional CPV with a significantly reduced system cost, because of the ability to collect both direct and diffuse light in a thin form factor.

Partnering Institution(s): Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) (Lead)


Project Summary: The Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a Xerox company, along with Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) will develop a prototype printer with the potential to enable economical, high-volume manufacturing of micro-PV cell arrays. This project will focus on creating a printing technology that can affordably manufacture micro-CPV system components. The envisioned printer would drastically lower assembly costs and increase manufacturing efficiency of micro-CPV systems. Leveraging their expertise in digital copier assembly, PARC intends to create a printer demonstration that uses micro-CPV cells or “chiplets” as the “ink” and arranges the chiplets in a precise, predefined location and orientation, similar to how a document printer places ink on a page. SNL will provide micro-scaled photovoltaic components to be used as the “ink,” and the PARC system will “print” panel-sized micro-CPV substrates with digitally placed and interconnected PV cells.

Transformational Merit: This micro-chiplet printer technology may reduce the assembly cost of micro-CPV systems by orders of magnitude, making them cost competitive with conventional FPV. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the printer, the project team will investigate two types of backplanes (electronically connected PV arrays arranged on a surface): one with a single type of micro-PV cell, and one with at least two types of micro-PV cells.

Partnering Institution(s): University of Virginia (UVA) (Lead), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Sandia National Labs (SNL), Colorado School of Mines, University of Colorado (Boulder), University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign)

ARPA-E Program: Open Funding Opportunity Announcement

Project Summary: The team led by the University of Virginia will design the world’s largest wind turbine by employing a new downwind turbine concept called Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR). Increasing the size of wind turbine blades will enable a large increase in power from today’s largest turbines – from an average of 5-10MW to a proposed 50MW system. The SUMR concept allows blades to deflect in the wind, much like a palm tree, to accommodate a wide range of wind speeds (up to hurricane-wind speeds) with reduced blade load, thus reducing rotor mass and fatigue. The novel blades also use segmentation to reduce production, transportation, and installation costs.

Transformational Merit: This innovative design overcomes key challenges for extreme-scale turbines resulting in a cost-effective approach to advance the domestic wind energy market. The team includes world’s experts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Labs (SNL) working with world-class faculty and students at the Colorado School of Mines, University of Colorado (Boulder), University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), and the University of Virginia.

Partnering Institution(s): University of Maryland (UMD) (Lead), Oak Ridge National Laboratory


Project Summary: Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) account for 13% of energy consumed in the U.S. and about 40% of the energy used in a typical U.S. residence, making it the largest energy expense for most homes. Even though more energy-efficient HVAC technologies are being adopted in both the commercial and residential sectors, these technologies focus on efficiently heating or cooling large areas and dealing with how the building’s net occupancy changes during a day, a week and across seasons. Building operators have to tightly manage temperature for an average occupancy comfort level; but the occupants only occupy a small fraction of the building’s interior.

Transformational Merit:There is a critical need for technologies that create localization of thermal management to relax the temperature settings in buildings, reduce the load on HVAC systems and enhance occupant comfort. This is achieved by tailoring the thermal environment around the individual, thus saving energy by not over-heating or over-cooling areas within the building where the occupants do not reside.

Partnering Institution(s): Arizona State University (Lead); Nexant, Inc.; PJM Interconnection


Project Summary: Arizona State University (ASU) will develop a stochastic optimal power flow (SOPF) framework, which would integrate uncertainty from renewable resources, load, distributed storage, and demand response technologies into bulk power system management in a holistic manner. The team will develop SOPF algorithms for the security-constrained economic dispatch (SCED) problem used to manage variability in the electric grid. The algorithms will be implemented in a software tool to provide system operators with real-time guidance to help coordinate between bulk generation and large numbers of DERs and demand response. ASU’s project features unique data-analytics based short-term forecast for bulk and distributed wind and solar generation utilized by the advisory tool that generates real-time recommendations for market operators based on the SOPF algorithm outputs.

Transformational Merit: If successful, projects included in the NODES Program will develop innovative hardware and software solutions to integrate and coordinate generation, transmission, and end-use energy systems at various points on the electric grid. These control systems will enable real-time coordination between distributed generation, such as rooftop and community solar assets and bulk power generation, while proactively shaping electric load. This will alleviate periods of costly peak demand, reduce wasted energy, and increase renewables penetration on the grid.

Partnering Institution(s): University of California, San Diego (UCSD) (Lead)


Project Summary:The University of California, San Diego will develop a new datacenter network based on photonic technology that can double the energy efficiency of a datacenter. Their LEED project mirrors the development of CPU processors in PCs. Previous limitations in the clock rate of computer processors forced designers to adopt parallel methods of processing information and to incorporate multiple cores within a single chip. The team envisions a similar development within datacenters, where the advent of parallel lightwave networks can act as a bridge to more efficient datacenters. This architecture leverages advanced photonic switching and interconnects in a scalable way. Additionally, the team will add a low-loss optical switch technology that routes the data traffic carried as light waves. They will also add the development of packaged, scalable transmitters and receivers that can be used in the system without the need for energy-consuming optical amplification, while still maintaining the appropriate signal-to-noise ratio. The combination of these technologies can create an easily controllable, energy-efficient architecture to help manage rapidly transitioning data infrastructure to cloud-based services and cloud-based computing hosted in datacenters.

Transformational Merit: If successful, developments from ENLITENED projects will result in an overall doubling in datacenter energy efficiency in the next decade through deployment of new photonic network topologies.

Showcase Technologies


Turf Algae

Turf Algae cultivation remediates compromised surface waters while producing biomass. This provides a potential low-cost means to prevent non-point source nutrient pollution from being dispersed into the broader environment while generating a renewable energy feedstock.

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Twistact technology is a fundamentally new rotary electrical contact with only rolling metal-to-metal contact that eliminates the need for rare earth magnets in direct-drive wind turbines by enabling a wire-wound generator architecture with no efficiency or penalties to the levelized cost of energy (as determined by a technoeconomic study led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory). A Twistact-based rotary electrical contact, because it eliminates the fundamental wear mechanisms responsible for degradation of carbon brushes/slip rings, can last the entire 30-year design life of a wind turbine without replacement.

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Control System for Active Damping of Inter-Area Oscillations

Sandia’s control system increases damping of inter-area oscillations to enhance power grid reliability.

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Aero-Mines (Motionless, Integrated, Extraction) for Safe, Distributed, Scalable Wind Power

A reliable, distributed, scalable system for wind energy extraction in both building- integrated and stand-alone configurations.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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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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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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.


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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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


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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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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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.