which are plant-like bacteria that can use the energy contained in
sunlight to feed themselves. This is, roughly, the definition of photosynthesis in which a cell absorbs carbon dioxide and water from its
surroundings, and then uses the energy of sunlight to “fix” the carbon
from carbon dioxide into energy-rich molecules such as sugar. The
carbon atoms can also contribute toward building more cell materials.
A key innovation by NREL researchers was discovering that through
genetic engineering, absorbed carbon dioxide could be diverted away
from producing biomass or excess sugar, to instead produce ethylene.
This ethylene is released directly into the culture and can easily be
piped out for harvest and purification.
◗ National Renewable Energy Laboratory, www.nrel.gov
A Window of Change
Most homes have one simple technology for temperature control:
a thermostat that turns on either the heat or the air conditioner.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory and e-Chromic Technology Inc.’s SunStop electrochromic film technology offers a way to
consolidate windows into a building’s heating and cooling control
strategy, making them part of the “Internet of Things” and an integral
component of a “Smart Building,” opening possibilities for energy
savings of 4% or more. SunStop can be added to existing windows
and provides greater dynamic range and more control than its competition, resulting in truly dynamic windows. The film can also be
applied to existing windows as a retrofit product. Both applications
provide the ability to electronically switch the windows between a
clear state and a diffusely reflective state. The reflective state would
provide solar heat and glare rejection, as well as privacy.
◗ National Renewable Energy Technology, www.nrel.gov
Fresh Water for Everyone
The scarcity of fresh water is a serious global challenge that’s predicted to worsen as demand continues to rise and avenues for replen-ishment continue to decline. Because seawater and brackish water
are widely available in populated areas, desalination has become an
important and promising approach for meeting the ever-increasing
demand for fresh water. Current desalination techniques, however,
require significant energy to drive the process. Oak Ridge National
Laboratory’s Porous Graphene Desalination Membranes have the
potential to be a more cost-effective solution due to their porosity
and one-atom thickness. These properties enable increased water flux
at low driving pressure, improving the energy efficiency of the desalination process and reducing the membrane area. Tests have shown
orders-of-magnitude increases in water flux can be achieved using
these membranes. By reducing the area needed for a specific flow rate,
the facility footprint and capital cost can be minimized for large-scale
desalination applications, while the portability can be enhanced for
small-scale applications compared with current techniques, such as
distillation and reverse osmosis membranes.
◗ Oak Ridge National Laboratory, www.ornl.gov
Injectable Tracking of Fish
Thousands of endangered fish annually swim the gauntlet of hydroelectric dams and crowded ferry terminals. Government agencies
have tried to track fish passage and determine how to protect these
economically important fish from potential dangers for decades.
Current acoustic transmitters to track fish are too large for smaller
fish, biasing results of tracking studies. These transmitters also must
be surgically implanted, decreasing fish survival rates. A revolution in
biotelemetry, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Injecta Tag
makes the previously impossible possible by allowing scientists to
track more fish species than before. It’s the first active fish tracking
device that can be injected, rather than surgically implanted—the
device can be inserted in seconds. The Injecta Tag is 30% lighter, lasts
five times longer, performs better in cold water where fish often live,
tracks orders-of-magnitude more fish and can be used on smaller and
more fragile fish than any other transmitter.
◗ Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, www.pnnl.gov
Reducing the State of Climate Change
In his 2015 State-of-the-Union Address, President Obama said, “No
challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate
change.” To address the immediate grand challenge of efficient carbon
capture, Sandia National Laboratories and the Univ. of New Mexico designed the CO2 Memzyme, which represents an advance in gas
separation technology. The memzyme captures carbon dioxide from a
gas mixture at high rates ( 2,600 GPU) and with high selectivity (>500
CO2/N2), surpassing a fundamental barrier in polymeric membrane
technology and realizing the first technology that meets/exceeds U.S.
Dept. of Energy targets for cost-effective carbon capture (< $30/ton).
The memzyme simultaneously produces nearly pure carbon dioxide
(99%) for industrial re-use.
◗ Sandia National Laboratories, www.sandia.gov
Large-Scale Development of CCS Technology
More than 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. result from
electric power generation, according to the Environmental Protection
Agency. Partnering with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Southern
Company developed and demonstrated a carbon capture storage
(CCS) technology capable of recovering carbon dioxide emissions
up to 90%. The KM-CDR Process works by directing flue gas from
a coal-fired boiler to a vessel, where the carbon dioxide reacts with
advanced amine solvent. The amine solvent is directed towards another vessel, where it undergoes a heat process, liberating the carbon
dioxide. The amine solvent is recirculated, while the carbon dioxide is
compressed to 1,500 lbs per square inch, and funneled to a sequestration site 9,500 ft below the ground for permanent storage.
◗ Southern Company, www.southerncompany.com
Millions of miles of electrical cable provide grid power from generation and storage facilities to machinery, equipment and buildings.
These three components are separate and distinct; however, the
innovation to have combined power transmission and storage into
a single cable is set to change this. The Univ. of Central Florida’s
energy transmitting and storing cables eliminate the need for separate energy storage facilities by using the transmitting cable to store
energy. This dual-purpose cable provides for improved integration of
environment-dependent clean energy sources, such as solar and wind
into the grid, as well as power load management, eliminating the need
for separate traditional power transmission and energy storage.
◗ The Univ. of Central Florida, www.ucf.edu