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NREL Scientists Discover Extra Eureka Moments, Patent Exercise Climbs in FY ’22

There have to be a greater approach. That thought has sparked extra scientific developments, extra eureka moments, extra patent purposes.

For a quartet of researchers on the Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory (NREL), the notion of changing woody biomass to an oil that may then be used to supply high-value, carbon-rich coproducts proved to be an environmentally pleasant various to an intensive mining course of. These coproducts embrace graphite, a significant a part of lithium-ion batteries used to energy a rising fleet of electrical autos.

Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory researchers Mark Nimlos (left) and Robert Baldwin, together with their colleague Kristiina Iisa (not pictured), have maintain a patent on “Valorization of bio-oils, overlaying strategies used to make coke, graphite, graphene, and different carbon-based supplies from bio-oil derived from biomass. Nimlos stated a preliminary technoeconomic evaluation indicated their course of signifies “we will a minimum of be aggressive with current prices of graphite and maybe be cheaper.” (Photograph by Werner Slocum / NREL)

“We had been in a position to isolate some materials that regarded so much like mineral graphite, and that’s simply led to a complete vary of latest purposes and concepts,” stated Mark Nimlos, a gaggle analysis supervisor at NREL. “Mainly, taking a look at each place that fossil carbon is utilized in business and considering effectively, we may change that with biocarbon. The vary of purposes is admittedly broad. It goes all the way in which from actually high-tech costly supplies like tremendous pure graphite, which is about $20 a kilogram, all the way in which all the way down to very cheap low-tech issues like petroleum coke, which definitely has very low financial worth.”

Nimlos and his three co-inventors had been awarded a patent on the method in March. Researchers at NREL obtained one other 57 patents throughout Fiscal 12 months 2022, an uptick from the 47 awarded the prior year.

The NREL Know-how Switch Workplace counted 133 information of invention in FY 2022, filed for 176 patent purposes each in the USA and internationally, and obtained Division of Vitality (DOE) permission to claim copyright to 78 software program packages, which included the discharge of 58 situations of open-source software program.

Anne Miller, director of the Know-how Switch Workplace, stated NREL information a median of about 170 patent purposes yearly and releases roughly 48 open-source software program titles. “Defending mental property this manner allows us to make it accessible for licensing, which in flip allows firms to introduce merchandise in order that NREL improvements have an effect,” she stated.

The method to guard improvements as mental property begins with researchers submitting information of invention and software program information.

“It’s glorious that NREL has a tech switch workplace that helps our know-how growth, that can assist us by the patenting course of,” stated Kim Trenbath, the innovation lead for programs know-how R&D within the laboratory’s Constructing Applied sciences and Science Middle. “As a result of if we weren’t working at NREL, and we had been sort of engaged on our personal, it will be much more difficult for us. They made it very streamlined.”

Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory (NREL) researchers (from left) Amy LeBar, William Livingood III, and Kim Trenbath had been awarded a patent for know-how that permits for higher management of units plugged in or hardwired right into a constructing. The patent overlaying “Plug load administration system with load identification” allows higher management of course of masses, which account for 47 p.c of the vitality consumed in U.S. industrial buildings. (Photograph by Werner Slocum / NREL)

Preserving Observe of Energy Hundreds

Trenbath, William Livingood III, Amy LeBar, and Bennett Doherty had been awarded a patent in September for know-how that permits for higher management of units plugged in or hardwired right into a constructing. The patent overlaying “Plug load administration system with load identification” allows higher management of plug and course of masses (PPLs), which account for 47% of the vitality consumed in U.S. industrial buildings.

“These are masses wherever from the computer systems, the screens, the elevators, however they’re very various, and there’s actually not a good way of controlling any of them actually, as a result of they’re very occupant dependent,” stated Trenbath, whose work was funded by the DOE Constructing Applied sciences Workplace. “There’s an enormous must determine some options that make the most of rising applied sciences on this space for controlling PPLs in a constructing.”

Controlling the load means with the ability to shut off tools when not in use, corresponding to in the course of the night time. The preliminary thought paired good retailers that might inform what was plugged in utilizing a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag connected to every system. The communication between plug and system additionally allowed for the gathering of knowledge about how a lot energy was getting used. Then the researchers thought, there have to be a greater approach. They flipped the orientation round and used RFID tags within the plug faceplates as a substitute. Sensible units may then be plugged in, with the controls related to the units reasonably than the retailers. Regardless of the place within the constructing a tool is plugged in, the management system can take the suitable motion.

“The second they informed me that I assumed, ‘Oh, wow, that’s intelligent. Why didn’t I consider that?’” stated Livingood, group supervisor of economic buildings analysis. “Flipping the orientation makes retrofit a lot simpler, as a result of now reasonably than digging into electrical circuits and placing in a wise receptacle that requires an electrician in all instances, you’re simply changing the faceplate after which embedding the RFID studying mechanism into units, which have an intrinsically quicker product refresh fee.”

The researchers dubbed the plug load administration system ATLIS, for Computerized Sort and Location Identification System.

“There are different options,” Trenbath stated. “For instance, you possibly can undergo your workplace and unplug every thing and shut every thing down. That doesn’t occur.”

Sand May Be Storage Reply

For Zhiwen Ma, a researcher within the Thermal Sciences Group, growing a brand new strategy to retailer vitality for tens and even a whole bunch of hours has yielded 4 patents thus far with the latest awarded in October. One other two patents are pending. His resolution presents a path towards decarbonization.

“Decarbonization is a giant ask and has massive hurdles. Primarily you should compete with pure gasoline, which is affordable, handy, and simple to make use of since you’re simply turning a valve,” Ma stated. “There’s nothing extra handy than that. Subsequently, vitality storage for this decarbonization must beat pure gasoline, and beating pure gasoline signifies that you could have low-cost vitality storage and likewise must be very versatile and likewise be capable of combine with renewable vitality.”

Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory (NREL) mechanical engineering researcher Zhiwen Ma, shows his system that lately obtained a patent for strong particle storage. The important thing part on this fluidized mattress warmth exchanger, named ENDURING (Financial Lengthy-Length Electrical energy Storage by Utilizing Low-Price Thermal Vitality Storage), is that’s makes use of saved thermal vitality in silica sand to warmth air. The know-how is gaining business consideration as an considerable and protected stand-in for pure gasoline because it strikes towards a scaled-up demonstration. (Photograph by Werner Slocum / NREL)

As an alternative of heating buildings with pure gasoline, Ma recommends utilizing a high-quality sand superheated to greater than 2,000 levels Fahrenheit. As soon as heated, the sand shops vitality to be used later. Ma’s newest patent, “Strategies and programs for thermal vitality storage and their use in buildings purposes,” requires the particles of high-quality silica to be heated throughout off-peak instances, when electrical energy demand and prices are comparatively low, and for the saved vitality for use throughout peak intervals when the demand and value is increased.

The heated sand, which Ma stated may be sourced from the Midwest, is saved in concrete silos. The extra silos, the higher the quantity of vitality storage. The identical silos can be utilized to retailer the chilled particles, subsequently chopping the storage containment price practically in half by not having separate programs.

“That expands the operate of vitality storage to be extra aggressive than ice storage, which is the present know-how,” Ma stated. “Our know-how can serve all 4 seasons. It’s not simply summertime like with ice, nevertheless it can also provide warmth within the wintertime, so it has extra of a use issue.”

Ma stated utilizing heated sand as an vitality storage medium has benefits over batteries. Whereas moveable, batteries are simplest for short-term storage. DOE’s Superior Analysis Tasks Company–Vitality (ARPA-E), which invests in high-risk applied sciences which have the potential to cut back the price of vitality, has financed the analysis.

Flexibility Performs Function in Offshore Wind

Senu Sirnivas took what he realized throughout 20 years spent within the offshore oil and gasoline business in a distinct path. Now engaged on producing energy from wind, Sirnivas helped design a strategy to defend floating generators from being battered by ocean waves. Brainstorming with colleagues Rick Damiani, and Fabian Wendt led to the concept of a platform able to using out the tough spots. They had been awarded a patent in October for his or her “Versatile aquatic substructures.”

Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory (NREL) researcher Senu Sirnivas shows a 3-D printed base of a platform for a prototype for a floating wind turbine. Sirnivas was awarded a patent for his system, often known as Ultraflexible Sensible Floating Offshore Wind Turbine (USFLOWT), which may be manufactured and assembled onsite, after which may be towed to its mooring location. (Photograph by Werner Slocum / NREL)

Something within the ocean is affected by motion of waves. These waves rock a platform backwards and forwards and heave it up and down. Which means a wind turbine on such a platform can be much less environment friendly producing vitality because it will get buffeted by the waves. The newly patented design covers a fiberglass/concrete construction saved afloat by a sequence of fiberglass buoyant tanks and concrete legs that may pivot, which mitigate among the general platform motion from the waves.

The system often known as Ultraflexible Sensible Floating Offshore Wind Turbine (USFLOWT) may be manufactured, assembled on-site and precommissioned, then towed to the place it must be put in.

“Offshore programs generally price greater than land-based programs, and it doesn’t come low-cost,” Sirnivas stated. “What you could do as a way to persuade the offshore windfarm builders is to de-risk the know-how, which is ongoing, however we’re not there but. As soon as the know-how is de-risked, proven structurally dependable, and economically viable, we will have interaction with the windfarm builders. They’re undoubtedly knocking on the door and eager to know extra in regards to the know-how, which reveals their funding curiosity sooner or later.”

The venture has obtained funding from ARPA-E. The final $1.5 million enabled the NREL staff to evolve the 10-megawatt floating turbine design, which began with inside funds, then continued with Vitality I-Corps after which Know-how Commercialization Fund. A further $5 million in ARPA-E funds will go towards testing the system in a sub-scale model in a wave basin to additional evolve and de-risk the know-how.

“ARPA-E is funding moonshot initiatives,” Sirnivas stated. “They don’t seem to be funding low-risk readily achievable initiatives. So, in the event you have a look at it from that standpoint, this can be a high-risk/high-reward venture.”

Sirnivas confirmed off a mannequin of the system on the ARPA-E Vitality Innovation Summit held in Colorado final summer time. The show caught the eye of Secretary of Vitality Jennifer Granholm, who stopped to examine it and ask questions. “I had 10 minutes with the secretary explaining the system, and she or he was excited,” he stated. “She was thrilled with the prospect of an revolutionary offshore floating wind know-how being developed at NREL to assist fight local weather change.”

Machine Studying Instrument Has Solutions

Nolan Wilson knew there was a greater strategy to decide how polymers produced from biomass may change plastics produced from fossil fuels. He simply needed to give you it. The answer developed alongside Peter St. John and others at NREL is PolyID, a free instrument that depends upon machine studying to seek out the reply.

PolyID, a software program written in Python, might be expanded to a web-based model quickly. The instrument dramatically reduces the period of time researchers should spend to find out if a bio-based materials may be put to a selected use.

“Biomass may give us a complete bunch of monomers that we will flip into polymers,” stated Wilson, a chemical engineer. “It’s this actually various and wonderful set of constructing blocks for the supplies of tomorrow. The problem is that there are actually thousands and thousands—tens of thousands and thousands—of various methods you may mix these constructing blocks to make new supplies and the experimentalists don’t know which of them to attempt.”

Moderately than the various months it might take for an experiment to find out the suitability of a bio-based materials for a selected use, the factitious intelligence constructed into PolyID can present the reply in seconds. The instrument seems on the chemical construction and predicts materials efficiency.

“We constructed it as a result of we actually wanted one thing that was quick—quicker than something that existed—and extra correct and actually constructed for bio-based supplies,” Wilson stated. “There are instruments which can be predictive for petroleum-based feedstocks they usually’re probably not designed for our bio-based feedstocks. We had to consider how can we construct a brand new instrument that might be helpful for our functions.”

PolyID may also permit researchers to inform what a second use for a recycled materials could possibly be.

To validate PolyID, researchers experimentally synthesized 22 polymers.

“What’s nice about NREL is that I can move this off to someone who can really make the fabric, and that’s distinctive,” Wilson stated. “We’re an utilized lab. We’re right here to construct new issues. This isn’t only a computational instrument. It’s an instrument of discovering tomorrow’s subsequent biggest supplies.”

The DOE Bioenergy Applied sciences Workplace funded the venture.

Bio-Oil Course of Eliminates Want To Dig

Wilson together with Nimlos, Robert Baldwin, and Kristiina Iisa holds a patent on “Valorization of bio-oils,” overlaying the strategies used to make coke, graphite, graphene, and different carbon-based supplies from bio-oil derived from biomass. Baldwin, a principal scientist, stated many researchers have experimented with the makes use of for biomass, “however no one had thought of utilizing bio-oil to make bio-based carbon. The concept for utilizing the heavy-ends of bio-oil to supply high-quality carbon is the place the novelty got here in.”

Producing graphite from bio-oil solves a provide chain concern; the overwhelming majority of the mineral is mined in China. The method is environmentally unfriendly with a really massive carbon footprint.

In latching onto this novel thought, Baldwin thought again to his prior analysis with bio-oil a decade in the past. He realized then that an utility of what’s often known as hot-gas filtration considerably improves the properties of a bio-oil. The method yielded a cloth that had principally no mineral content material; the minerals characterize imperfections within the materials.

“By making use of hot-gas filtration to the bio-oil vapor we may produce a product that contained basically zero ash,” Baldwin stated, “and that sort of caught with me.”

That concept finally led them to producing graphite and different types of carbon from the bio-oil.

“Mineral graphite has numerous contaminants that it’s important to get out,” Baldwin stated. “That usually requires use of sturdy acids. That’s on high of the mining operation, which is in and of itself environmentally nasty. You’re piling on all of this actually terrible chemistry to principally get the purity that’s required for the ultimate product. Use of hot-gas filtration together with pyrolysis permits us to supply a precursor for bio-based carbon that’s mineral-free.”

The Bioenergy Applied sciences Workplace-funded course of produces a product totally different than biochar, which is a carbonaceous residue containing important mineral content material that have to be eliminated if the carbon is valorized to be used in batteries and different high-end purposes.

“Quite a lot of the minerals within the unique biomass wind up within the biochar, so if you wish to attempt to make a high-quality carbon out of biochar, you’re confronted with the type of the identical dilemma that you’ve utilizing mineral graphite,” Baldwin stated. “You need to work actually arduous to get all these minerals out as a way to improve the standard so you need to use it to make graphite, however lots of people are doing that. Lots of people suppose that’s the best strategy to go. We simply took a distinct path, a distinct method.”

Nimlos stated a preliminary techno-economic evaluation of their course of signifies “we will a minimum of be aggressive with current prices of graphite and maybe be cheaper.”

Be taught extra in regards to the NREL-developed applied sciences available for licensing.

Initially printed by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).


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