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


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

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 different 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, protecting strategies used to make coke, graphite, graphene, and different carbon-based supplies from bio-oil derived from biomass. Nimlos mentioned a preliminary technoeconomic evaluation indicated their course of signifies “we will a minimum of be aggressive with present prices of graphite and maybe be inexpensive.” (Picture by Werner Slocum / NREL)

“We had been in a position to isolate some materials that regarded loads like mineral graphite, and that’s simply led to an entire vary of latest functions and concepts,” mentioned Mark Nimlos, a bunch analysis supervisor at NREL. “Mainly, taking a look at each place that fossil carbon is utilized in business and pondering properly, we may change that with biocarbon. The vary of functions is absolutely 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 actually has very low financial worth.”

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

The NREL Know-how Switch Workplace counted 133 information of invention in FY 2022, filed for 176 patent functions each in america and internationally, and obtained Division of Vitality (DOE) permission to say 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, mentioned NREL recordsdata a median of about 170 patent functions yearly and releases roughly 48 open-source software program titles. “Defending mental property this manner permits us to make it out there for licensing, which in flip permits firms to introduce merchandise in order that NREL improvements have an effect,” she mentioned.

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 improvement, that may assist us via the patenting course of,” mentioned Kim Trenbath, the innovation lead for techniques 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 form 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 larger management of gadgets plugged in or hardwired right into a constructing. The patent protecting “Plug load administration system with load identification” permits larger management of course of masses, which account for 47 % of the vitality consumed in U.S. business buildings. (Picture by Werner Slocum / NREL)

Preserving Monitor of Energy Masses

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

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

Controlling the load means having the ability to shut off gear when not in use, akin to in the course of the night time. The preliminary thought paired sensible shops that would 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 information about how a lot energy was getting used. Then the researchers thought, there have to be a greater method. They flipped the orientation round and used RFID tags within the plug faceplates as an alternative. Sensible gadgets may then be plugged in, with the controls related to the gadgets fairly than the shops. Irrespective of the place within the constructing a tool is plugged in, the management system can take the suitable motion.

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

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

“There are different options,” Trenbath mentioned. “For instance, you can undergo your workplace and unplug every little thing and shut every little 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 lot of hours has yielded 4 patents so far with the latest awarded in October. One other two patents are pending. His resolution gives a path towards decarbonization.

“Decarbonization is an enormous ask and has large hurdles. Primarily you have to compete with pure gasoline, which is reasonable, handy, and simple to make use of since you’re simply turning a valve,” Ma mentioned. “There’s nothing extra handy than that. Due to this fact, vitality storage for this decarbonization must beat pure gasoline, and beating pure gasoline signifies that you have to have low-cost vitality storage and likewise must be very versatile and likewise have the ability to combine with renewable vitality.”

Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory (NREL) mechanical engineering researcher Zhiwen Ma, shows his system that not too long ago acquired 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 plentiful and secure stand-in for pure gasoline because it strikes towards a scaled-up demonstration. (Picture by Werner Slocum / NREL)

As a substitute 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 techniques for thermal vitality storage and their use in buildings functions,” 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 mentioned could be sourced from the Midwest, is saved in concrete silos. The extra silos, the larger the quantity of vitality storage. The identical silos can be utilized to retailer the chilled particles, due to this fact reducing the storage containment price practically in half by not having separate techniques.

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

Ma mentioned utilizing heated sand as an vitality storage medium has benefits over batteries. Whereas moveable, batteries are only 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 scale back the price of vitality, has financed the analysis.

Flexibility Performs Position in Offshore Wind

Senu Sirnivas took what he discovered throughout 20 years spent within the offshore oil and gasoline business in a special course. 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 driving 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, generally known as Ultraflexible Sensible Floating Offshore Wind Turbine (USFLOWT), which could be manufactured and assembled onsite, after which could be towed to its mooring location. (Picture 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 stored afloat by a collection of fiberglass buoyant tanks and concrete legs that may pivot, which mitigate among the total platform motion from the waves.

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

“Offshore techniques basically price greater than land-based techniques, and it doesn’t come low cost,” Sirnivas mentioned. “What you have to do so as 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 positively knocking on the door and desirous to know extra concerning the know-how, which exhibits their funding curiosity sooner or later.”

The venture has acquired funding from ARPA-E. The final $1.5 million enabled the NREL workforce 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 mentioned. “They aren’t funding low-risk readily achievable initiatives. So, if you happen to take a look at it from that standpoint, it is 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 season. 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 he or she was excited,” he mentioned. “She was thrilled with the prospect of an progressive offshore floating wind know-how being developed at NREL to assist fight local weather change.”

Machine Studying Device Has Solutions

Nolan Wilson knew there was a greater strategy to decide how polymers constructed from biomass may change plastics constructed 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 device that depends upon machine studying to search out the reply.

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

“Biomass can provide us an entire bunch of monomers that we will flip into polymers,” mentioned 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 hundreds of thousands—tens of hundreds of thousands—of various methods you’ll be able to mix these constructing blocks to make new supplies and the experimentalists don’t know which of them to strive.”

Relatively than the numerous months it could take for an experiment to find out the suitability of a bio-based materials for a specific use, the bogus intelligence constructed into PolyID can present the reply in seconds. The device appears to be like 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 mentioned. “There are instruments which might be predictive for petroleum-based feedstocks and so they’re probably not designed for our bio-based feedstocks. We had to consider how will we construct a brand new device that shall be helpful for our functions.”

PolyID will even enable researchers to inform what a second use for a recycled materials may very well be.

To validate PolyID, researchers experimentally synthesized 22 polymers.

“What’s nice about NREL is that I can go this off to anyone who can really make the fabric, and that’s distinctive,” Wilson mentioned. “We’re an utilized lab. We’re right here to construct new issues. This isn’t only a computational device. 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,” protecting the strategies used to make coke, graphite, graphene, and different carbon-based supplies from bio-oil derived from biomass. Baldwin, a principal scientist, mentioned many researchers have experimented with the makes use of for biomass, “however no person 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 situation; 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 discovered then that an software of what’s generally known as hot-gas filtration considerably improves the properties of a bio-oil. The method yielded a cloth that had mainly no mineral content material; the minerals symbolize imperfections within the materials.

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

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

“Mineral graphite has a number of contaminants that it’s important to get out,” Baldwin mentioned. “That typically requires use of robust acids. That’s on prime of the mining operation, which is in and of itself environmentally nasty. You’re piling on all of this actually terrible chemistry to mainly 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 completely different than biochar, which is a carbonaceous residue containing vital mineral content material that have to be eliminated if the carbon is valorized to be used in batteries and different high-end functions.

“A whole 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 mentioned. “You must work actually exhausting to get all these minerals out so as to improve the standard so you should use it to make graphite, however lots of people are doing that. Lots of people suppose that’s the fitting strategy to go. We simply took a special path, a special strategy.”

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

Study extra concerning the NREL-developed applied sciences out there for licensing.

Initially printed by Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory (NREL).


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