Wednesday, August 17, 2011

NEWS and EVENTS by CCRES August 17, 2011


August 17, 2011

News and Events

DOE Awards More Than $175 Million for Advanced Vehicle Research

Photo of sleek car parked outdoors.

Advanced vehicles, like this version of the Ford Focus Electric, will benefit from the DOE-sponsored research program.
Credit: Ford

DOE announced on August 10 that it will offer more than $175 million over the next three to five years to accelerate the development and deployment of advanced vehicle technologies. The funds will leverage additional investments by the grantees for a total of more than $300 million. Forty projects across 15 states will help improve the fuel efficiency of next generation vehicles. Targets include innovations throughout the vehicle, such as better fuels and lubricants, lighter-weight materials, longer-lasting and less-expensive electric vehicle (EV) batteries and components, and engine technologies that more efficient. DOE's comprehensive approach to vehicle efficiency research and development will help ensure the technologies are available to help automakers achieve recently announced fuel efficiency standards.

For one award, the Ford Motor Company will get $1.5 million to identify fuel properties that enable novel low-emission combustion strategies. For another, United States Automotive Materials Partnership, LLC of Southfield, Michigan, will get $3.5 million to validate crash models for carbon-fiber composites. Overall, the selections focus on eight approaches to improving vehicle efficiency: advanced fuels and lubricants to enable optimal performance of advanced combustion engines; lightweight materials to accelerate commercial availability of lighter-weight vehicles while maintaining safety standards; lightweight multi-material prototype to design, build, and test a lightweight vehicle that is 50% lighter than a baseline light-duty vehicle, undertaken as part of the Clean Energy Dialogue with Canada; advanced cells for EV batteries; advanced power electronics and electric motor technology to develop the next generation of power inverters and electric motors; thermoelectric and enabling engine technology to convert engine waste heat to electricity; fleet efficiency to demonstrate fuel-efficient tire and driver feedback technologies; and advanced vehicle testing and evaluation. See the DOE press release and the award winners PDF.

GM Signs Contract for Advanced EV Batteries with U.S. Manufacturer

Photo of three men working on computers in a large room with rows of machinery.

GM battery engineering teams have tested and validated the A123 battery chemistry at the automaker’s Global Battery Systems lab in Warren, Michigan.
Credit: GM

General Motors (GM) announced on August 11 that it has awarded a production contract to A123 Systems for batteries to be used in future GM electric vehicles (EV) that will be sold in global markets. A123, which operates a battery laboratory in Warren, Michigan, is a Massachusetts-based developer and manufacturer of advanced lithium ion batteries and systems. The contract includes advanced cells and fully integrated electronic components. The specific vehicles and brands will be announced later.

In preparation for production, teams from GM and A123 will work on developing calibrations and software controls for the battery system. The carmaker has said it is committed to offering a full line of electric vehicles and that each vehicle line calls for a different battery specification. GM and A123 are already working on next-generation lithium ion batteries. Also this week, the battery manufacturer was awarded $2,992,744 by DOE to develop and demonstrate dry-process electrode fabrication to reduce the cost of EVs. The award is part of DOE's $175 million support for advanced vehicle technologies. See the GM press release and the separate DOE advanced vehicles press release.

President Obama Announces Initiative to Spur Biofuels Industry

President Obama announced on August 16 that DOE, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Navy will invest up to $510 million during to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels that are completely interchangeable and compatible with conventional fuels. Over the next three years, in partnership with the private sector, the group will seek renewable sources to power military and commercial transportation. The initiative responds to a presidential directive as part of the administration's Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, the framework for reducing dependence on foreign oil. The biofuels initiative is being steered by the White House Biofuels Interagency Work Group and the White House Rural Council.

Increased use of advanced biofuels is a key component of the administration's energy security agenda, but the United States lacks this manufacturing capability for next-generation drop-in biofuels in the United States. To accelerate the production of bio-based jet and diesel fuel, the departments developed a plan to jointly construct or retrofit several drop-in biofuel plants and refineries. This effort will help address energy security and national security challenges, and will provide economic opportunities.

The joint plan calls for DOE, USDA, and the Navy to invest a total of up to $510 million, with private industry providing at least a one-to-one match. The partnership aims to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and create jobs while positioning American companies and farmers as global leaders in advanced biofuels production. See the White House press release and the departmental agreementPDF.

DOE, Agriculture Department Fund Bioenergy Crop Research

DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on August 11 that they have awarded 10 grants totaling $12.2 million to spur research into growing biofuel and bioenergy crops. The 10 projects are located in California, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia. The investments are part of a broader administration effort to develop domestic renewable energy and advanced biofuels.

Overall, the projects are designed to improve special crops to be grown for biofuels—including selected trees and grasses—by increasing their yield, quality, and ability to adapt to extreme environments. Researchers will rely on the most advanced techniques of modern genomics to develop breeding and other strategies to improve the crops. The research will be conducted on poplar trees and three grasses—switchgrass, Miscanthus and Brachypodium—among other plants. The potential benefits of this research range from decreasing oil imports to increasing options for American farmers. Because these crops will be optimized to tolerate conditions such as drought and poor soils, they can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops, thereby avoiding competition with food production. See the DOE press release and the project descriptionsPDF.

Also on August 11, DOE reported that a team of researchers at its BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) have pinpointed the exact, single gene that controls ethanol production capacity in a microorganism. This discovery could be the missing link in developing biomass crops that produce higher concentrations of ethanol at lower costs. BESC is led by DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers. See the DOE press release.

Billion-Ton Update on U.S. Homegrown Energy Resources

Biofuel jobs could be coming to a community near you, according to a collaborative report released on August 10 by DOE that details the huge potential of U.S.-produced biomass. Thanks to research from scientists and engineers from across industry, government, and several universities, the 2011 U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry report offers a glimpse of a clean energy economy made up of a significant portion of sustainably produced biofuels.

The 2011 Billion-Ton report is a follow-up to the original 2005 report that concluded the United States has the ability to annually produce a billion dry tons of biomass for biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts. The August 10 report—a joint effort by DOE, its national laboratories, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture—predicts that agricultural and forest lands from across the country can sustainably produce more than a billion tons of biomass annually, all by developing underutilized land resources and all while still meeting forecasted demands for food, feed, and fiber resources. See the Energy Blog post.

DOE Finalizes $102 Million Loan Guarantee to Maine Wind Project

DOE announced on August 16 that it has finalized a $102 million loan guarantee to Record Hill Wind, LLC for a wind farm in Maine. The loan guarantee, in conjunction with an investment by Yale University's endowment, will support the Record Hill Wind project, which consists of a 50.6-megawatt wind power plant, an eight-mile transmission line, and associated interconnection equipment near the town of Roxbury, Maine. Developed and managed by Wagner Wind Energy I, LLC of New Hampshire and Independence Wind, LLC of Maine, the project will provide will create 200 construction jobs.

The Record Hill Wind project will consist of 22 turbines and new transmission lines to interconnect with Central Maine Power, the local utility. The turbines will be installed with innovative turbine load-control technology, a system of sensors and processing software that allows the turbines to continue to generate electricity under turbulent conditions, rather than be shut down completely. The system is also expected to reduce wear-and-tear on the turbines, reduce operation and management costs, and preserve the lifetime of the turbine components. DOE's Loan Programs Office has issued loans or loan guarantees, or has offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling more than $40 billion to support 42 clean energy projects across the United States. See the DOE press release and the Loans Program Office website.

Interior Department OKs 550 Megawatt Solar Project in California

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) approved on August 10 the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm, a 550-megawatt (MW) solar power project to be built in the California desert east of Palm Springs. Desert Sunlight, the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) facility approved for U.S. public land, will generate enough energy to power more than 165,000 homes. It is located on approximately 4,100 acres. The facility will create more than 630 jobs at peak construction. In June, DOE granted Desert Sunlight project operators a conditional commitment of a $1.88 billion loan guarantee.

The project will be operated by a subsidiary of First Solar Inc., and it will use First Solar's thin-film PV technology. An on-site substation and a 230-kilovolt generation tie line will connect the project eventually with Southern California Edison's regional grid. The Desert Sunlight project underwent extensive environmental review and mitigation. DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) worked with First Solar, the National Park Service, and other stakeholders to significantly reduce the proposed project's total footprint from 19,000 acres to 4,144 acres. In addition, the BLM is requiring that First Solar provide funding for acquiring and enhancing more than 7,500 acres of suitable habitat for desert tortoise and other sensitive wildlife species to help mitigate the project's potential impacts. See the DOI press release and the project fact sheetPDF.

Registration Begins for America's Home Energy Challenge

DOE and the National Science Teachers Association announced on August 16 the kick-off of registration for a nationwide student contest to help families save money by saving energy at home. America's Home Energy Education Challenge will engage elementary and middle school students to help them learn the science of energy and make wise energy choices about energy efficiency.

The National Science Teachers Association will run the program for DOE. The program will encourage students, teachers, and families to learn more about energy use and efficiency and to become more aware of how homes, schools, and utilities are interconnected. Registration begins August 16 and ends October 7, 2011. Participation in program will be broken into two parts: the Home Energy Challenge and the Energy Fitness Award. Each is designed to encourage students to learn about science and home energy savings, and participants can chose one or get involved with both. The Home Energy Challenge involves students and their teachers in the third through eighth grades in an energy use comparison activity in which data from the three-month competition period are compared to the previous year's energy use for the same three months. Schools and classes will compete within 11 regions for more than $200,000 in prizes that will be distributed at the regional and national levels of the competition. The first place regional award winners will qualify for the national competition, leading to evaluation for awards. See the Progress Alert, the America's Home Energy Challenge website, and previous coverage in EERE Network News.

A U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 Entry for Historic Norfolk

It's a tale of two universities with a vision for one historic city. Students from both Hampton and Old Dominion universities have joined forces to compete in the upcoming U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 with their entry, called Unit 6 Unplugged. At Tidewater Virginia, the students will unveil their vision for the future—an energy-efficient house that captures the "Arts and Crafts" design style of homes dotted throughout historic Norfolk, Virginia.

One of the team's key design features is the transitional sunspace. During the warmer months the sunspace acts as an exterior porch—motorized windows open up to let air and sunlight filter in. During colder months, the sunspace transitions into an enclosed space that functions as a heat sink—the floor absorbs heat and disperses it throughout the house overnight. See the Energy Blog post.

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