DOE Steps Up Investments into Electric Generation Technology Research

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) over the past two weeks has made a string of funding announcements, including nearly a half-billion dollars of new investment in power-related initiatives. The funding backs advancements in cybersecurity, advanced nuclear, solar, bioenergy, fuel cells, geothermal, and energy storage.

$25 Million for Cybersecurity.On April 16, the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability’s Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems program issued a $25 million funding opportunity announcement (FOA),seeking applications to conduct research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) for innovative approaches to advance cyber-resilient energy delivery systems.

The project hones in on five areas: redesign of cyber-resilient architecture for the power and oil and natural gas (ONG) subsectors; cybersecurity for the ONG environment; cybersecure communications; cybersecure cloud-based technologies in the operation technology environment; and innovative technologies that enhance cybersecurity in the energy sector. Applications are due by June 18, 2018.

$105 Million for Solar Technology. On April 17, the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office said it would fund about 70 projects to advance both solar PV and concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) technologies and help them secure facilitated integration into the grid. “These research projects will address the earliest stages of technology development, enable significant improvements to the current fleet of solar technologies, and maintain U.S. leadership in solar energy.” One of the four topics backs the DOE’s efforts to lower the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) to $0.03/kWh from utility-scale systems by 2030, which is half the cost of utility-scale solar today. Another focuses on improving and expanding the solar industry through workforce initiatives, aiming to increase the number of veterans and participants in the solar industry.

$39 Million for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies. Also on April 17, the DOE announced up to $39 million in funding to support early stage research and development of “innovative” hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Anticipated topics include ElectroCat; H2@Scale, which involves integrated energy production and hydrogen fueling energy; and innovative fuel cell membranes and reversible and liquid fuel cell components. Applications are due by June 12, 2018.

$20 Million for Solar System Electronics.On April 18, the DOE announced up to $20 million in funding for nine projects to advance early-stage solar power electronics technologies. “As the critical link between PV arrays and the electric grid, advances in power electronics can also help grid operators rapidly detect and respond to problems, protect against physical and cyber vulnerabilities, and enable consumers to manage electricity use. Advanced solar power electronics can also help deliver power safely, integrate PV with storage controls, and ensure power reliability,” the DOE said. The awards go to Flex Power Control, which is based in Encino, California; and universities in Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Maryland, Texas, Washington, and Virginia. Oak Ridge, a national laboratory in Tennessee, is also a recipient.

$14.5 Million for Geothermal Drilling. On April 23, the DOE’s Efficient Drilling for Geothermal Energy (EDGE)  announced $14.5 million to advance geothermal drilling, and expand the U.S. geothermal fleet, which is currently about 3.8 GW. The DOE noted an estimated potential of 100 GW or more exists in undiscovered hydrothermal and enhanced geothermal systems, but technological innovation is necessary to convert them economically into power. Concept papers are due by May 31, 2018.

$60 Million for Advanced Nuclear Technology.One day after Energy Secretary Rick Perry signed statements of intent with François Jacq, chairman of France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, to collaborate on research of fast neutron sodium-cooled nuclear reactor technologies and artificial intelligence, the DOE on April 27 selected 13 nuclear technology projects to receive a total $60 million. The FOA covers three pathways: first-of-a-kind projects; advanced reactor development; and regulatory assistance grants.

NuScale’s small modular reactor got the bulk of the DOE’s award—$40 million—to help it conduct design finalization activities and ensure supply chain readiness so as to be commercially operational in 2026.  Among many other notable projects selected, General Atomics, based in San Diego, received $380,655 to help it engage with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to execute a pre-licensing review of a silicon carbide composite-clad uranium carbide fuel system for use in a gas-cooled fast reactor long-life core. About $5.4 million was awarded to BWXT Nuclear Energy to develop the ability to implement additive materials manufacturing to the fabrication process for nuclear components.  TRISO-X, a project that will develop the design and license application for a fuel fabrication facility capable of handling high-assay, low-enriched uranium and production of uranium oxycarbide and TRistructural ISOtropic particle-based fuel elements in the U.S., also got about $5 million.

$87.5 Million for Rapid-Charging EV Batteries, Advanced Vehicle Technologies. On April 30, the DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, which is within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, announced $19 million to support 12 projects focused on batteries and vehicle electrification technologies to enable extreme fast charging. The research is focused on boosting technologies to help electric vehicles (EVs) recharge rapidly at high power levels, decreasing typical charge times to 15 minutes or less using a connector or wireless fast charging system by 2028. The nine projects focus on advanced anodes, electrolytes, and battery cell designs that can be charged rapidly—in less than 10 minutes—while still maintaining performance over the 10-year life goal, the DOE said.

On May 1, the DOE also announced a $68.5 millionFOA for early-stage research of advanced vehicle technologies. Topic areas include batteries and electrification, materials, technology integration, engines and fuels, and co-optimization of engines and fuels.

$23 Million for Marine Energy Technologies.Also on April 30, the DOE announced a $23 million FOA to help reduce capital costs and shorten deployment timelines of marine energy devices. The research focuses on next generation wave and tidal/current systems, and it supports early-stage design of power take-off and controls integration.

$30 Million for Long-Duration Energy Storage.On May 1, meanwhile, the DOE announced a $30 million FOA as part of a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program: Duration Addition to electricitY Storage (DAYS). “DAYS project teams will build innovative technologies to enable long-duration energy storage on the power grid, providing reliable electricity for 10 to approximately 100 hours,” it said. The funding opportunity is open to a range of storage technology choices, including thermal, mechanical, electrochemical, chemical, and others. “Driving the challenge are an aggressive set of cost targets, siting, power output, and duty cycle requirements,” it added.

$78 Million for Bioenergy. On May 3, the DOE announced four FOAs of up to $78 million to back early-stage bioenergy research. Of interest to the power sector may be research to increase the productivity of algae by improving uptake and conversion of waste CO2emissions, such as from a power plant or industrial facility, and processes to convert municipal solid waste and biosolids into biopower.


—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)