Advanced energy research projects are hot

From wind and new fuel efficient cars to biofuels and storage systems, energy research project saw million of dollars in 2010

Millions of dollars were laid out this year for all manner of energy research - from new biofuels and wind projects to better batteries and smartgrid cybersecurity programs. 

There were other stories too, such as the X Prize Foundation's $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize that was awarded to three teams who developed super fuel-efficient vehicles capable of achieving 100 miles per gallon or the energy equivalent (MPGe). In the end it will be interesting to see how all that research manifests itself in real products and programs. Here is a look at some of the key energy stories this year.

U.S. offers $30 million for high-risk biofuel research

The U.S. Department of Energy in December announced $30 million for research projects that would develop advanced biofuels that could replace gasoline or diesel without requiring special upgrades or changes to the vehicle or fueling infrastructure. The $30 million would be spent over the next four years to support as many as five "traditionally high-risk biofuels projects," such as converting biomass into biofuels and bioproducts to be eventually used for hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals.

10 hot energy projects that could electrify the world 

US delivers record 1.7B supercomputing hours to boost energy research

The U.S. DoE awarded a massive amount of its world-class supercomputing time to 57 research projects looking at everything from biofuels and climate change to nuclear power and lithium air batteries. The DOE is awarding time on its Cray XT5 "Jaguar" at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the IBM Blue Gene/P "Intrepid" at Argonne National Laboratory. Jaguar's computational capacity is roughly equivalent to 109,000 laptops all working together to solve the same problem. Intrepid is roughly equivalent to 26,000 laptops, the DOE stated.

IBM, European Union team to swat electronic vampires

IBM and a number of European academic and corporate scientists in October announced a project known as Sleeper that aims to reduce the energy used by everything from mobile phones to laptops and televisions to supercomputers by 10-fold. The problem? The enormous amount of electricity sucked up by computer equipment in standby mode. In the European Union it is estimated that the vampire effect of standby power already accounts for about 10 % of the electricity used in homes and offices of the member states. By 2020 it is expected that electricity consumption in standby/off-mode will rise to 49 terrawatt hours per year - nearly equivalent to the annual electricity consumption for Austria, Czech Republic and Portugal combined, according to a press release from IBM.

Google wants to control wind energy

Google in October said it wants a big part of the energy that could be generated from offshore wind farms. The company said it inked "an agreement to invest in the development of a backbone transmission project off the Mid-Atlantic coast that offers a solid financial return while helping to accelerate offshore wind development - so it's both good business and good for the environment. The new project can enable the creation of thousands of jobs, improve consumer access to clean energy sources and increase the reliability of the Mid-Atlantic region's existing power grid."

The U.S. offshore wind energy technology conundrum

If wind is ever to be a significant part of the energy equation in this country we'll need to take it offshore - into the deep oceans. Large offshore wind objects could harness about more than 4,000 GW of electricity according to a massive report on wind energy out this week from the U.S. DoE. The DoE notes that while the United States has not built any offshore wind projects about 20 projects representing more than 2,000 MW of capacity are in the planning and permitting process. Most of these activities are in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, although projects are being considered along the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Coast. The deep waters off the West Coast, however, pose a technology challenge for the near term.

10 new smart Grid projects should bulk up cybersecurity

The U.S. DoE in October spent $30.4 million on cybersecurity projects it says will go a long way towards addressing the nation's electric grid cybersecurity issues. These new projects are in addition to the $3.4 billion in stimulus grants to electric utilities got last year for over 100 Smart Grid modernization projects. The idea with the projects -- including two new cybersecurity collaborative groups -- is to research, develop, and commercialize a range of cybersecurity services to strengthen the U.S. energy infrastructure against cyber intrusion and assist operators in complying with cybersecurity regulations, said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

U.S. wants big, revolutionary energy storage systems

Looking for a major new ways to harness wind, solar and other evolving renewable energy, the U.S. DoE in September issued a call for advanced large-scale energy storage system technology. The DoE said the goal of its solicitation is to identify and prove new concepts for applied research in materials chemistry, battery components, battery designs and any technologies that will lead to breakthroughs in grid energy storage.

Three wicked cool car teams split $10 million X Prize for advanced, fuel efficient vehicles

After a brutal 30-month competition that initially pitted 136 car development teams against each other, the X Prize Foundation in October split the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize to three teams who developed super fuel-efficient vehicles capable of achieving 100 miles per gallon or the energy equivalent (MPGe). While the competition may be over, the real fun begins now. That's because one of the driving principles behind the X Prize is not only to win the competition but to be able to take those winning designs and turn them into real products. Under a U.S. DoE-funded technical assistance program, qualified Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competitors will get funding for access to key automotive expertise and test facilities. So you could see one of these cars on a street near you in a couple years.

Seven advanced car technologies the government wants now 

New lab promises to spin sunlight into fuel

Making clean fuel out of sunlight is the idea behind a $122 million U.S. DoE award to a team of California researchers. The award will bring about the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, which will be led by the California Institute of Technology in partnership with the DoE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The lab will bring together researchers in an ambitious effort aimed at simulating nature's photosynthetic techniques for practical energy production with the goal of developing a commercial-grade solar energy-to-chemical fuel conversion system, the DoE stated.

What are the biggest barriers to developing wind energy?

The DoE in July said it is looking for the public to help identify the most significant barriers to future wind energy development. In addition the agency said it is looking for ideas that will help the U.S. grow and educate its wind energy workforce. While other U.S. energy industries have extensive training infrastructures in place, minimal infrastructure currently exists for the wind industry. Many companies are struggling to find individuals with experience in wind technologies, the DoE stated.

Algae-based biofuel development gets $24 million boost

The DoE said it would invest $24 million in three research groups to tackle the challenges of bringing algae-based biofuels to market. According to the DoE, the basic concept of using algae as an alternative and renewable source of biomass feedstock for biofuels has been explored, but a scalable, sustainable and commercially viable system has yet to emerge. The DoE went on to say that a great deal of research and development is still necessary to reduce risks and uncertainty associated with the algae-to-biofuels process so it can be commercialized. Other areas must be addressed as well such as regulations and standards, and public-private partnerships, the DoE stated.

U.S. wants bigger wind energy ideas

The DoE wants to kick up the research and development of offshore wind projects as it looks to achieve its goal of producing 20% of the country's electricity from wind farms by 2030. The DoE Wind Program is looking to hone in on what it calls specific advanced technology, gigawatt-scale demonstration projects " that can be carried out by partnerships with a wide range of eligible organizations and stimulate of cost-effective offshore wind energy deployment in coastal and Great Lakes regions of the country.

Can your data center earn an EPA Energy Star?

Think your data center is so power efficient it could earn an Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star label? The EPA in June said that any stand alone data centers in the top 25 % of their peers in energy efficiency according to EPA's energy performance scale can now earn such an accolade.

Silicon Valley utility offers customers $250,000 for unique energy technology

A California utility is offering two, $250,000 rewards to customers that can show off a new technology or technique for saving energy. Silicon Valley Power said it will pay grants to customers who implement what it calls "exceptionally creative uses of energy technology." The group said winners will be paid based on either a cent per kilowatt-hour or percent of project cost up to a $250,000 limit per customer and a program total $500,000.

IBM, researchers get 24 million DoE supercomputer hours to develop controversial lithium air battery

The DoE and IBM are serious about developing lithium air batteries capable of powering a car for 500 miles on a single charge - a five-fold increase over current plug-in batteries that have a range of about 40 to 100 miles, the DoE said. The agency said 24 million hours of supercomputing time out of a total of 1.6 billion available hours at Argonne and Oak Ridge National Laboratories will be used by IBM and a team of researchers from those labs and Vanderbilt University to design new materials required for a lithium air battery. The calculations will be performed at Oak Ridge and Argonne, which house two of the world's top 10 fastest computers, the group said.

How to migrate to Energy Efficient Ethernet

The IEEE's 802.3az standard for Energy Efficient Ethernet is expected to be finalized by next year, but it's not too soon to think about how your IT organization can migrate to EEE. EEE is designed to slash power usage by powering down Ethernet links when idle but enable them to spring back to life when called upon. The University of New Hampshire InterOperability lab has begun testing products based on the draft standard.

Researchers targeting smartphone energy efficiency

While smartphone headlines are dominated by the latest and greatest devices, from Sprint's new 3G/4G phone - the HTC EVO 4G - to Apple's anticipated new iPhone, a pair of university researchers have quietly been awarded a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to address the most vexing thing about mobile phones: short battery life. With smartphones being used for so much more than voice calls and e-mails these days, the four-year research project by a pair of Florida State University computer science professors and a cohort at the University of Pittsburgh is ever more pressing.

Recovery Act has bolstered energy technology, VP Biden says

Vice President Joe Biden in August showed off a 50-page report that claimed, among myriad other benefits, the $100 billion Recovery Act has significantly advanced energy technology, science and technology. For example the report entitled: "The Recovery Act: Transforming the American Economy through Innovation," claims the act has already produced three major breakthroughs in energy and one in health sciences. The report followed a DoE July announcement of a $92 million worth of funding for 43 cutting-edge research projects that aim to dramatically improve how the U.S. uses and produces energy.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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