[Editor's note: This article was originally published on ARPA-E’s blog.]
The annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit is ARPA-E’s yearly conference and technology showcase that brings together experts and industry professionals from around the energy community to connect and think about America’s energy challenges in innovative ways. The Summit features high-level speakers, panel discussions, and breakout sessions spanning energy topics, and draws an international crowd of over a thousand attendees every year to see first-hand the latest in energy innovation technology.
One of the most popular parts of the yearly Summit is ARPA-E’s Technology Showcase, where current and previous ARPA-E awardees, as well as a select group others, display their projects for attendees to see, interact with, and experience themselves. No visit to the ARPA-E Summit is complete without a walk of the showcase floor, and since we’re less than one month out, we’ve put together a quick “cheat-sheet” on the this year’s Tech Showcase Demonstrations.
Adaptive Textiles That Respond Directly to Temperature Change: Otherlab
Otherlab received funding through ARPA-E’s DELTA program to develop thermally adaptive garment materials that can change their own thickness in response to environmental temperature changes. Unlike existing garments that have a set and constant insulation value due to their structural design, Otherlab’s technology physically changes shape in response to warming or cooling, passively changing the garment’s insulation value and requiring no input from either the wearer or a control system. Garments made from these types of adaptive fabrics have a wide range of applications, and not only allow wearers to use fewer layers of clothing for body temperature control but can also effectively lower the overall heating and cooling requirements of buildings by allowing inhabitants of a structure to regulate their own temperature more efficiently in response to their surrounds. Otherlab’s demo will feature their adaptive garments undergoing temperature testing and changing shape in real-time.
Vehicle Powertrain Technology That Combines Connectivity and Automated Driving Capabilities with Engine Technology: Ohio State University
Ohio State University’s NEXTCAR project combines vehicle connectivity and automated driving capabilities with transformational powertrain control technology to optimize the energy consumption of light-duty passenger vehicles. At the core of their powertrain control technology is a Dynamic Skip Fire system, which makes instantaneous decisions about which engine cylinders are either fired or skipped in real-time to improve engine efficiency. Their project combines this Skip Fire tech with real-time traffic condition projections, smart-communication with traffic lights and route optimization technology to calculate energy-optimal speed and driving trajectory for vehicle powertrain control. They also utilize machine learning algorithms to allow for the vehicle to make intelligent powertrain and optimization decisions in response to continually changing environments. Ohio State’s vehicle itself will be on display at their demo, allowing participants to interact directly with and see their optimization systems first-hand.
Microneedle Sensor Technology that Monitor Soil, Root, and Plant Systems to Increase Carbon Storage in Soil: Sandia National Laboratories
Under ARPA-E’s ROOTS program, Sandia National Laboratories is developing new field-deployable sensor technologies for monitoring soil, root, and plant systems. Sandia’s project is working in two separate ways to achieve ROOTS’ goal of increasing carbon uptake in soil – first to develop minimally invasive microneedle technology (think hypodermic needles) that once deployed will provide data and information in real-time on sugar concentrations and water stress levels in plant systems; and second to deploy gas chromographs in the soil near plants to monitor potentially volatile organic compounds. The combination of the deployment of these two technology approaches will allow researchers to better monitor and characterize plant function in a variety of natural environments, creating the potential for future breeding of plants better suited to their environmental surroundings for maximum soil function and soil carbon depositing ability. Sandia’s microneedle and sensor technology will be on display at their demonstration to show their effect on a real plant-based environment.
Slippery Coatings to Reduce Drag and Friction in Energy Technology Systems: Adaptive Surface Tech
Spun out from an OPEN 2012 project at Harvard University, Adaptive Surface Technology will be on hand at the Tech Demo showcasing their innovative multi-purpose liquid-based coating that helps improve efficiency in various energy-related processes. Contamination, buildup of microorganisms, and corrosion of untreated surfaces can lead to inefficiencies and difficulties across a variety of technical applications, and Adaptive Surface Technology’s coating forms a completely smooth self-repairing surface that can withstand a broad range of contaminants while also reducing friction and drag on a surface. Given its unique liquid-based design, the coating has the potential to out-perform other similar conventional non-stick technologies (i.e. Teflon) and can help reduce energy consumption and increase functional efficiency in a variety of energy-intensive industries. Did we mention that its design is inspired by a strategy that carnivorous plants use in nature to create low-friction surfaces? Don’t miss this one at this year’s tech demo.
Autonomous boats designed specifically to enable deployment of seaweed farming systems: C.A. Goudey & Associates
C.A. Goudey & Associates’ MARINER project developed an autonomous marine tow vessel to enable the efficient deployment of large-scale seaweed farming systems. Currently, most marine transportation systems rely on labor-intensive manned vessels, and depend on existing technology that has historically been a poor match to the tasks associated with deployment and operations of large seaweed farming systems. C.A. Goudey & Associates technology seeks to remove costs associated with these challenges by designing a vessel specifically for use in seaweed farming systems, as well as lowering costs by removing the manned-requirement and using slow-moving autonomous towed vessels. This new approach will help to mitigate existing challenges created by manned operations schedules, as well as misapplication of high-speed boats to towing activities. While the goal of this project is to further automate seaweed farming systems, it would also allow for better utilization of manned capabilities of farms in other production areas, allowing personnel to set their systems to work autonomously while returning to shore to work on other areas, increasing productivity. C.A. Goudey & Associates’ tugboat itself will be on display at their booth at this year’s Tech Showcase.
The water-based battery with improved energy density at reduced cost: University of Maryland
Part of ARPA-E’s RANGE program, the University of Maryland’s Multiple-Electron Aqueous Battery project is working on innovative approaches to electric battery manufacturing to maximize stored energy relative to the weight of electric vehicles through new battery chemistries. Their project is using a water-based magnesium and hydrogen chemistry to do this, by improving the energy density of their battery and lowering the cost of battery production. In addition to working to improve the energy storage capabilities, UMD’s water-based approach is inherently safer and more resilient than other traditional lithium-ion batteries, and their use of inexpensive materials could reduce the cost of battery management, reliability, and allow for operation across a wider range of temperatures than traditional approaches. UMD will be stress-testing their battery technology on the Tech Demo Stage during the technology showcase.
Geospatial resource mapping tools that track macroalgae aquacultures and ocean resources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
ARPA-E recently partnered with the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to develop and deploy a “National AquaMapper” to enable the mapping of ocean resources for cultivation and production of various aquaculture species including macroalgae marine biomass resources. Originally conceived as a supplement to ARPA-E’s MARINER program, NOAA’s National AquaMapper is a publicly web-accessible Geographic Information System, providing users with a tool to identify the most suitable regions for siting microalgae cultivation areas in state and federal waters. The tool incorporates over 400 data layers from information regarding military zones, navigation challenges, sensitive habitats and protected species, existing energy infrastructure, and oceanographic and biophysical data to provide a comprehensive resource for macroalgae producers, investors, and regulators. Additionally, NOAA leveraged their work with ARPA-E and other Federal agencies to develop and deploy an “OceanReports” web tool – a one stop shop for ocean mapping and project planning. ARPA-E and NOAA are really “making waves” – don’t miss OceanReports at the Tech Demo stage!
An insulating gel made from food waste that increases energy efficiency of windows: CU-Boulder
The University of Colorado, Boulder’s SHIELD team set out to address the challenge of decreasing the amount of heat lost through single-pane residential and commercial windows in cold weather environments. CU-Boulder’s project is unique because they developed a flexible window film made of nanostructured cellulose created through the repurposing of food and beer brewing waste using a bacteria-driven process. Their film is engineered to be transparent to visible light but reflective of infrared light, allowing for heat retention in building spaces with a similar effect to low-emissivity glass. Their film technology allows for retrofitting of existing windows, providing an economic and efficiency benefit at lower cost than completely replacing single-pane windows with more expensive alternatives. Come see the CU-Boulder technology yourself at this year’s Summit.