a stylized photo of highly magnified technologies.

The Emerging Research Exploration program will allow EERE to perform early-stage research and development of new technologies described in AMO’s Multi-Year Program Plan and will encourage contributions from new partners. Successful projects will reduce technical uncertainty and develop new knowledge associated with potential breakthrough materials, processes and tools for U.S. manufacturers that could improve their competitiveness and enhance their energy efficiency.

In February 2018, DOE awarded $35 million dollars to a total of 24 concept definition and proof of concept projects addressing one of ten subtopics across three technical areas of interest, including:

  • Advanced Materials – focusing on advancing innovative materials and the devices and systems that incorporate them for energy-saving opportunities and improved functionality. Subtopics include:
    • Advanced materials manufacturing for clean energy|
    • Novel materials for use in harsh service conditions
    • Novel materials for direct thermal energy conversion
    • Novel materials for new highly-effective chemical catalysts
    • Atomically precise manufacturing
  • Advanced Processes – focusing on advancing transformational, next-generation process technologies with the potential to significantly exceed the current state of the art. Subtopics include:
    • Cost-effective hydrogen use in manufacturing processes
    • Innovative and intensified process heating methods to minimize emissions
    • Novel approaches to low cost waste heat recovery
    • High value roll-to-roll processes in manufacturing
  • Modeling and Analysis Tools for Materials and Manufacturing – focusing on optimizing how manufacturers use energy and materials across the lifecycle of their products through information technology and knowledge systems. Subtopics include:
    • Open source tools for energy efficiency in manufacturing


FeNix Magnetics, Inc. – Lakewood, OH

The goal of this project is to demonstrate a greater than 100-fold increase in the amount of alpha double prime iron nitride (ADPIN) powder manufactured from a patent-pending 3-step process for the development of rare earth free ultra-high performance permanent magnets for clean energy applications. The key innovation is a fluidized bed reactor (FBR) which addresses the rate-limiting first step of the process.

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University of Maryland – College Park, MD

The objective of the project is to obtain high-performance nanocarbon metal composites (NCMCs) via the electrocharging assisted process (EAP). This process will be investigated and improved to allow for inclusion of carbon nanostructures in metals at concentrations far above the solubility limit. The process will be applied to metals and alloys relevant to transmission lines and microchips, resulting in superior mechanical/electrical/thermal property combinations.

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Boston Electrometallurgical Corporation – Woburn, MA

The overall objective for this program is to mature the technology for producing iron by molten oxide electrolysis (MOE). Lessons learned from earlier research activity indicate significant further development is still needed to successfully run an inert anode at a production scale (using the same material) to produce carbon-free iron.

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AK Steel Corporation – West Chester, OH

The goal of the proposed work is to develop novel alloying and processing strategies toward the development of steels with significantly reduced density using conventional manufacturing practices. The project will progress in phases including computational alloy design to identify optimal compositions; lab validation of compositions; and industrial proof of concept through development of novel alloying and processing strategies. Such steel is expect to generate energy savings by bringing efficiencies in the steel manufacturing and lifetime savings by use of lightweight steel in automotive structural application.

Solar Turbines Incorporated – San Diego, CA

The primary objective of the project is to develop and demonstrate the superior properties of a yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) thermal barrier coating (TBC) manufactured through a novel process – solution precursor plasma spray (SPPS) – with a graded porosity microstructure for turbine outer air seals and combustor applications. Graded porosity coatings will be developed to optimize durability, thermal conductivity, erosion resistance and abradability depending on the application.  Rig testing and engine testing will be performed to demonstrate the benefits of graded porosity SPPS YAG TBC and its higher temperature capability (1450°C).

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United Technologies Research Center – East Hartford, CT

The goal of the project is to develop and demonstrate heat exchanger technology capable of long operational life in a 1600 °F and 1000 psi differential pressure (between hot and cold sides) operating environment at a cost and reliability consistent with commercialization requirements. Enabling these operating conditions will reduce heat exchanger (HX) volume by 2.5X compared to a lower-temp Inconel HX of equivalent capacity and increase cycle thermal efficiency by 3-5 points based on system model predictions. 

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Starfire Industries LLC – Champaign, IL

Starfire proposes to develop a novel material coating system using an innovative atmospheric cold microwave plasma jet to enable surface functionalization for corrosion protection, wear resistance and improved bonding strength. The approach is suitable for point-of-manufacturing material bonding to improve adhesive joint performance subject to harsh environmental exposure. The effort targets a single, cost-effective, high-volume production process that meets the requirements of multi-material combinations relevant to the energy-intensive transportation industry (e.g. Al-steel, Mg-steel, Al-Mg and Al-CFRP joints for body-in-white structures) while eliminating off-line pretreatment for Al and Mg alloy substrates that are energy intensive, have chemical waste disposal issues, and add cost.

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Michigan State University – East Lansing, MI

The goal of this project is to develop novel ultra-wear and corrosion resistant surfaces for tools and components of mechanical assemblies. The proposed surface engineering solution combines a surface boriding process with the subsequent deposition of superhard carbon coatings. The duplex process should combine the specific advantages achieved by the boriding (corrosion resistance and fatigue strength) with the surface hardness and the low friction properties of superhard carbon coatings. Thus, the proposed duplex application is expected to outperform parts that were either only borided or only carbon coated and certainly those that were untreated.

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Yale University – New Haven, CT

The aim of this project is to enable practical energy generation from waste heat using pyroelectric

(PE) materials with unprecedented efficiency. This aim will be accomplished by engineering two novel thermal oscillators that overcome the current roadblock to pyroelectric energy harvesting. The end goal is the production of self-contained thin laminates, planar devices that will efficiently generate electricity when placed in contact with a heat source.

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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – Livermore, CA

The goal of this project is to improve the energy efficiency and selectivity of Cu-based catalysts for electrochemical CO2-to-fuel conversion by engineering the potential energy landscape through controlling the catalyst composition, tuning the catalyst morphology, and engineering the interface environment. The proposed work will focus on conversion of CO2 to methane and other versatile fuels and feedstock chemicals that are readily integrated into existing pipelines for vehicles and power production.

Argonne National Laboratory – Lemont, IL

Heterogeneous catalyst deactivation costs the chemical industry billions of dollars in lost revenue due to reduced product yields over time and the embedded cost and energy associated with the frequency of replacing or regenerating spent catalysts. Researchers will address degradation issues specific to platinum-based propane dehydrogenation catalysts by using the proposed overcoating technology and the Atomic Layer Deposition platform developed at Argonne National Laboratory.

Temple University – Philadelphia, PA

The objective of this research is to develop chiral Lewis acid based catalysts with nanoscale control over the formation of aliphatic polyesters. Researchers will design, synthesize and characterize at least a dozen macromolecular catalysts that display metal salen complexes within deep pockets that will control Lewis acid catalyzed polymerization reactions to form specific polyester polymers. The ability of these catalysts to assemble perfectly alternating, stereospecific polyester polymers A-B-A-B-A-B and A-B-A-C-A-B-A-C composed of two and three monomers will be characterized.

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University of California – Los Angeles, CA

The proposed research effort strives to overcome current limitations in scanning probe-based atomic manipulation to enable atomically precise manufacturing (APM). A mechanochemistry approach based on surface bound reactants, outward facing atomic and molecular radicals, will be used to selectively image and extract atoms from the tip of a scanning probe microscope (SPM) to achieve atomically precise control over its apical structure. The capacity to precisely extract and donate atoms to and from the tip apex represents a crucial first step toward the fabrication of arbitrary structures in three-dimensions from atomic and molecular building blocks.

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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – Boston, MA

The goal of this project is to validate two-dimensional molecular printers, initially self-assembled from DNA and then actuated by externally driven cycles of DNA strand displacement, as prototype integrated nanosystems for molecular additive manufacturing. We will explore two different architectures to achieve positional-control-based writing on a 5 nm pitch DNA-origami canvas.

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Zyvex Labs, LLC – Richardson, TX

As part of the continuing evolution to reduce device size, nanotechnology is going atomic scale. In the last few years, interest in two-dimensional materials, such as single, one-atom thick layers of graphene or various metal dichalcogenides, has exploded because these 2D materials provide a wide array of electronic properties from metallic to semiconducting to insulating and offer the possibility of engineering devices one atomic layer at a time. The atomically precise manufacturing proposed here provides a route to develop materials and devices in traditional device materials like Silicon (Si); furthermore, it enables control over the lateral geometry of a single layer meaning that unlike traditional 2D materials, atomically precise 2D materials are engineered in all 3 spatial dimensions.

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University of Texas – Dallas, TX

Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM) will require positional accuracy at the atomic and/or molecular scale, as well as at the nano and microscales using hierarchical assembly to create products ranging from nanoscale devices to macroscale systems and materials. In order to enable APM technology, researchers propose a parallel approach using microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that have the required positional accuracy and speed to perform atomic scale fabrication and/or assembly that will lead to initial commercial viability.

Energy & Environmental Research Center – Grand Forks, ND

The overall project goal is to demonstrate significant energy reduction for ammonia production using the low-pressure electrolytic ammonia (LPEA) process versus the traditional high-pressure Haber-Bosch (HB)-based processes. Researchers will focus on improving the LPEA process which operates at ambient pressure and 300°C and is based on a polymer-inorganic composite high-temperature proton exchange membrane.

EcoCatalytic Technologies – Monmouth Junction, NJ

In this project, the primary objective is to demonstrate and evaluate the technical and economic potential of the Integrated Fluidized Bed Flameless Hydrogen Combustion (IFBHC) process for converting ethane to ethylene with reduced energy consumption. To achieve this objective, this project will scale the process to a prototype unit that can handle up to 1 kg/hr feed of ethane. To validate the feasibility of this technology, a comprehensive techno-economic analysis will be performed, and a commercialization pathway will be recommended.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Boston, MA

Copper (Cu) and its by-products are essential to modern life, and have a steady growth of several percent per year globally. A new flow-sheet to directly produce copper products and recover valuable metal and elements from copper sulfide concentrates is investigated. This new approach aims to reduce energy consumption for copper production by up to 25%, cost by 20%, and enable the direct production of elements that are essential for consumer electronics and other advanced materials. The project will bring the core reactor technology to a size ready for pilot-scale implementation, with sufficient experimental and modeled data to confirm energy and costs predictions. 

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Idaho National Laboratory – Idaho Falls, ID

The objective of this project is to develop a robust, highly efficient, and economically viable non-oxidative electrochemical process to produce chemicals (e.g. ethylene and butylene) or liquid fuels (e.g. gasoline and diesel) and hydrogen from ethane by integrating electrochemical processing with advanced catalysts and chemical engineering to utilize ethane as an abundant clean fossil feedstock.

University of Illinois – Urbana, IL

The objective of the project is to demonstrate a cheap and modular heat exchanger that can recover ~20% (of the potential referenced to 23°C) heat from a simulated flue gas stream and be corrosion resistant. The objective for year 1 is to provide a heat exchanger design and quantify its theoretical performance, develop fabrication techniques for the material of the heat exchanger and characterize material properties. The objective of year 2 is to build prototype heat exchangers and test their performance under simulated flue gas conditions.

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Colorado State University – Fort Collins, CO

The primary goal of this effort is to develop a turbo-compression cooling system that is powered by ultra-low temperature waste heat. The proposed effort capitalizes on prior and ongoing work for low grade waste heat recovery from power plants. The final performance and economic targets for the proposed effort are 300 kWth of cooling at a COP > 0.6 with a production cost of <$100 per kWth. The performance target will be validated in a test facility. The source temperature targeted in the proposed project is engine coolant from diesel generators, which is a market anticipated to grow worldwide in the coming years. Additional potential markets will also be evaluated so that promising paths to commercialization are established, and next stage funding is secured.

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Saint-Gobain Ceramics and Plastics, Inc. – Northborough, MA

The proposed project will develop fundamental elements of a platform for the continuous simultaneous multilayer roll-to-roll manufacturing of electrochemical devices such as fuel cells and batteries. Simultaneous multilayer coating can potentially reduce process steps, cost, and energy consumption while improving performance in roll-to-roll processed electrochemical devices such as batteries, fuel cells, capacitors, and photovoltaics. In the first year of the project, the team will develop the capability to manufacture a functional 2-layer film by simultaneous multilayer slot die coating. In the second year, the team will extend this capability to manufacture a functional 6-layer film by simultaneous multilayer slide coating.

Iowa State University – Ames, IA

Fuel production and manufacture of chemicals account for 58% of all energy consumption by US industry. Providing thermal energy to these processes is often the bottleneck to reactor throughput even when chemical reaction and mass transfer are very fast. This heat transfer bottleneck can be overcome through autothermal chemical processing, which balances the energy demand of endothermic chemical reactions with energy supply from exothermic chemical reactions within an adiabatic chemical reactor. The proposed project will develop open-source software tools for simulating non-equilibrium autothermal processes, improving the prospects for identifying and designing such systems. An open source software framework for the analysis and design of autothermal processes in gas-solid fluidized beds, using autothermal fast pyrolysis of biomass as an example to demonstrate the utility of these tools.