Department of Energy Announces Building Energy Efficiency Frontiers & Innovation Technologies (BENEFIT) Funding Awards

January 29, 2019

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The Building Technologies Office announced it is investing up to $19.5 million in 19 projects that will drive innovation in early-stage research and development for advanced building technologies and systems that will serve as a foundation for future technological developments and reductions in building energy consumption. These technologies will improve the efficiency of our nation’s buildings and will help American consumers and businesses save energy and money on their utility bills.

“Technological innovations enable energy-efficiency advances in the buildings sector, providing a tremendous opportunity to reduce energy waste and costs – boosting the competitiveness of U.S. companies and easing energy bills for American families,” said David Nemtzow, director of the Building Technologies Office. “As buildings account for 40% of the energy consumption in the United States, these efficiency innovations allow us to further improve upon past progress.”

The BENEFIT FOA awards were distributed among six research topic areas, which include technologies that can significantly improve building energy efficiency in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), water heating, and appliances, and building envelope applications; developing highly insulating building envelope materials and windows, novel approaches to building energy modeling and sensors and controls; testing next-generation building systems and equipment in real-world conditions; and significantly improving the energy efficiency of natural gas and other fuel-driven equipment.

The four Advanced Separation Technologies for Building Energy Efficiency projects selected

- Palo Alto Research Center Inc. (Palo Alto, CA): “Reduced AC Loads using RAD-AC; an Efficient Electrochemical Dehumidification Cycle.” The research team will develop an improved dehumidification system for air conditioning, circulating an aqueous ionic desiccant that will reduce total commercial AC loads by up to 60%.

- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland) (two projects):

“Highly-Efficient Micro-emulsion-Based Absorption Chillers for HVAC Application.” The research team will develop a waste-heat absorption cooling system that can be used in highly energy-efficient chillers, which are used to cool fluids or dehumidify air in commercial and industrial facilities.

“Electrohydrodynamic Enabled Electrochemical Membrane Dehumidifier for Separate Sensible and Latent Cooling.” The research team will develop a novel electrochemical dehumidification device for separate sensible and latent cooling that will increase the energy efficiency of air conditioners significantly.

- United Technologies Research Center (East Hartford, CT): “NO Vapor-compression, Electrochemical Looping Heat Pump (NOVEL HP).” The research team will develop an electrochemical looping heat pump that does not require gas compression to operate, which has the potential to outperform conventional vapor compression systems from both energy-efficiency and system-reliability perspectives.

The three Advanced Building Materials projects

- The University at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY): “Scalable and Cost-Effective Roll-to-Roll Additive Manufacturing of Highly Durable and Thermal Insulating Silica-Carbon Aerogel.” The research team will demonstrate a scalable roll-to-roll manufacturing process for producing an advanced aerogel insulation material.

- Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA): “Inexpensive and durable aerogel-based VIP Cores.” The research team will investigate a manufacturing process that uses ambient rather than supercritical drying of aerogels to fabricate aerogel for vacuum insulated panels at much lower required vacuum levels.

- The University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL): “Cost-Effective Thermally Activated Building Systems to Support a Power Grid System With High Penetrations of As-Available Renewable Energy Resources.” The research team will develop a novel thermally activated building envelope system that integrates non-combustible phase change materials and hydronic activation into building envelope with a goal to reduce the energy cost for building operation as well as to support renewable energy sources (RES) for power grid reliability, quality, resilience, and dispatchability.

The three High-Performance Windows projects

- Argonne National Laboratory (Lemont, IL): “Transparent Thermochromic Smart Window Films.” The research team will develop thermochromic window films with a new coating technology that uses vanadium dioxide particles that boost film transparency and solar modulation capabilities.

- The University of Maryland (College Park, MD): “Low-Cost Vacuum Insulated Glass (VIG) for Retrofit of Single Pane Windows.” The research team will develop a new approach to producing vacuum insulated glass; the approach uses small vacuum cells that can be cut to size on site, avoiding custom manufacturing of windows, making it economically attractive.

- Polyceed Inc. (Tucson, AZ): “Low Cost, High Performance, Electrochromic Devices.” The research team will develop a novel, electrochromic window layer that can tint dynamically upon the application of electric voltage. These window elements would be 80% cheaper to manufacture than the incumbent technology and save over 1 Quad of primary energy per year.

The two Building Energy Management Systems projects

- Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY): “Aerial Intelligence for Retrofit Building Energy Modeling (AirBEM).” The research team will develop an autonomous system to detect heat transfer anomalies and envelope material conditions and map the exterior envelopes of commercial buildings, which can result in more detailed inspections while substantially reducing building energy auditing costs.

- The University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA): “Skewering the Silos: Using Brick to Enable Portable Analytics, Modeling, and Control.” The research team will advance Brick, an open-source data model based on semantic web technologies, into a schema to connect building information modeling, building energy modeling, and building automation systems.

The three Integration Research of Advanced Commercial Energy Efficiency Packages projects

- Vectren Corporation (Evansville, IN): “Integration And Optimization of Loads, Energy Storage, and Renewables For Grid Interactive Efficient Buildings.” The research team will validate connected devices coupled with behind-the-meter generation and storage in 52 multifamily units. The project will study the energy loads in and across multifamily units and how connected technologies can provide to deliver energy and peak load flexibility.

- The University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL): “Performance Demonstration of an Occupancy Sensor-Enabled Integrated Solution for Commercial Buildings.” The research team will validate the performance and savings of three HVAC control (fan, cooling coil valve, outside air) algorithms integrated with occupancy sensing data to optimize ventilation delivery.

- The Center for Energy and Environment (Minneapolis, MN): “The Integration of Wi-Fi Location-Based Sensing to Optimize Energy Efficient Commercial Building Operations.” The research team will integrate beacon-based wi-fi location-based services into existing buildings to verify their energy savings and maintenance, commissioning, and integration requirements, as well as other building information.

The four Advancements in Natural Gas and Other Fuel-Driven Equipment projects

- The Michigan Technological University (Houghton, MI): “Next-Generation Desiccant-Based Gas Clothes Dryer Systems.” The research team will develop a next-generation desiccant-based gas clothes dryer system that simultaneously dehumidifies and heats the vented drum air at elevated temperatures.

- The Gas Technology Institute (Des Plaines, IL): “Grid Resilient, Self-Powered, Fuel Flexible, High Efficiency Heating System.” The research team will develop a grid resilient, self-powered, fuel flexible drop-in thermoelectric generator integrated advanced burner for residential and commercial buildings.

- Stone Mountain Technologies (Johnson City, TN): “Improving Reliability, Weight and Cost of Gas-Fired Absorption Heat Pumps.” The research team will investigate the use of aluminum as a construction material for evaporators in an ammonia-water absorption heat pump to significantly reduce its weight and cost.

- ORNL (Oak Ridge, TN): “A High-Efficiency Natural Gas–Fired Boiler for Residential and Light Commercial Applications.” The research team will use a highly conductive porous material to develop a next-generation natural gas-driven commercial boiler that would be half the size of current boilers.

These projects have been selected for award negotiations. DOE does not constitute a commitment to issue awards until negotiations are successfully completed.