A Look Back at 2017: Highlights from the Emerging Technologies Program

January 10, 2018

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Happy new year from the Emerging Technologies (ET) program! I am excited to continue our great work this year, as we advance scientific innovations in energy efficient building technologies. I want to thank our partners in industry, the national laboratories, and academia for all of the great work that we got done in 2017 and I am eager to see what we will accomplish in 2018. We live in an exciting time for energy efficiency and for technological innovation. In fact, building efficiency is the largest advanced energy market segment, with revenues increasing steadily by an average of 10% per year since 2011.1  But before we get swept away in all of the momentum going into 2018, I’d like to take a few moments to reflect on the past year.

In 2017, our researchers across the ET portfolio made strides toward advancing energy-efficient building technologies. Within our heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) portfolio, a cold-climate heat pump project stood out. Field validation in Fairbanks, Alaska, delivered results that extend efficient outdoor operating range of outdoor heat pumps by around 40oF! At -30oF, the unit achieved a coefficient of performance (COP) > 1.8 and a heating capacity >75% of the rated capacity at 47oF. Meanwhile, typical air-source heat pumps start declining in performance below 10oF. Another project, the ultrasonic clothes dryer, continues to make great progress, as we are now developing and testing both a press-type and full-scale drum-integrated prototype in the lab to characterize the performance of this novel new technology. The ultrasonic clothes dryer uses piezoelectric transducers to generate mechanical vibrations, instead of using heat, to dry the clothes, which has the potential to be five times more efficient and drying two times faster than conventional drying technologies.

Our Solid-State Lighting team has also seen fantastic results. Since 2000, almost 300 of our R&D projects have resulted in more than 270 patents and more than 250 commercial products, with 38 new products released in 2017 alone. One research project that we are currently working on with Carnegie Mellon University exceeded its goal by 50%. They have developed a process for the dispersion of zinc oxide nanoparticles in the encapsulant over LED chips. This innovative process is helping to overcome limitations due to heat accumulation that causes reduced optical and mechanical performance in LED packages.

One of our building envelope projects has exceeded both the performance of commercially available products, as well as our own performance targets of R-12 per inch! They have developed 2-inch-thick polyisocyanaurate board insulation with modified atmosphere insulation cores, with the goal of providing a low-cost alternative to vacuum insulation. A great success for our windows program is that View Inc., a partner we worked with in research, development and testing years ago, is now continuing to innovate with private-sector funding, having secured $100 million earlier this year in growth capital to expand their manufacturing capacity and scale operations to meet rapidly growing demand.

Our building energy modeling engine and software have been incorporated into multiple tools and software applications, both open-source and proprietary. EnergyPlus, DOE’s whole-building energy modeling engine, and OpenStudio, DOE’s open-source software development kit, were leveraged in design tools, an energy auditor, and a cost and benefits analysis tool. One application of note is TRACE 3D Plus, Trane’s new energy modeling software built on EnergyPlus. Trane, an Ingersoll Rand brand, re-architected its long-standing TRACETM software package. As one of the longest established and most widely used energy modeling software packages in the U.S., this is quite an accomplishment.

One exciting project from our sensors and controls team has been researching, developing, and testing both low-cost sensors and advanced manufacturing techniques needed to make them. The team has been working on the project for the last few years, and 2017 has been a year of remarkable progress. They have successfully deployed sample sensors in operational buildings at Emerson, Sky Centrics and Pilot Flying J (PFJ) for field validation. We’re expecting to see very interesting results from this project in 2018.

This year, BTO’s Transactive Campuses project tested and validated their Intelligent Load Control (ILC) technology for a capacity bidding method that rapidly and effectively delivers to the grid on an on-call basis, creating agreed-upon energy use reductions in buildings. ILC was additionally tested and validated to accomplish transactive market objectives, particularly near-real-time interaction with power markets to manage building energy consumption. This project is a key component of BTO’s contribution to the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium.

While all of this progress is a cause for celebration, we must not forget that there is still more work to be done. Our homes and buildings still use more energy than any other sector. And that is why our research into building energy efficiency technologies is continuing to grow and evolve. So look out for a number of new technology roadmaps this year to help guide our future R&D activities and targets. Additionally, Scout, a tool for estimating the energy and carbon impacts of various energy conservation measures on the U.S. residential and commercial building sectors, is releasing a web interface this year to allow for a more user-friendly experience, especially for those outside of the modeling world. Finally, BTO will be launching a coordinated strategy on grid-interactive efficient buildings. The ET team has been actively engaged in these efforts and is eager to continue to build upon current work with our partners in the public and private sectors.

I’m extremely proud of the work that ET has done in 2017. It’s been great fun to reflect on the progress we’ve made and I look forward to seeing all that we will accomplish in 2018. There is no shortage of opportunities for those of us working on energy-efficient and grid-interactive buildings. We need to get to work! Thank you again to our amazing team across BTO, the labs, and our partners in industry and academia. Happy new year!

- Karma

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1 Advanced Energy Now: 2017 Market Report. March 2015. Navigant Consulting prepared for Advanced Energy Economy. Accessed via http://info.aee.net/aen-2017-market-report