The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Technology Transitions announced the 2020 selections in the latest round of the Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF)—a program that transitions research and development (R&D) funding to applied energy programs to advance promising technologies with the potential for impact across industry. The Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) funded four projects in 2020, including several with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), as well as one co-funded with the Wind Energy Technologies Office. See below for more information about the scope of each project, industry partners, and other supporting details:

  • Deep learning for fish identification from sonar data: American eels are vulnerable to hydropower turbine mortality during outmigration from inland waters to the sea. Due to the protracted nature of outmigration, cost-effective monitoring requires a high degree of automation for efficient data analysis. Imaging sonar is an effective technology for fish migration monitoring. PNNL will work to develop the software tools and supporting data sets—which started under a previous WPTO-funded PNNL project with the Electric Power Research Institute—to develop machine learning tools for automating the identification of eels with sonar data. Core project tasks include building a sonar image database of eels and non-eel objects, developing an image classification algorithm as a software tool, and establishing a user-friendly graphical interface to automatically identify and enumerate eels site passage.
  • Optimization of the autonomous sensor fish device for understanding interactions of aquatic animals: PNNL’s Sensor Fish is a small autonomous device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stressors that fish experience when passing through or around dams and other aquatically located structures. Licensed to Advanced Telemetry Systems in 2019, PNNL continues to develop new methods of optimizing the design and applications of the Sensor Fish. This award will focus on developing three new forms of the device: (1) an autonomous Marine Sensor Fish to study interactions of aquatic animals with marine energy technologies; (2) two versions of a Flexible Sensor Fish design with embedded sensors to characterize blade strike testing for hydropower turbines; and (3) optimization and commercialization of the Sensor Fish Mini for small hydro deployment and physical model testing.
  • Optimization and commercialization of the juvenile eel/lamprey acoustic transmitter and micro-battery: Since 2015, PNNL has been developing the smallest acoustic fish transmitters in the world, which have been designed to provide hydropower facility owners and operators the information needed to develop effective strategies for improving the environmental performance of their facilities. This TCF project will focus on optimizing an injectable micro acoustic transmitter designed for tracking and analyzing two sensitive species in American Eel and Pacific Lamprey. Primary tasks include optimizing the design by enhancing firmware, improving frequency accuracy, improving acoustic signal strength, and reducing the size of the transmitter; optimizing and commercializing the devices’ micro-batteries by conducting two trial runs of battery production; and developing an advanced manufacturing process for the transmitter.
  • Advanced drivetrain lubricants for enhanced reliability in harsh conditions: Wind power plant operation and maintenance requirements represent a significant portion of costs throughout industry. Many limiting factors stem from insufficient protection provided by the current state of the art in materials and lubricants relative to harsh operational conditions on drivetrains (a challenge similar to that facing many marine energy developers today). Argonne National Laboratory has developed and patented a new class of nanotechnology-based lubricant that is capable of forming protective layers on contacting surfaces that are thicker and more robust than current lubricant technology. Argonne will work with several project partners, including GE Renewable Energy and Exxon Mobil Corporation, to optimize this new lubricant for drivetrain applications, conduct custom benchtop testing for rapid performance evaluation, and execute full-scale drivetrain testing and field trials. While the target market for this award is the wind industry, this lubricant has potential for marine energy applications in the future.